Observations and Perspectives on Home Education
The remarkable revival of home education in recent years may someday be seen as one of the most significant educational developments of this century. Home education is an integral part of the current movement toward freedom of choice among educational alternatives. However, there is reason to regard the home school as having an identity and integrity of its own. It is well worthy of study and understanding as the most private form of private school.
The renaissance of family-centered schooling is the natural outcome of a number of forces converging in a fateful era. Not the least of all those forces is the well documented fact that both the American home and the American school have reached the lowest level of mediocrity in our history. Both have betrayed the birthright of our children. The home school is a normal response of concerned parents to that mounting crisis. The home school is a pointed effort to salvage values that once undergirded schools as well as homes. Home education is a rejection of the trend toward almost total institutionalization of child rearing. It is a reaction to a decline in scholarship and character in the classroom. It is a testimony of faith in the family -- a faith that is almost lost.
My experience as Private Education Liaison of the faculty of the School of Education of the University of Louisville has given me an informed sensitivity to the concerns of families seeking religious and educational freedom in the private sector. Further, as my state's representative for the Council for American Private Education, I have come to know home schoolers throughout a number of states. I have visited in their homes, addressed their gatherings, examined their instructional materials, interviewed parents and children, observed teaching, reviewed instructional plans, verified achievement and testified in their behalf before legislatures and courts, 1 have counseled home schooling parents facing threats of lawsuits, arrest, fines, charges of child neglect, imprisonment and harassment from civil and educational authorities. My firm conclusion is that it is time for citizens in general and educators in particular to recognize and respect home-based, family-centered education for what it is and for what it is achieving.
Too often the most uncompromising critics of home education are persons who know little about it, The increasing institutionalization of children's upbringing is espoused as liberation from traditional family roles. It seems difficult for many to believe that modern parents have the competence necessary to rear their own children. They find it hard to conceive of family-centered schooling in their communities where broken homes, working mothers, unwed parents, absentee fathers and latch-key children have become the norm. The point should be made clear. A home school is first of all a home. The first requirement for a successful home school is a successful home.
I am not a promoter of home schooling per se. I am a promoter of free choice among educational alternatives, It is my professional judgment that home-based education is one of the most significant and successful alternatives available to parents today. I have testified under oath to that fact on numerous occasions in recent years. In the course of my testimony, the same predictable questions repeatedly arise. Allow me to focus briefly on the major concerns many people have about home schools.
How well do children learn in a home school?
There is ample evidence that home school students as a whole achieve at a higher level than students in regular school on standardized measures of basic knowledge and skills. Reliable studies in a number of states provide that evidence. A standard test of the basic skills of home schoolers in one study where over half of the students were taught by parents with only a high school education showed impressive achievement. Ninety-one percent of the students were achieving at or above grade level in reading. Any school would have reason to be proud of such a showing.
A 1987 testing of 873 home school students in Washington on the Stanford Achievement Test showed them clearly at or above average in 104 of the 120 test categories. In Alaska, a statewide appraisal of basic skills found home school students at all grade levels averaging in the top fourth of the nation.
In Oregon, a study of 1,100 home schoolers found 76% scoring at or above average in achievement, The Hewitt Research Foundation in Washington made a study of several thousand home school students throughout the U.S. They were on the average in the 75th to the 95th percentile on the Stanford and Iowa achievement tests.
I am not aware of any reliable and comprehensive study that shows home school students doing less well than their peers in regular schools. We in professional education might well be intrigued by how this superior level of learning is attained in such modest circumstances by teachers with only a limited formal education.
Are ordinary parents qualified to teach?
That question is a legitimate one for a person who has been equating teacher qualifications with a college diploma and a state teaching certificate, I hold two advanced degrees from two distinguished universities in teacher education, i.e., in teaching teachers how to teach. It has been my privilege to help prepare thousands of university students to meet the qualifications for a teaching certificate or permit to teach. They were as a whole fine young people, and many have done well in the classroom. It has been most interesting to me to see home school parents with high school diplomas doing as well or better than my certified teachers as measured by their students' standardized test results. Those parents revealed some things to me about living, loving and learning that I was never taught by my distinguished professors at Harvard and Columbia,
I have observed that most home study materials and activities are designed to allow the student to proceed on his own a large part of the time as an independent learner. That is teaching at its best. The situation is so different from the classroom where the teacher must face a room full of children and spend a major part of her time and energy maintaining order while wondering what is taking place in individual minds.
The parent in a home school situation actually plays a more professional role as a monitor, tutor, counselor and resource person. One mother said her best advice on teaching came from her ten-year old son who urged her to stop acting like a teacher!
