This post reviews Christa L. Ice and Kathleen V. Hoover-Dempsey, “Linking Parental Motivations for Involvement and Student Proximal Achievement Outcomes in Homeschooling and Public Schooling Settings” in Education and Urban Society 43, no. 3 (May 2011): 339-369. [Abstract available here]
Several years ago I reported on an earlier study by Hoover-Dempsey and one of her graduate students on homeschooling parents’ motivations. The current study is related. This time rather than just look at homeschooling parent motivations, the authors want to find out two things. First, are there important differences between how parents who choose homeschooling view their abilities to teach, level of engagement with their kids, and perception of their kids’ capabilities, and how parents who choose public schools for their kids view the same variables? Second, do the differences in parental perception lead to differences in student performance and self-image?
the original design of the study was to get two sample groups, one of homeschooling dyads (a mom and a homeschooled child) and the other of public schooling dyads (a mom and a public schooled child). The researchers wanted to compare the groups on a survey they constructed and then do it again six months later to see if the differences between the two groups of parents had led to any measurable change in student self-concept. Both groups, it must be noted, were convenience samples of volunteers recruited by advertisements and mailings.
Unfortunately for Ice and Hoover-Dempsey, not enough of their original subjects returned the second round of surveys to be able to make meaningful comparisons. For the first round they got 30 public school and 34 homeschool dyads. For the second round though, only 33 total returned the survey. Thus their original intent for the study was thwarted. But you can’t just leave it at that or else you did all that work for nothing, so the authors try to regroup and salvage the study by taking it in other directions.
Here’s what they came up with. They shifted focus from a longitudinal look at how parental attitudes impact students to comparisons between the two groups from the first study alone. Without going into all the details about their complex terminology and survey design, I’m going to just summarize here what they found.
Basically, both groups of parents reported themselves as being very involved in their children’s educations, so much so that it was harder for Ice and Hoover-Dempsey to make distinctions between the two groups than I think they expected. In their words, “both samples of parents were comprised of apparently highly active and highly involved parents.” (p. 361)
There were a few differences though. Homeschooling parents tended to think more highly of their own abilities to teach their kids than public school parents, tended to have stronger support networks for helping them do this, and tended to think more highly of their children’s abilities.
The children themselves, however, didn’t display much of any differences at all. Said differently, while homeschooling parents THINK their kids are different than public school kids in terms of their interest in schooling, their strategies for success, and their confidence, in fact when Ice and Hoover-Dempsey asked the kids themselves, they found both groups to be the same. Ice and Hoover-Dempsey summarize, “public discussion often seems to assume homeschool children are different than public school children…. However, the most important difference might not lie within the children, but rather in the parents who make the school choice decision.” (p. 362)
Again, this was not what Ice and Hoover-Dempsey had expected to find. I think they were hoping to find, through their longitudinal study, that six months’ time of exposure to homeschooling parents that were more highly motivated, more committed to their kids, and more deeply embedded in rich social networks would have produced a measurable positive effect on homeschooled children. Instead, they found that the differences between public and homeschooling parents weren’t really that pronounced and that homeschooling parents’ inflated sense of their children’s abilities and efforts were not shared by the children themselves.
What accounts for homeschooling parents’ excessively positive appraisal of their children? Ice and Hoover-Dempsey speculate that it might be due to homeschooling parents’ felt need to justify their actions to a still skeptical outside population. They cite no evidence for this claim, however.
And that’s it. To me the only real take-home messages here (other than the fact that longitudinal studies are very hard to perform successfully) are that among committed parents, the similarities between those who choose home and those who choose public schooling are more important than the differences, and that despite what homeschooling parents might think, their kids are really not that different from kids in public schools whose parents are really committed to their educations.
The real problem with the study, aside from the failure to get good longitudinal data, is the sampling method. When you’re relying on volunteers who responded to a flyer in a library or something, OF COURSE you’re going to get the most highly motivated parents. It’s just a bad research design to think that you can rely on volunteers and then be able to make valid inferences about the differences between two populations. Are homeschooling parents and public schooling parents in the broader society on average as similar as these two sample groups were? Who knows? But this study really doesn’t help us answer that question at all, and it makes whatever conclusions they reach about their two sample groups pretty meaningless.