Saturday, December 08, 2007

Who Homeschools?

A commenter responding to an earlier post pointed to survey data on homeschooling at the National Center for Educational Statistics site. Table 2 summarizes data on who homeschools.

One interesting thing is how widespread homeschooling is. Classified by household income, the percentage of children home schooled is essentially constant for the first three categories (under $25,000, $25,000-$50,000, $50,000-$75,000), a bit lower for the top ($75,000+) category--presumably because higher income parents have easier access to the private school alternative. By race, the rate is higher for non-hispanic whites than for blacks, but only by about a factor of two; interestingly, hispanics have about half the rate of blacks.

By parental education, home schooling percentages increase with increasing education through a bachelor's degree but are slightly lower for families where the highest parental education is a graduate degree than for those where it is a bachelor's--again, the differences are not enormous.

The one big effect is that families with two parents only one of whom work are much more likely to home school than other families--5.6% of their children are home schooled, compared to an overall average of 2.2%. And families with three or more children are somewhat more likely to home school than smaller families. Neither is surprising.

Another table on the site has data on reasons parents gave for home schooling. The most common "most important" reason was concern with the environment at other schools. The second most common, given by just under a third of parents, was "to provide religious or moral instruction." [In a comment on an earlier post, I reported those as the figures for "one reason" rather than "most important reason," which was a mistake; about 2/3 of parents gave it as one of their reasons].

All of which suggests that the common negative stereotype of home schoolers as poorly educated religious fundamentalists trying to isolate their children from the polluting effect of wicked ideas such as evolution is seriously inaccurate--no doubt such people exist, but the data suggest that they are a minority of all homeschoolers.

None of which I find terribly surprising. I am an atheist with a PhD, my wife is a mainline Christian with a masters degree. The first homeschooling family I knew, some forty years ago, contained two boys. At the time I knew them, one was the under 21 chess champion of the U.S., the other the under 14 champion.

Which is not to suggest that those cases are typical either.

29 Comments:

At 6:26 PM, December 08, 2007, Blogger Ahermitt said...

Ha! Good read. There is nothing typical about homeschoolers ever!

(coming from an African American, over educated artist and writer who is also a Conservative Christian, wife and mother of two with a very decent income, provided by my husband)

 
At 9:30 AM, December 09, 2007, Blogger Jan Tincher said...

The only homeschool teacher/mom that I knew was very goal oriented and knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish. My only thought was, what if that wasn't right for the kids? Is there a governing body that checks up on homeschooling?

 
At 10:55 AM, December 09, 2007, Anonymous sarah p said...

jan, that depends on the state you live in. In most states, the answer is no.

Who do you think should get to decide what is best for the kids?

 
At 1:50 PM, December 09, 2007, Blogger Jonathan said...

I suppose that education left to parents will sometimes be pretty disastrous; on the other hand, education left to governments is also sometimes pretty disastrous, and it affects a larger number of children.

 
At 5:20 PM, December 09, 2007, Blogger Craig said...

But, but they won't learn how to socialize! Just kidding.

 
At 9:55 PM, December 09, 2007, Anonymous sarah p said...

Craig said...
"But, but they won't learn how to socialize!"

Snort! I'll have to have a talk with mine about how backwards we must have made them -- as soon as they get back from their 24+ hour LAN party with 20 or so close friends that they left for last night, after they'd finished with their youth group board and committee meetings Friday morning, theatre rehearsals all afternoon (Much Ado About Nothing), and sold out rock band gig Friday night(to raise money for a local teen shelter).

 
At 3:58 AM, December 10, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

"All of which suggests that the common negative stereotype of home schoolers as poorly educated religious fundamentalists trying to isolate their children from the polluting effect of wicked ideas such as evolution is seriously inaccurate..."

Actually, no such thing is suggested by that data without a great deal of confirmation-bias assumptions.

If you are familiar with the homeschooling evangelistic literature, the three top reasons in table 4 are often sold together as a mutually reinforcing package.

"Concern about environment of other schools": that's code for secular, as opposed to Christian.

"Dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools": that's code for evolution instead of creationism.

"To provide religious or moral instruction": that's uncoded. Notice that 72.3% (almost 3/4) of the parents cite this as a reason. And that the sum of the three reasons here chosen as most important is 77.5%. If the three reasons are sold as a package, and the parents choose the most important among them randomly, we'd expect that sort of distribution.