It is gratifying that state authorities have recognized the injustice and futility of trying to force state teaching certificates on parents who choose to educate their own children in their own homes, and for whom the state certificate was never designed. It is significant to note that the parent-teachers in home education are clearly demonstrating for us what a half century of educational research has revealed: a total lack of any significant relationship between the teacher's certificate and the pupil's achievement, Those research findings have been known and ignored for many years. Some examples of those studies follow.
Freeman observed that teacher certification requirements appear to have been conceived through intuition and then converted into certification regulations. Freeman found no significant relation between teacher certification and performance in the classroom. (Legal Issues in Teacher Preparation and Certification, ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, Washington, D.C., 1977.)
Eisdorfer and Tractenberg identified several situations in which legal challenges to teacher certification may occur, They expect state courts to become actively involved in teacher certification as more challenges to their legal validity continue to arise. (Legal Issues in Teacher Preparation and Certification, ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, Washington, D.C., 1977.)
Hawk, Coble and Swanson of East Carolina University in their study of all available research evidence concluded that there is little, if any, documentation to support the assertion that the effectiveness of teachers is a function of increased certification requirements. (Journal of Teacher Education. May-June 1985),
In spite of all that evidence to the contrary, state school authorities continue to maintain that the certified teacher is the qualified teacher. It is particularly painful to see state authorities harassing and criminalizing educators who shun that invalid credential. The only valid measure of effective teaching that we have found is the degree in which pupils are learning. On that score, the teachers in home schools as a whole are demonstrating their effectiveness.
Does the socialization of children suffer in home schools?
The formation of one's social character and social values occurs in an interaction of positive socialization and negative socialization, The same is true of a home, a school or a total society. Few persons would deny that the forces of negative socialization that dominate our society today have undermined the social values and social character of children's homes, children's schools and children's lives. Tots and teens wander in a value vacuum. The forces of positive socialization have lost much of their effectiveness in the schools that the state compels its children to attend. The community school of today is not the sheltered, unspoiled place one associates with an earlier era in which the forces of positive socialization were predominant. Every problem, pressure and perplexity of our modern day interacts in the socialization of children in the classroom,
There is increasing recognition that the organization of the school is also a negative factor in children's socialization. Hurrying children from bell to bell and from cell to cell with arbitrary groupings of their peers was never designed for the normal socialization of children, Rather it evolved as an expedient structure for compulsory mass institutionalization of children. Most children learn to tolerate and conform to the process their elders have developed as the best way of processing children en masse. However, students of child behavior are coming to realize that under the false facade of compliance with institutional demands, children experience a host of pressures, tensions and stresses that few of them could identify or verbalize. The nature of life and learning in such an environment generates abnormal values, roles, relationships and behaviors. As a result, children are turned inward upon themselves and their peers in an interaction rife with peer pressure, peer dominance, peer images and peer values.
Out of that situation emerge the diverse problems of children which teachers face in today's classroom -- social isolation, identity crises, poor self-image, emotional stress, competition, frustration, delinquency, hostility, moral confusion, boredom, rejection, burnout, sexual promiscuity, violence, vandalism, teen pregnancy, alcohol, drugs and certainly the most tragic of all, suicide,
On that background, it should not be necessary to explain further the deep concern home school parents feel for the social character and social behavior of their children. That concern alone might well stimulate the growth of home schooling beyond anything we have yet imagined. More importantly, it could draw home schoolers closer together as functional family units where both parents and the children might well rediscover themselves and each other in their joint venture in living and learning.
A related study by John Taylor of Andrews University compared 224 home schoolers in grades 4-12 with regular school students using the Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale. It is generally conceded that a favorable self-concept is indicative of an individual's socialization. Taylor's study concluded, "The self-concept of home-schooling children is significantly higher than that of children attending the conventional school, Regarding socialization, it appears that very few home-schooling children are socially deprived ... The research data indicate that it is the conventionally schooled child who is actually deprived."
Urie Bronfenbrenner, among others, found that children at least through the sixth grade who spend more of their elective time with their peers than with their parents generally become dependent on those peers. He noted that this brought a pervasive pessimism about themselves, their future, their parents and even their peers. This does not support the idea that a child's association with many children necessarily contributes to positive socialization as many parents and educators assume.
First hand observations of home schooled children commonly impress observers with their qualities of maturity, stability, responsiveness and self-assurance, In fact, parents often report that their decision to home school their children came from observing the impressive social qualities of other home school students. Certainly one should not underestimate the contribution to social values and social character that comes from a firm foundation in moral and spiritual values common to most home schools.
Are home school students prepared for college?
