TYPES OF HOMESCHOOL ENVIRONMENTS: Need Support for Children’s Academic Motivation

Record: Debra A. Bell, Avi Kaplan, and S. Kenneth Thurman, “Types of Homeschool Environments and Need Support for Children’s Academic Motivation.” Journal of School Choice, 10, No. 3 (2016): 330-354. [Abstract]

Summary: Bell is a former teacher, best-selling author, and the founder of three homeschooling co-ops. We reviewed her 2012 doctoral dissertation from which this study comes here. Kaplan is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Temple University, and Thurman is a Professor of Special Education at Temple University. Together, these authors examine distinctions among homeschooling environments and the ways that these environments provide varying support for the development of students’ self-determination.

According to the widely-cited theory of Edward Deci, there are three components of self-determination. The satisfaction of these needs provides for the development of autonomous motivation.

  1. Autonomy: The need to perceive oneself as the source of one’s own behavior.
  2. Competence: The need to feel capable in one’s interactions with the social environment, increase these abilities, and have the opportunity to express one’s capacities.
  3. Relatedness: The need to feel socially connected, accepted, and valued by others.

Bell, Kaplan, and Thurman wanted to apply this model to homeschooling parents’ teaching style to see which pedagogical approaches are most likely to lead to healthy self-determination.  To do so they created an online survey instrument.  The sample for this study included 457 participants from a nonsectarian homeschool organization, several groups associated with a particular demographic (i.e. African American homeschoolers), and the readers of a popular homeschooling blog. A 5$ Amazon gift card was offered to participants to encourage completion of the survey.

Respondents tended to be married (94%), female (89%), White (86%), and between the ages of 35 and 54 (76%). The sample was significantly better educated and wealthier than national averages and than previous homeschooling samples. The sample represents a very dedicated group of homeschooling parents, because 74% were certain to homeschool next year, and 66% reported homeschooling for 5 years or more. The sample reported that there was little to no monitoring of their programs by authorities.

A desire to provide a child-centered education emerged as the dominant motivation of these homeschooling families. Only 21% identified a desire to provide religious or moral instruction as their primary motivation for homeschooling. Based on their responses to their surveys, these homeschooling parents were highly autonomous, had high levels of efficacy for homeschooling, and had high autonomous needs satisfaction.

The researchers divided their sample into five groups for comparison purposes. Parents who had high need satisfaction (Group 1) also reported the highest academic engagement and the highest efficacy for homeschooling. Conversely, those with low need satisfaction (Group 5) reported lower academic engagement in their children and lower efficacy for homeschooling. Some of their findings were that the homeschooling parents in Group 5 were more likely to enroll their children in classes outside the home and engage in structured homeschooling activities like giving tests, setting deadlines, and using conventional materials. Parents in Group 1 by comparison tended to use teaching practices that were less structured and more child-directed. They were also more secular and left-leaning than the Group 5 parents.

Probably the most interesting finding was that females had a significantly higher efficacy for homeschooling than males. While only 11% of the respondents were men, they were much more likely to engage in structured homeschooling, work long hours outside of the home, and demonstrate a low needs fulfillment.

Appraisal: While the study was well-designed by all accounts with a large sample size, a mix of homeschooling sub-populations, and carefully designed survey tools, the authors fail to present much useful information. As they mention in their discussion, there were fewer differences between their five groups than they anticipated. So, after their extensive statistical analysis is done, we learn that when we sort homeschooling parents according to their autonomy, efficacy, and needs satisfaction, there are only minor differences between the groups except when you compare the extremes of high and low needs satisfaction. While these findings lend further credence to the already well-documented idea that more-inexperienced homeschoolers prefer structured homeschooling, they also provide an interesting comparison of religious and secular homeschoolers, since the religious homeschoolers tended to see less academic engagement in their children and possess less efficacy for homeschooling.

One interesting implication of this study that would merit further work is the finding that less structured pedagogy correlates with increased feelings of efficacy and need satisfaction among parent-educators.  Earlier studies such as Martin-Chang, Gould, and Meuse,  Green-Hennessey, and Ray found that children receiving more structured home education performed better on academic and social measures. This study joins Yusof and the work of Peter Gray and Gina Riley to make a case for the other side. We learn nothing here of the effect of more progressive pedagogies on the children themselves, but, if Bell, Kaplan, and Thurman are to be belived, these pedagogies are at least good for parents.

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