I consider my interpretation plausible, not proven. And perhaps more likely than yours. And thus I view it as suggesting the opposite conclusion: that the common negative stereotype of home schoolers is accurate.

 
At 7:33 AM, December 10, 2007, Blogger Jim Lippard said...

Mike Huben: I don't think there's sufficient information to conclude that "concern about the environment of other schools" primarily means secular instruction, as opposed to other possibilities like drug use, instruction that provides indoctrination in views found by homeschoolers to be objectionable (statism, liberal politics, environmentalism, etc.) And if you compare the three-quarters wanting religious instruction to the general public, that's *less* than the proportion of Americans who describe themselves as religious. (However, I would expect that a higher proportion of these religious homeschoolers are specifically evangelical Christians than Catholics versus the general population.)

 
At 8:02 AM, December 10, 2007, Blogger jimbino said...

And it seems that the homeschooled are over-represented among winners in the national spelling, math, physics, and geography bees.

 
At 8:04 AM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous Tom Courtney said...

If you are familiar with the homeschooling evangelistic literature, the three top reasons in table 4 are often sold together as a mutually reinforcing package.

One thing to note is that the footnote thinks "environment" includes things like drugs, and the other kids.

The other thing that strikes me is that if this is somehow code for the evangelicalists, there ought to be some overlap in their answers - some will answer with all three, some with two, and some with one. Thus, you can't just sum the three of them up, subtract a bit off for the people who mean something else, and say that's the amount of religion driving homeschooling. If it really is code, then I'd expect the overlap between the three to be large, driving the number of religionists back down towards 1/3.

 
At 9:28 AM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous sarah p said...

jim: "(However, I would expect that a higher proportion of these religious homeschoolers are specifically evangelical Christians than Catholics versus the general population.)"

Perhaps, but google "catholic homeschooling" and you'll get something on the order of 327,000 hits. "Christian homeschooling" only returns about 127,000.

"Pagan homeschooling" returned nearly 6700 pages, just to provide some comparison. There are homeschooling support networks for every major religion, and many smaller ones as well.

When people give religious or moral instruction as a reason, they are not necessarily evangelical Christian, or even mainstream Christian. In fact, the reason moral instruction is included in that category is because some families that are not religious at all are still homeschooling in part to see to the moral education of their children.

 
At 10:34 AM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous markm said...

It looks to me like the three strongest correlations are:

1) two parent family, one parent not working.

2) Three or more children

3) College educated parent(s)

#1 + #2 might indicate an especially conservative form of Christianity, but they at least as well indicate parents that structure their lives around their children, starting with accepting the income loss from one parent staying home to take care of the kids. Of course, #3 runs directly against the "ignorant fundamentalist" theory - but I suspect it's that stereotype that's founded in ignorance, because it's not hard to find well-educated fundamentalists. In one home-schooling family I know, the parents are both psychotherapists with graduate degrees, both work part-time under contract to a social/welfare agency, and they are religious fundamentalists with six children.

 
At 11:44 AM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous sarah p said...

#1 + #2 might also indicate the point at which the cost of sending children to private school approaches the average family's net second income.

 
At 2:18 PM, December 10, 2007, Blogger Jonathan said...

Sarah, congratulations to your children on how many friends they seem to have made. My seven-year-old son has plenty of friends too, but he met virtually all of them at school and continues to see them at school every weekday. If he didn't go to school, I'm pretty sure he'd have fewer friends and meet them less often.

I don't doubt that homeschooling is a good solution for some people; I just don't think it would be a good solution for most people. I'd prefer to send my son to an unschooling type of school, if we had one available around here.

Fortunately, although the school we chose is relatively conventional, it's quite pleasant, has a very friendly social atmosphere, and he likes it well enough.

 
At 2:42 PM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous Al Fin said...

Mike's argument is irrational, so he must have been government schooled.
;-) Heh! Just kidding.

But seriously, perhaps he could benefit from learning about logical fallacies. Reading "evangelical homeschool literature" is not the way to deduce substantive information about ALL HOMESCHOOLERS. Just one subset. A serious logical transgression indeed.

