Record: Bonnie W. Mackey, Kasha Reese, and Wade C. Mackey, “Demographics of Home Schoolers: A Regional Analysis Within the National Parameters,” in Education 132, no. 1 (Fall 2011): 133-140. [Abstract Here]
Summary: Bonnie Mackey, a professor of education at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, Kasha Reese, a teacher in the Aldine Independent School District, and Wade Mackey, a professor of Criminal Justice at Jacksonville State University, here present the results of an online survey regarding the demographics and parental motivations of homeschoolers from a single support group in a Southwestern city.The authors begin not with a survey of the significant literature on demographics and parental motivation as one might expect but with a rather eccentric brief survey of the early history of homeschooling in the United States, focusing on the work of John Holt and Ivan Illich. They then explain their study.
They selected a single homeschool support group with an internet mailing list of 700 families in a Southwestern city (which I presume to be the Houston area as two of the three researchers are located there). They sent an online survey to this group’s moderator and got 130 responses. They compare the results of this regional sample with a sample of national averages for homeschoolers and for non-homeschoolers, both derived from U.S. Census and Department of Education data.
The results are that their sample looks pretty much exactly like the standard national demographic for homeschoolers–much whiter than national averages, more married, richer, and more Christian. Parents in their sample stressed moral values and academics more than complaints about public education, though it is not clear to me that the question posed here or the categories provided in their instrument were comparable to the national surveys.
Appraisal: This article to me is neither helpful nor necessary. The authors don’t tell us which of the Houston area’s many homeschool groups they used (assuming I’m right about Houston being the location of the study). This is an important point, for the groups in Houston, like in many other parts of the country, are divided along religious and pedagogical lines. If the researchers were really interested in getting a fair representation of homeschooler demographics in a particular locale, it would have made more sense to try to reach out to all of the groups in the area.
Second, their response rate of 18.6% is pretty bad even for social science. When you start with a limited sample, and then get a less than 20% response rate even of that, what is the point?
Beyond the sample, to me the questions asked of these homeschoolers are not very interesting, nor are the results obtained. The researchers asked things that have already been studied over and over–demographics and parental motivation. And they found, not surprisingly, that this self selected group of homeschoolers lines up pretty much exactly with what all of the literature in the past has found. Their sample had more families with only one child than normal and slightly higher parental education levels, and it was a bit more likely to stress moral and academic motivations than other national samples, but so what? Had I been given this article by a journal for peer review I would have recommended rejection.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College