This post reviews Kathleen Ambruso Acker, Mary W. Gray, Behzad Jalali, and Matthew Pascal, “Mathematics and Home Schooling” in Notices of the AMS 59, no, 4 (April 2012): 513-521.
All four authors of this paper are affiliated with American University. The stated aim of this misleadingly titled paper is to analyze the legal framework for homeschooling, noting especially the place of mathematics in it, and then to examine how well homeschooling prepares students for college and employment.
The first part of the article, on legal matters, is an odd pastiche of themes lifted from my book and from work by Jim Dwyer and Kimberly Yuracko. It is entirely derivative and tends to leap from topic to topic without much of an overarching theme or organizational scheme.
After several pages of meandering commentary on various court cases, historical matters, and state regulations, the authors finally get to the issue of mathematics. Here the extent of their analysis is to summarize what the various state homeschooling laws and regulations have to say about math. Here’s the summary:
currently twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia use ‘mathematics’ for a topic to be learned by those who are home schooled, although content is not specified. North Dakota and Pennsylvania are two states that detail the number of mathematics credits and mention algebra as required study. Seven states note that subjects covered should be comparable to those in the curriculum of the public school system. Three other states only require that students learn arithmetic, and no mention is made of higher mathematics. In Vermont the statutory language for required topics notes that students should study the use of numbers. Although the state of Oklahoma strongly recommends the study of mathematics, it does not require it by law. Only three states impose on home-schooled students, by law, high school graduation requirements that include mathematics. (p. 517-518)
After noting how sharply this lax attitude toward homeschooling contrasts with the intense emphasis in public education on mathematics accountability through high-stakes testing, the authors introduce their final theme. It is the potential discrimination against girls that might be occurring in homeschooling families who believe that their daughters, whom God created solely to be mothers, should not take math or go to college. The only evidence they cite that this may be happening is lifted entirely from Yuracko’s article I reviewed here, and it consists of quotes from two advice books written by fundamentalist Christians to homeschooling girls.
After finding that states don’t really require much math of homeschoolers and don’t really enforce even what they do require, and after worrying that there may be a generation of young homeschooling girls not being given the basic mathematics education necessary for many good jobs today, the authors conclude by recommending regulations lifted entirely from Judith McMullen’s 2002 piece “Behind Closed Doors,” which appeared in the South Carolina Law Review (but is not in their reference list). McMullen wants all homeschoolers to be required to register, to take vaccinations, to be given “age-appropriate competence testing in reading and mathematics,” and to receive some kind of independent monitoring.
Aside from the one paragraph that summarizes state laws about homeschooler math requirements, there’s nothing new or interesting in this piece. I have no idea why it was published (nor, it seems, do some readers of AMS). We need good studies of homeschooling and mathematics. When I saw the title of this piece I was looking forward to reading what these four authors had discovered. But all I got was a weak summary of older work.