Record: Marcia Clemmitt, “Home Schooling: Do Parents Give their Children A Good Education?” CQ Researcher 24, no. 10 (7 March 2014), pp. 217-240. [Available Here]
The CQ Researcher has long been an influential publication, especially among politicians and others connected to the United States Congress. Clemmitt is a veteran journalist who has provided in-depth analysis of several educational issues in the past. She brings her wide experience and the publication’s resources together here on the topic of homeschooling.
Clemmitt’s study reads like a very long newspaper article. It does not develop a single coherent theme. It is not itself a piece of research. Rather, it serves as a sort of précis of most of the important themes and trends in U.S. homeschooling. Long time observers of the scene will find much that is familiar here, but it is all clearly and ably summarized.
Clemmit begins with an anecdote about Josh Powell, now an undergraduate at Georgetown University, who made news in Virginia when he tried to get the Virginia School board to override his parents’ convictions and provide his siblings, who he believed to be getting an inadequate education at home, with a voice in deciding their own learning options. Powell’s push was unsuccessful, but it illustrates for Clemmitt some of the tensions with which her account here will be concerned: debates over the relative authority of parents, government, and children themselves over a child’s education, the degree to which homeschooling should be regulated, the academic achievement of homeschooled children, and much more.
Clemmitt lays out the basic demographics of the movement, based on the NCES data, which is the best available. She then discusses several controversial issues, in each case citing requisite authorities. For the question of the degree to which states should regulate homeschooling she frequently cites as an opponent of pretty much all regulation HSLDA’s director of federal relations Will Estrada, who notes that HSLDA has been so successful at opposing proposed regulations and eliminating historic ones because interest in greater oversight of homeschooling “is slim among Americans.” (p. 222) For an alternative perspective she relies heavily on Rachel Coleman, whose excellent master’s thesis I reviewed here, and whose more recent activist work you can find here. Coleman, rather like Josh Powell, was homeschooled as a child, and based upon her encounters with other homeschoolers believes increased oversight is needed.
Clemmitt next turns to academic achievement. Here she says things that will be very familiar to readers of this blog, for much of it comes from me. She explains that the widely cited HSLDA-funded studies of academic achievement conducted by Lawrence Rudner and Brian Ray suffer from serious design flaws that make it impossible to compare the results of the homeschoolers in their sample with national averages, though HSLDA lawyers and other advocates do this constantly. Clemmitt draws here on posts I’ve done in the past on this topic. Here are links to part one and part two of a long post I did on Ray’s work, and here is a link to my analysis of Ray’s most recent study of academic achievement. Clemmitt also draws on Coleman’s analysis of data coming from Alaska, which finds that homeschooled kids are scoring a little above average on reading and a little below average on math.
Next Clemmitt offers a solid history of the homeschooling movement, explaining the development of the U.S. system of compulsory public education and the reaction against it that emerged on both the political left and right in the 1960s and thereafter. For this section she relies heavily on my book Homeschool: An American History, on Joseph Murphy’s Homeschooling in America, on a recent article by Charles Glenn, on a piece by Rachel Coleman, on Rob Kunzman’s Write These Laws on Your Children, on Mitchell Stevens’ Kingdom of Children,and on several more web-based and primary sources. Nestled within this historical account are two text boxes, one stressing the Deweyan pedagogy implicit in much homeschooling, and the other discussing the fact that mothers are almost exclusively responsible for the actual homeschooling process. Here she relies heavily on Jennifer Lois’ account presented in her fine book Home Is Where the School Is.
After this historical survey Clemmitt turns to current issues. She includes a useful debate between Isaac Sommers of the Texas Home School Coalition, who argues that homeschoolers, being taxpayers, deserve access to all extracurricular activities public schools provide, including school sports. Increasing such access has been one of the most significant political issues in recent years, as several states have passed so-called Tim Tebow laws, named after the famous homeschooler who was permitted thanks to Florida law to play football at a public high school. On the other side is William C. Bosher, Jr., a professor at Virginia Commonwealth, who argues that homeschoolers, by their decision to remove their children from public education, have of necessity also removed them from public education’s extracurriculars.
Other issues Clemmitt discusses in this section include the rising diversity of homeschoolers (relying heavily here on Cheryl Fields-Smith), and again on debates about government oversight. Regarding the latter she notes the success HSLDA has had at stopping even common-sense regulations such as an Ohio bill that would require that parents be screened for prior child abuse convictions before being granted permission to homeschool. She concludes on a somewhat pessimistic note that the stringent anti-public schooling attitude of so many homeschoolers and the distrust of the movement by teachers’ unions make future collaborations unlikely.
Appraisal: I found Clemmitt’s piece to be a reliable and helpful guide to some of the recent goings-on in the U.S. homeschooling scene. Clemmitt has done her homework, and it shows. This publication at least mentions and sometimes summarizes in detail most of the important scholarly books that have come out in the past decade. Her summaries of academic achievement and homeschooling history are especially good. This piece would make for a great first text for someone just beginning to familiarize herself with homeschooling. I may use it in one of my own undergraduate courses to that end.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College