This post reviews Tina Marie Jorgenson, “Homeschooling in Iowa: An Investigation of Curricular Choices Made by Homeschooling Parents” (Ph.D. Diss.: University of Iowa, 2011). [Available here]
This doctoral dissertation uses data compiled from Form A of the Competent Private Instruction Report, which the state of Iowa requires all independently homeschooling parents to fill out. From this data she was able to get a pretty good sense of what kind of Iowans homeschool, what curriculum they use, and why they do what they do.
Jorgenson begins with a sweeping history of homeschooling and review of many of the standard issues homeschooling research typically studies. After this she hones in on Iowa, noting that it required parents to work with a certified teacher until 1991, when the homeschooling law was softened to allow parents even without certification to count their homeschools as private schools so long as “competent private instruction” is taking place leading to “adequate progress.” An annual standardized test or portfolio review is the accepted method of evaluating adequate progress and competent instruction. Iowa thus has a pretty stringent set of requirements for homeschooling when compared to many other states. Parents intending to homeschool must also complete “Form A,” which includes demographic information, curriculum plans, evidence of immunizations, and other curricular details.
Iowa also allows homeschooling in two other ways. Parents can dual enroll, taking advantage of many public school opportunities (and subjecting themselves to public school requirements and scrutiny), or they can use a “home school assistance program” (HSAP), where a certified teacher works with a homeschooler (at least four contacts per quarter are required). Parents who choose the HSAP don’t have to do the annual testing and don’t have to fill out Form A.
Previous studies of Iowa homeschooling have found that quite substantial percentages of homeschoolers, especially high schoolers, dual enroll. There is also quite a bit of variation in percentage of homeschoolers by region. Jorgenson uses the same data other studies have used (Form A) to look especially at curriculum. She took a sample of 316 families, selected to provide equal representation for each region of Iowa, and looked at their curriculum section in detail, coding both for type of curriculum and for level of religiosity.
Demographically the students were what you’d expect Iowa homeschoolers to be, with the possible exception that not a single student in her sample was in a grade higher than 6. Why not? Because of Iowa’s dual enrollment and HSAP programs. By high school (and evidently even middle school!) Iowa homeschoolers are abandoning independent homeschooling en masse.
Curricularly, 84.5% of homeschoolers were using a prefabricated curriculum. 14.6% were what we’d call “eclectic,” piecing together their own curriculum from several sources. Almost everybody used a prefabricated math curriculum, but there was more diversity in how reading was taught.
62% of families used clearly religious curriculum in their homeschooling, and these families were far more likely to be the ones using prepackaged services. People in Eastern Iowa were most likely to use faith-based services.
And that’s basically it. I was hoping Jorgenson was going to get into the specifics of curricula. It would be really interesting to know what percent of Iowans were choosing which specific curricula. Which were the most popular math options? Which were the most popular reading options? It wouldn’t have been too hard for her to provide that data, but for some reason she just collapsed it all into faith-based or non-faith-based categories. Also a bit of an explanation for those of use who don’t live in Iowa as to why Eastern Iowan homeschoolers tend to be more religious than central and western would have been helpful. Finally, I’m not sure I agree with her decision to forego truly representative sampling to get this regional balance. The regional comparison doesn’t turn out to be very interesting. I would have rather her sample been representative for the population that fills out Form A–that would make her conclusions more generalizable to all Iowa homeschoolers who fill out that form.
Finally, we need to remember, as Jorgenson reminds us repeatedly, that this sample doesn’t include Iowa homeschoolers taking advantage of the dual enrollment and HSAP options. Those kinds of families would probably skew a little less religious and less wedded to prefabricated faith-based curriculum. They would also skew older. So what Jorgenson’s dissertation tells us, basically, is that Iowa homeschoolers who don’t want to use any government services at all tend to be mostly religious folks who like to use prefabricated Christian curriculum.