I have in the past been reproached for not paying enough attention to research on home education, particularly that from North America. I have decided to remedy this by taking a serious look at the paper on homeschooling published by the Fraser Institute in 2001 and expanded and republished in 2007. This piece is often quoted enthusiastically by the advocates of home education. I have to say, I found a very big problem almost as soon as I skimmed through it. For those interested in seeing for themselves, it may be found here;
At first sight it appears to be a sober and measured overview of home education, with particular emphasis on the USA and Canada. A glance at page 14 will however at once give the game away. It says;
"For example, a three-year study conducted by
researchers at England’s University of Durham found
that home schooled students noticeably out-performed
their public school peers in both literacy and mathematics
(Livni, 2000). "
"England's University of Durham" tells us at once that they are referring to Paula Rothermel's doctoral thesis, but who on Earth are the "researchers" who "conducted a three year study"? Could the mysterious Livni, whom they cite, be one of these researchers? Well, no. Ephrat Livni is in fact a reporter for the ABC News in America. In other words, the authors of this widely quoted study from the Fraser Institute have not actually read Paula Rothermel's work themselves, but instead rely upon what they heard about it on the TV news! How scholarly is that? The truth is of course, that the the work at Durham to which they refer was actually a small-scale piece of research involving thirty five children carried out by an undergraduate. I suppose that talking about "researchers" made it sound more authoritative. They don't even credit Rothermel herself in their references.
The authors go on to say;
"The United Kingdom,
Germany, Japan, and Switzerland are some of the
developed nations with growing home schooling movements
Who is Billups, cited as though she were an academic source? That would be Andrea Billups who is a reporter for the Washington Post. And so it goes on. Among the sources for this paper are The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, Time Magazine, Washington Post and ABC News. The authors of this much quoted piece of work have evidently not bothered to read a lot of the original work upon which they comment, but have instead relied upon what newspaper reporters and the television news channels have chosen to say about it. Need I say more?
Try and imagine for a moment if I criticised Paula Rothermel's research here and then finished by saying, "Of course I haven't actually read it, but I know what was said about it in the Daily Mail!". To say that I would be heavily censured for expressing any sort of an opinion about the research without actuallybothering to read it for myself is perhaps something of an understatement. I have not the time to go through every one of the references in this piece, but I think that I have shown clearly that this is not really a proper study of the subject of home education. One has to bear in mind of course that a founder member of the Fraser Institute was Friederich Hayek, the economist. The whole organisation is very heavily slanted towards free market principles and the main reason that they are in favour of home education is because is not regulated by the government. Finally, I thought that this sentence from Wikipedia was worth quoting;
"Critics of the Institute and other similar agenda-driven think tanks have claimed the Fraser Institute's reports, studies and surveys are usually not subject to standard academic peer review or the scholarly method"
They got that right!