It is the frequency of such disjointed arguments rather than the fact, that suggests a serious dysfunction at some point in the process of teaching logic and argument formation. The educational system is broken.

It does not help that most North American universities weed out faculty who do not adhere to one particular ideological end of the philosophical spectrum. Not being exposed to all points of the ideological compass produces academically lobotomised graduates.

 
At 5:34 PM, December 10, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Al, if you read more carefully, I did not "deduce substantive information about ALL HOMESCHOOLERS."

As for illogic, I recommend that you read my two short articles on the subject: Distrust in logic, and Skepticism of Rationality.

 
At 6:22 PM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous Al Fin said...

Whatever you say.

 
At 9:58 PM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous sarah p said...

jonathan, I couldn't say whether it would be a good solution for most people, and I certainly wouldn't encourage folks who don't want to homeschool to do so. Likewise, I wouldn't try to talk anyone out of something else they've found that they're happy with.

That said, having observed countless homeschooling families over the course of the past 20 or so years, I can say that it appears to be a good "solution" for the overwhelming majority of families that decide to try it, regardless of their income, parents' level of education, marital status, race, religion (or lack thereof), political persuasion, etc.

There have been more than a few families I have worried about over the years, only to see their children become educated well beyond anyone's expectations. There are many I have to bite my tongue over when it comes to parenting choices - but those exist quite apart from homeschooling as well.

One recent lesson for me has been a teenage girl my daughter spent a fair amount of time with when they were younger. This girl was often left alone, or left to care for the children of her older siblings, and her extended family is dysfunctional, to say the least. Of her older siblings that attended school, all are alcoholic, and two of the three are married to physically abusive spouses.

The parents decided to homeschool D and her 2-years-older sister because of traumatic incidents at school they believed contributed to the older siblings' problems. They still had to work to make ends meet, and because the two younger girls were resistant to doing schoolwork at home, they gave up on that idea, and essentially left them to their own devices. Consequently, they never had any formal schooling, and didn't have attentive and available parents either.

The older of the two decided last year that she wanted to go to college. She had been working for a year and saved up some money. She went to the local community college, took the placement tests, and a year later has successfully finished her first year of college. She has plans to transfer to a 4-year college after another year.

The younger one, D, ended up hanging out with her alcoholic older sister, and getting into trouble with the law (out after curfew, underage drinking). At her court date, a judge ordered her to start school immediately. At 16, after having no schooling whatever in her entire life, she started in the middle of a semester at a magnet high school, and is making straight As. In less that a semester's time, she has caught up to and surpassed most of her peers in every class, even though she is of fairly average intelligence.

This is on my mind because I spoke with her a few days ago about it. Because of my own prejudices, I feared the worst for her, but she has proven very resilient and resourceful. She believes that all her years of freedom, while unfortunately giving her room to go astray, were also what enabled her to excell.

 
At 10:20 PM, December 10, 2007, Anonymous sarah p said...

aarrrggghh. Nothing like spelling errors I can't edit to make me crazy.

 
At 7:45 AM, December 11, 2007, Anonymous Tom Courtney said...

There's another piece of data in the report pointing towards religion being the reason for about a third of the cases. Table 5 of the report is about resources used, and one of those are "churches, synagogues, etc.", which get used by approximately 1/3 of the respondents.

 
At 11:55 AM, December 11, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tom writes:

"Table 5 of the report is about resources used, and one of those are "churches, synagogues, etc.", which get used by approximately 1/3 of the respondents."

The way you put it makes it sound as though the church or synagogue is itself being used as a resource. What the table is showing is the source of curriculum or books. The percentages sum to about 400%. So what that shows is that, for about a third of the students, one of (on average) four sources of materials is religious.

That strikes me as inconsistent with Mike's view of the situation.

 
At 8:06 AM, December 12, 2007, Blogger Jim Lippard said...

"Of course, #3 runs directly against the "ignorant fundamentalist" theory - but I suspect it's that stereotype that's founded in ignorance, because it's not hard to find well-educated fundamentalists."

There are well-educated fundamentalists, but there is a lot of empirical evidence for a negative correlation between education and religiosity, some of which is summarized at Wikipedia.

