Record: Mark H. Butler, James M. Harper, Matthew L. Call, and Mark. H Bird, “Examining Claims of Family Process Differences Ensuing From the Choice to Home-School” in Education and Urban Society 47, no. 1 (2013): 86-108. [Abstract Here]
Summary: Butler and Harper are professors in the Brigham Young University School of Family, Life, Marriage and Family Therapy graduate programs. Call is a master’s student in the Family, Life, Marriage and Family Therapy program at Brigham Young University.Bird is a licensed Marriage and family therapist in private practice in Dallas, Texas. Here they explore whether homeschooling is as beneficial to the family as many people suppose.
The authors begin by arguing that self-selection bias may account for the differences between home-schooling and public-schooling families. In other words, families that are already more cohesive and family-centric may choose homeschooling at a higher rate than families who do not value the family-centric lifestyle as much. They contend that this bias has not been accounted for in previous homeschooling literature.
They then move into a literature review of parental influence during adolescence, the influence of public-schooling, homeschooling in general, homeschooling’s effect on family cohesion, and parallel interaction through homeschooling. In truth, any party interested in this research is most likely already familiar with this information. As children grow up, they are increasingly influenced by their peers. Some parents who are disturbed by this choose to homeschool their children in order to improve relationships in the family and retain the greatest influence over their children.
Next comes their actual study, which includes 35 homeschooling families and 38 public-schooling families. They focus solely on the adolescent and the parent, so they are are not able to say anything about the effect that homeschooling has on family climate as a whole, only the relationship between the adolescent and his/her parents. One of the instruments used to control for the dependent variable of parent-adolescent interaction is a survey written by one of the authors that, “remains an essentially untested measure.” (p. 96) The only accreditation that the authors can procure for this instrument are two unpublished studies written by the creator of the tool. Their data has very little meaning without an independent evaluation of the data-collection methods in order to prove reliability, but for what it is worth, their data supports the common claim that homeschooling families are more cohesive. As for parent-child parallel interaction, homeschooling families fared slightly better, but even the authors admit that the results are of only moderate magnitude and doubtful clinical relevance.
Appraisal: There is a definite need for more research on how homeschooling impacts family interaction, but there are too many flaws in this study to make it valuable. For example, the authors correctly point out that homeschoolers are a diverse group, but their study primarily included religious homeschoolers (presumably Mormon, judging from the authors’ ties to BYU). This sub-set of the population does not reflect all homeschoolers. There are also the serious uncertainties with their measurement tools that put their results into question.
Butler et al. are not the only researchers to find a lack of study in this area. Joseph Murphy came to a similar conclusion in his literature review, “The Social and Educational Outcomes of Homeschooling” [abstract & review]. Most of the studies conducted on the familial impact of homeschooling are anecdotes or of poor quality. Since many homeschooling families are motivated by a desire to be closer to their children, the true impacts of homeschooling on the family needs further exploration.
Robert Lyon, Messiah College