Record: Brian D. Ray and Bruce K. Eagleson, “State Regulation of Homeschooling and Homeschoolers’ SAT Scores” in Academic Leadership: The Online Journal 6, no. 3 (14 August 2008). [Available fulltext here]
Summary: Ray, founder and president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), and Eagleson, Chief of Emergency Medicine at a hospital in Lebanon, PA, here present the results of a study of over 6,000 homeschooled students’ SAT scores nationwide to argue that homeschoolers’ academic achievement is not affected by the degree to which homeschooling is regulated by the states.
Ray and Eagleson begin with an introduction that summarizes the extant literature on homeschooler academic achievement (most of it done by Ray or other researchers funded by HSLDA). They acknowledge that none of this literature meets the standards of rigorous social science. Given the absence of reliable research, both advocates and critics of homeschooling resort to theoretical arguments for why government should or should not regulate, arguments ably summarized in this paper.
Ray and Eagleson try to get beyond these theoretical arguments by providing empirical evidence. They divide the various state statutes and policies concerning homeschooling into three categories (categories that match those of HSLDA’s famous color-chart): states with low, moderate, and high levels of regulation. They then compare the SAT scores of students from these differently-regulated states to determine if there is any relationship between level of regulation and SAT score.
The College Board (supplier of the SAT) provided Ray and Eagleson with the scores of all 6,170 students self-designating as homeschoolers who took the SAT in 2001. They did not receive individual scores but only the average score for each state and the number of males and females from each state who took the test.
Ray and Eagleson took the data provided by the College Board (dropping North and South Dakota, both of which had fewer than seven homeschoolers take the test) and compared the SAT scores with the degree of regulation (low, moderate, and high). They acknowledge that they must take it on faith that students self-designating as “homeschooled” were in fact homeschooled, though for how long or in what fashion they have no way of knowing.
Given these caveats, Ray and Eagleson found that there was no statistically significant difference in SAT performance between homeschoolers in states with low, moderate, or high levels of regulation. In fact, in every case, states with the highest levels of regulation actually had the lowest test scores (though not enough to make it statistically significant). This was true for states that had not changed their laws in ten years and also for states who had not changed their laws for five years. Ray and Eagleson provide statistically-literate readers with all of the charts and explanation needed to give them confidence that the data is legitimate.
Appraisal: Ray and Eagleson acknowledge limitations: we don’t know how long these students were homeschooled or how long they lived in the state wherein they took the test. Noting, however, that far fewer children are homeschooled at the upper grade levels, Ray and Eagleson speculate that those who took the SAT were very likely longtime homeschoolers. I’m inclined to accept this speculation on the whole, especially as the data comes from 2001, before the significant increase in homeschooled highschoolers brought about by the spread of cybercharters and other hybrids.
Second, Ray and Eagleson note that their results could be taken two ways. Supporters of increased regulation could see the evidence and assert that since increased regulation doesn’t hurt achievement, it should be implemented given its other benefits, such as catching abusive families. In contrast, opponents of regulation could interpret these results to demonstrate that homeschooling regulations do not improve homeschooling and thus that parents should be left alone. Ray and Eagleson fall into the latter category and conclude with a request that legislators not rush to regulate and test homeschoolers.
Ray and Eagleson have produced here a fine study that acknowledges its limitations and does not overgeneralize from its findings. It concludes soberly, not triumphantly. While there are a few questions that remained for me (e.g.whether SAT scores among homeschoolers vary by region as widely as do those of public schooled children, or why so few homeschoolers in sum take SAT), and while it would have been nice to have the raw scores and numbers of students by listed by state, Ray and Eagleson have produced a valuable piece of work.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College
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