Saturday, January 24, 2009

Two years behind? Hogwash

State Sen. Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequah) made a rather startling claim this week. As The Oklahoman's Sheila Stogsdill reported:
On the average, homeschooled students who go into public schools are two years behind students their age, Wilson said. "You hear examples of homeschool students excelling, but that is not the norm," Wilson said. 
Two years behind? One wonders where Sen. Wilson unearthed that extraordinary datum. Because the fact of the matter is, "homeschool students excelling" actually is the norm. As author and attorney Bruce Shortt has written:
No study anywhere has ever shown that homeschooled students in any state do worse academically than government-schooled students. In fact, virtually every study ever done on the academic performance of homeschoolers shows that they do substantially better academically than their bureaucratically managed government-school counterparts.
Curious, I called the senator's office on January 21 to ask for a citation on this "two years behind" claim. I got his voicemail, so I left a message asking him to call me. I'll let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, I received an e-mail from one homeschool expert who sketched out a scenario for "homeschool failure" that actually does occur:
Mrs. Jones becomes unhappy with the local school for some reason and has heard about "homeschooling." Subsequently, she pulls Johnny out to "homeschool" him. Johnny, by the way, is already one to two years behind academically (courtesy of the local school) and is very peer-dependent.

Now Mrs. Jones, who has only "heard" of homeschooling, proceeds to "school" Johnny for six hours a day at the kitchen table. Johnny hates six hours a day of lectures from his mom and hates being separated from his government-school peer group. Mrs. Jones, for her part, finds that "homeschooling" interferes with her "personal time." So, after two months Mrs. Jones declares that "homeschooling" doesn't work and returns Johnny to school. Johnny, of course, is still one to two years behind despite being "homeschooled" for two months. Johnny's teacher, then, can claim that homeschooling students who are enrolled in school come in "behind" academically. There are variations on this scenario, but all involve similar elements.

Another government-school scam for tarnishing homeschooling is to tell kids that are dropping out, or that the school wants to have drop out (because they are hugely disruptive or violent), that if they declare that they are leaving to be "homeschooled" they won't be harassed for being truant. This helps the bureaucrat by "reducing" his dropout rate, while at the same time creating a group of faux homeschoolers that they can use to smear homeschooling. I first heard about this from an uncle who is a teacher and subsequently have read about it going on in various parts of the country and the UK.

Undoubtedly, there are homeschooled children who were born on the left-hand side of the bell curve. What is amazing is that with homeschool averages tending to be so high, the standard deviations cannot be large. So, those kids are performing at higher levels than you would normally expect from children whose IQ is below average.

Finally, are there true homeschool failures (defined as children who would be better off if they weren't homeschooled)? There must be, but they are so rare that I haven't encountered any. Normally, when you hear from someone that they know of a family in which the children shouldn't be homeschooled, further discussion usually reveals that the person doesn't approve of homeschooling, has no idea of what reasonable standards are, dislikes the fact that the children are receiving a Christian education, and so on.
This isn't the first time Sen. Wilson has done his "Professor" Harold Hill routine, but it is the first time I've heard him allege that homeschooled children are generally two academic years behind public school students. I shall sit by the phone awaiting that footnote, but for now I couldn't respond to his assertion any better than the state's largest newspaper did: "That's hogwash and a ridiculous scare tactic based on the comments of a few teachers."

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