Home schoolers have little difficulty in entering and succeeding in college if they plan wisely and make the most of their opportunities. High school and college counselors are available to advise on planning for entrance into specific colleges and vocations. Instruction in advanced and specialized college preparatory courses is available through extension courses from schools and colleges, educational TV, part-time enrollment in the local high school and tutors. Lack of some college preparatory courses can often be made up in college while enrolled in a conditional admission status. In most colleges, admission is dependent primarily on standard admissions tests. GED certificates often suffice in lieu of a high school diploma. College admissions offices understand that diplomas and grades per se from the regular high school offer little assurance of college preparation or potential since the standards from different schools vary greatly,
Most home school programs are uniquely designed and are conducted with a stress on independent study, individual responsibility, self-evaluation and the use of diverse resources, all of which prepare one for success in college study, Studies of genius indicate that the independent, self-directive, open, undistracted environment of most home schools provides the best setting for the development of gifted and creative minds.
What is home schooling really like?
As often stated, home schooling is the most private form of private education. It is not designed for isolation but for privacy -- privacy for living and learning in an intimate family environment. The family, of course, maintains all normal relations with the social, civic, cultural, recreational, religious and business activities and resources of the community, Home school students enjoy the usual friendships and activities for children and youth that any good parent would want for them. Many public and private schools offer extension study status and part-time enrollment for home schoolers, thus providing access to elective courses, school facilities, counseling and participation in certain activities.
An impressive variety of professionally designed curricula for kindergarten through high school is being used successfully by parent-tutors with only limited formal education. The curriculum publisher/distributor ordinarily provides the home school parent a continuing consultative service on procedures, problems, testing and additional resources. Colleges, universities and correspondence schools provide a wide range of courses for independent study. Rich resources continue to become more available and attractive. Complete courses plus enrichment experiences are increasingly offered on educational TV.
The concept of home education raises the question in some minds as to whether home-based schooling prepares students for "real life." However, most observers would conclude that the best preparation for real life is to live it every day, as homeschoolers do. It is the institutionalized student in the regular school who is compelled to live in an unreal setting, The home school commonly provides a much broader daily relationship with the community than does the classroom of the traditional school. Experience indicates that three or four hours at most of formal instruction and study in basic subjects each school day in the home are sufficient to maintain a student at grade level. The remainder of the day is devoted to individual projects, field trips, art, music, libraries, museums, educational television, volunteer work in community agencies, sharing family responsibilities, hobbies and the establishment of "cottage industries" as money-making enterprises in such things as gardening, art crafts, bake sales, woodworking, pet raising and lawn care.
Any image of the home school as a worn and weary mother huddled with her brood in the kitchen is far from the full scenario of home education today. National, state and community support groups provide forums for fellowship and exchange of ideas and experiences on the enlarging frontier of home education. Such support groups collaborate in planning field experiences and group activities for students and for sharing common concerns. Periodic workshops bring parents together to examine and acquire materials for teaching and learning, and to hear consultants on pertinent matters. A helping hand is extended to beginners in home schooling.
A number of legal associations have been developed to provide support and counsel for home educators facing difficulties with state and school authorities. There is an impressive and expanding literature on family-centered schooling, A number of periodicals and newsletters in the field keep home schoolers abreast of current developments. It is reported that some 200 studies and university theses dealing with home education are now underway.
Why is home education necessary?
In a democracy with a tradition of free enterprise, educational choice is a vital response to the state's sheltered monopoly over the molding of children's minds and characters. Although motives for turning to home education vary, the common motive, of course, is the conviction that the home and family setting can provide for children an education superior to that offered through other available and affordable alternatives. The majority are reacting to the fact that the government school no longer allows open recognition and reverence for God or for the divine nature and destiny of man. Others are concerned with the academic deterioration of public education and find that their children attain much better achievement in home schooling, Many are concerned over the modern degeneracy of home and family life and seek to maintain a close and caring environment for their own children, Some hold distinct philosophical and world views in which they want their children nurtured, Other subscribe to educational outlooks on child development that they feel can be best fostered in the home.
Home education is not a passing fancy. Those of us in professional education have long known that the strongest influence on a child's school achievement is parental involvement. That factor is indeed paramount in the home school, As our schools have become more massive, technological, impersonal, antisocial, amoral and institutionalized, perhaps educators need a more simple, natural and humane laboratory in which to explore the basic elements of living and learning, I would suggest that those basic elements are all there and thriving in a unique manner in the privacy and normalcy and simplicity of the home school.
Let us close with the observation that home schooling is not for all. Neither is compulsory state institutionalization.
This report is excerpted from the TPA Newsletter, April 1991. it was first presented to the New Hampshire House Education Committee 3/15/90