ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENTS AND HOMESCHOOLING: It Depends on the Goals

Record: Ari Neuman and Oz Guterman, “Academic achievements and homeschooling—It all depends on the goals.” Studies in Educational Evaluation, 51 (2016): 1-6. [Abstract]

SummaryNeuman is senior lecturer of education at Western Galilee College, in Akko, Israel, and Guterman is a professor in the Department of Human Resources at the same university. In this article they argue that while academic achievement is a commonly used to compare homeschooling and school learning, this may be a misguided comparison due to the different goals of the homeschooling movement.

The academic achievement of homeschooled students is typically determined through standardized tests and then compared to their school-learning peers. While many studies show that homeschooled students tend to perform very well academically, normally these studies suffer from small, nonrandom samples. A further problem with these studies is that they do not differentiate between the results of structured and unstructured homeschooling (aka unschooling). Since unschoolers are opposed to standardized tests and the philosophy of education that they represent, it is natural that unschooled students underperform in comparison to their structured homeschooling and traditionally-schooled  peers (as Martin-Chang, Gould, and Meuse show). However, academic achievement studies almost never take into consideration that unschooled students may have acquired other valuable skills that do not enter in the standardized tests.

Neuman and Guterman divide homeschoolers into two groups for the purpose of discussion. They define type 1 homeschoolers as those who believe that the goals of school education are worthwhile but that they can help their children reach those goals more effectively at home. Type 1 homeschoolers mostly follow structured approaches. On the other hand, type 2 homeschoolers have different goals for their children such as the development of curiosity. Parents may combine type 1 and type 2 beliefs.

The authors end with more of a philosophical look at why we have this problem. The issue really comes down to whether we should base success on individual or societal goals. They thus conclude that since both parental and societal goals are important, studies should make an effort to include traditional academic achievement information as well as a constructivist assessment of children based on parents’ stated goals.

Appraisal: This article is short, and it has a simple message: comparing students’ academic achievement is not particularly helpful unless both groups have similar goals. It is quite similar to (though much conciser than) Pattison (2015) who argued that home education is neither better nor worse than school-based education; it is simply different.

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