Just looking at scientists, there's a very strong negative correlation between being a professional scientist and being a religious believer, that (as I recall) is strongest in physics and biology. On the other hand, mathematicians have a much higher rate of belief in God than scientists (which may be related to the fact that so many mathematicians are Platonists/mathematical realists).

 
At 12:20 PM, December 12, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jim says "there is a lot of empirical evidence for a negative correlation between education and religiosity" and points at Wikipedia. The article seems to present somewhat mixed evidence.

My ex-colleague Larry Iannacone, a Becker student whose specialty is economics of religion, reported the opposite result for the U.S.--that religion had a modest positive correlation with education. One obvious problem with any such statements it the measure of how religious someone is.

My memory from other work he described is that he used measures such as church attendence, donations, and the like, but I don't know if that was true for that particular result.

 
At 12:41 PM, December 12, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

"So what that shows is that, for about a third of the students, one of (on average) four sources of materials is religious."

The following categories are not churches, but often do sell (or even specialize in) religious books:

Homeschooling catalog, publisher, or individual specialist 76.9%
Retail bookstore or other store 68.7%
Education publisher not affiliated with homeschooling 59.6%
Homeschooling organization 49.2%

If you total them up, it's 254%, which means that there's plenty of access to religiously correct curriculum. Keep in mind also that only a few subjects offend the religious: secular math and reading texts are OK with everybody.

I recommend that you go and LOOK at the offerings of a few of these sources.

 
At 9:12 PM, December 13, 2007, Anonymous Tom Courtney said...

Mike recommended we go look at some of the entries under other headings, and that seemed like excellent advice, and so I did.

I googled "homeschooling organizations" and looked at the non-paid-for hits. (Many of the sponsored hits on the right were geared towards Massachusetts, and therefore, I suspected, me. The hit I got in the yellow space on top, which I gather is an expensive sponsor, consistently was the HSLDA, which is definitely a Christian organization.)

I looked at the first three pages. When it was a simple page, I looked for the statement of purpose and in the biology section to see if there was anything on creation science.

In the multiple state listing, if it was a simple listing, I scanned the listings, if it was complex, I looked at the entries for Texas. (Texas is a large place. Though it is supposed to be a hotbed for the evangelical movement, it also has lots of groups in opposition to that. If both are represented, I find that telling.) If more religious entries appeared than secular, I called it religious. If more secular than religious, I called it secular, if they were about the same I called it a draw.

I looked at the first three pages. Result: 6 religious, 2 draw, 21 secular, 1 I wasn't sure - there were far more secular entries than religious ones, but the religious ones were crammed up in front since it was alphabetized, and "catholic" and "christian" appear early in the alphabet.

Now I do have to admit to a bias: I was taught by Piarist priests, but given a Catholic education. Our student body had Christians, Jews, Moslems, atheists, and for all I know, taoists and shintoists in it. Our religious classes consisted of "comparative religion" classes, which looked at world belief systems and tried to stress the major points they were teaching, and the history behind the development of the religion. Therefore I may well be inclined to call Catholic, Anglican, or Episcopal, homeschooling organizations "secular" when they seem to be to my eye - i.e. don't teach creation science, and have a broad view on religious presentation as philosophy and history.

 
At 9:24 PM, December 13, 2007, Anonymous Tom Courtney said...

Posting too late:

When I said " I was taught by Piarist priests, but given a Catholic education." I meant to say I was not given a Catholic education, or even a Christian one.

 
At 10:55 PM, December 13, 2007, Anonymous sarah p said...

tom: "I looked at the first three pages. Result: 6 religious, 2 draw, 21 secular, 1 I wasn't sure"

That would seem fairly consistent with the 1/3 religionist number.

 
At 6:44 AM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Jonathan said...

Sarah, thanks for your interesting contributions.

 
At 10:07 AM, March 07, 2010, Anonymous CrisisMaven said...

For home educators, students and researchers: I have put one of the most comprehensive link lists for hundreds of thousands of statistical sources and indicators (economics, demographics, health etc.) on my blog: Statistics Reference List. And what I find most fascinating is how data can be visualised nowadays with the graphical computing power of modern PCs, as in many of the dozens of examples in these Data Visualisation References. If you miss anything that I might be able to find for you or if you yourself want to share a resource, please leave a comment.

 

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