Record: Molly H. Duggan, “Is All College Preparation Equal? Pre-Community College Experiences of Home-Schooled, Private-Schooled, and Public-Schooled Students” in Community College Journal of Research and Practice 34, no. 1 (2010): 25-38. [Preview Here]
Summary: Duggan, who has written several other articles about various aspects of homeschooling and the community college experience, here adds to her growing body of work on the topic by reporting the results of a survey she conducted that sought to compare the pre-college preparation of homeschoolers to that of conventionally-schooled students attending the same community college.
Duggan begins by noting several attributes that research has shown to predict persistence in college. These range from student background characteristics (primarily socioeconomic status), external commitments (work and family responsibilities mostly), institutional influences (the college’s resources to facilitate intellectual and social integration), and precollegiate experiences like number of math, science, and English classes taken. Most of the literature on pre-collegiate experiences has been conducted on public schoolers, but given the increasingly diverse secondary education options in the country, Duggan thinks we need examination of the experiences of other populations as well.
To try to provide some of this she identified a large multi-campus community college with a total of 39,000 students enrolled. This college had 171 previously homeschooled students enrolled. Duggan sent these 121 students plus a random sample of 1000 of the conventionally schooled students a survey asking questions about their perceptions of their preparedness for college and other matters. Of the 1171 she contacted only 121 students responded, even after multiple attempts to get them to fill out her online form. Of these 121 only eleven were homeschooled (and nine had attended private schools).
Despite this bleak response rate Duggan nevertheless compared the answers of her 11 homeschooled students to the 101 public schoolers who responded. Demographically the homeschoolers were far more white (100%, compared to 48% white for public and 56% white for private). All three groups were far more female than male (82% for homeschoolers, 87% for public and 78% for private). The homeschoolers looked on paper more like traditional college students, taking more classes than other groups, during traditional day-time hours.
In terms of parental motivation, 73% of the homeschoolers said their parents did it to provide religious or moral instruction (56% of privates said this), and even higher percentages specified concern about school environment.
Homeschoolers reported spending far more time on homework (Duggan doesn’t note that for homeschoolers all work is homework by definition) than public schoolers reported, and a little less time socializing.
On every measure but one in Duggan’s list of questions about preparation for college, homeschoolers self-reported positive pre-collegiate experience at (usually much) higher rates than public or private schoolers. They thought that homeschooling prepared them to write, speak, think, do math, use computers, understand themselves and others, acquire skills, develop career goals, work effectively with others, develop study and time management skills. The only measure they self-reported lower rates than public schoolers was gaining information about career opportunities. 100% of the homeschoolers in the survey rated themselves as above average or in the top 10% of achievers in reading comprehension, but homeschoolers ranked themselves very highly in every other subject too, with the notable exception of math. Public and private schoolers also tended to think of themselves as above average in every subject save math, just not at quite the same rates. The only skills that homeschoolers rated themselves lower than did public and private were leadership skills and interpersonal communication skills.
In her discussion Duggan claims that her data supports other studies that have found that homeschoolers “tend to perform at one or two grade levels above both public-schooled and private-schooled peers.” (p. 34)
Appraisal: Duggan is the first to admit that her response rate is dismal (for the homeschool population it was 6%!) and she acknowledges that nothing can really be generalized about this data.
I agree and would probably have not recommended that this article be accepted for publication had I been asked to review it. The response rate is so low that the conclusions are completely meaningless. This 6% no doubt represents some of the most motivated of the 121 homeschoolers who attend the community college under study. A survey of all 121 of these students, compared to a robust random sample of the public schooled students would have been much more interesting, as it would have captured the likely less-motivated students. Colleges often require that surveys of various kinds be completed for a grade or some other extrinsic factor. Duggan should have pursued some alternate design to secure a more representative sample.
Given what is set before us, however, let me make a couple of comments. First, her data in no way demonstrates that homeschoolers are one or two grade levels ahead of public schoolers. It demonstrates that the very tiny group of homeschoolers who chose to fill out her survey THINK they’re academically superior, but there are no SAT or ACT scores reported, no GPA data given, or any other objective measure that could be used to compare how homeschoolers are actually performing. For a much better research design that Duggan would do well to emulate see Marc Snyder’s excellent work here. Snyder compares actual grades and test scores of his representative sample of homeschoolers and public and private schoolers, all of which is easily available from admissions and registrar’s offices if they are willing to share it.
Finally, if this article tells us anything (which it really doesn’t), it’s that at least this subset of homeschoolers thinks very highly of itself. Several other surveys have found much the same thing: homeschooling parents think their kids are superior, and mothers tend to attribute whatever success their children achieve to their homeschooling efforts, unable or unwilling to contemplate the possibility that the children might have been just as or even more successful had they gone to school. All of this makes perfect sense. Homeschooling is a difficult choice to make, and once made those who have invested such time and energy understandably want to believe that it was worth all the effort. Whether it was or wasn’t is not the sort of question one can answer with data derived entirely from self-reports like Duggan does here.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College