Sunday, 14 February 2010

More about educational attainment

I have mentioned that self selection has been a bit of a devil, both here and in the USA, when it comes to looking at the academic achievement of children educated at home. In recent years, a new way of looking at the situation has emerged, one which is objective and enables us to check the attainment of home educated children against those who have been taught at school. Best of all, it does not depend upon self selection, at least not directly. The only problem is that this information is restricted to America.

Americans wishing to gain admission to colleges and universities sit either the SAT or ACT test. In the last few years, students taking these two tests have been specifically asked whether or not they have been home educated. The results of these tests have, as with other tests, shown home educated students to be ahead of those who attended school, but with a far narrower margin than has previously been claimed by some researchers. On the ACT college entrance test, for instance, it is possible to score from one to thirty six. Schooled students average about twenty one, while those who have been home educated come in at just under twenty three. The individual components however are revealing. In reading, the home educated are greatly ahead of average, they are roughly level in science and slightly behind in mathematics.

The slightly higher score for home educated teenagers is almost entirely due to their having a richer vocabulary and being more fluent readers. When other academic areas are looked at, they are either dead level or a little behind their schooled peers. These data from colleges throw up another statistic which may perhaps be significant. The proportion of home educated students actually taking the SAT and ACT tests for college entrance is lower than expected, given the numbers of home educated children in the Unites States. In other words, it looks as though home educated children are less likely than those who have attended school to apply for a place at college or university. This might mean that overall, children educated at home tend to be academically behind schooled children and that those who apply for college are a minority. It might equally well mean of course that they are starting businesses, writing or working at more creative and satisfying jobs and see no need to go to college or university. We can only guess about that.

Home education organisations in America are not happy with the assertion that home educated children are less likely to apply for college and seek to explain it by suggesting that some home educated children seek to conceal the fact when they apply to college. It is said that they might do this because they are afraid of prejudice. This is possible but unlikely. Some universities actually give preference now to such students. Of course, the tests taken by those wishing to go to college or university are also in a sense self selected; only those who feel that they wish to study at college take them. There are some difficulties with accepting these data at face value. We have no idea how long those who said they were home educated were actually taught at home. It could have been a year or it might have been from birth; we simply don't know. It is not hard to see how this could distort the figures.

The statistics from the SATS and ACT tests are interesting. They seem to show that home educated children who wish to apply for higher education are at least as accomplished generally as the children who have been in school. To that extent, it is an endorsement of home education, albeit not a dramatic one. More work is needed though to find out why home educated children are apparently less likely to apply for college or university in the first place. I have a suspicion that something of this sort is likely to be happening in this country before too long. The DCSF feasibility study, which I have mentioned before, looks to me as though it could lead to the gathering of this sort of information here, which would be very interesting.

27 comments:

  1. Money for old rope? Ask DCSF what conclusions they’d like, invent a few fictional families, make some notes and write something about them that supports the conclusions. All families must be anonymous, of course, so they can’t be followed up with FOI requests, and using fictional characters saves having to go to the trouble of finding families who’ll sign up to the study.

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  2. Errr, they are still self selected. They have chosen to take the test and have probably taken practice tests so have a pretty good idea tht they are likely to pass as have schooled children no doubt. It's just as useful (or not) as the study you mentioned a few days back (I believe the test used was just as impartial as the SAT or ACT tests) though at least that study made some attempt to compare like with like demographically in some sections of the report.

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  3. http://www.arkansased.org/about/pdf/schools/hs_report_08-09_081309.pdf

    This document may be of interest. The US state of Arkansas has mandatory testing of homeschool students but no penalties for poor performance (the page includes information about the relevant laws). The tests take place at centres run by the education department. It is possible to apply to take alternatives tests but these tests have to be approved by the department. For the years where results are available for both groups there seems to be very little difference in achievement levels between school and homeschool students. Incidentally there are unschoolers in Arkansas but I've no idea how many.

    The following are the percentile results for 2007 from page 43 (the last year they give full figures for). There were 15,012 homeschool students enrolled that year. Hope the format stays readable.

    Grade homeschool school
    3rd 0.57 0.6
    4th 0.61 0.62
    5th 0.6 0.6
    6th 0.58 0.52
    7th 0.59 0.52
    8th 0.58 0.49
    9th 0.57 0.48

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  4. It would be interesting to know the demographic background of the homeschoolers in Arkansas compared to the school pupils. It seems likely (though not necessarily) that the homeschoolers have more advantages than the average school pupil which suggests that homeschooling may be less effective (according to school type measures) than schools. But then, that may not be surprising as there are many reasons to home school apart from educational attainment and some are probably more important.

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  5. I think it would be even more useful if they included a question to see any of the "schooled" kids were HEed until the last couple of years when they re-entered the school system. Cos I got the impression that quite a few families took that approach to counter any road blocks from higher ed caused by entry straight from HE.

    Some questioning about the use of distance learning packages wouldn't hurt either.

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  6. I wouldn't think a few homeschoolers going back to school would skew the school figures that much, or do you mean the homeschool figures may be skewed because of the loss of children into school? If so, which way do you think the home school figure would move if they were included in the home school figures?

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  7. 2008-09 school year home school students by grade

    Kindergarten 948
    1st grade 1,042
    2nd grade 1,133
    3rd grade 1,108
    4th grade 1,120
    5th grade 1,150
    6th grade 1,156
    7th grade 1,217
    8th grade 1,203
    9th grade 1,424
    10th grade 1,835
    11th grade 1,701
    12th grade 1,024
    Total 16,061

    There seems to be a steady increase in total number:

    2004 13,163
    2005 13,973
    2006 13,814
    2007 15,012
    2008 15,660
    2009 16,061

    Not sure what happened in 2006. Looking at the extra large jump the following year I suspect an administration error.

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  8. "I wouldn't think a few homeschoolers going back to school would skew the school figures that much, or do you mean the homeschool figures may be skewed because of the loss of children into school? If so, which way do you think the home school figure would move if they were included in the home school figures?"


    I think in order to move towards dialogue and engagement with findings (as opposed to skirmishes about methodology and bias) it is essential to make sure that said findings give as clear a view as possible. We need to know how many kids are a product of both HE and/or distance learning AND mainstream ed in order to ascertain if their results have an impact on either group and in which direction. We also need to work out which group the "both school and HE" kid's results belong to (based on greater length of time, or other factors ?) if they are numerous enough to cause skewing.

    In of itself it would be interesting to see if the HEed students who make late entry into mainstream ed tend to cluster at either the lower or higher end of the "schooled kids" scale. I doubt there are enough of them to be skewing the schooled kids results one way or the other, but their absence from being counted as HEed kids might be skewing the HE kids results if they are a significant group (again that could be up or down).

    I like the idea of this form of data collection, I think the results over time could be extremely useful in combating the sweeping statements that the argument is littered with in every direction. However I would much prefer a refined format when it came to collecting the details of educational history including types of schools attended, types of distance programmes used, flavour of HE etc etc

    If the info is collected at application stage, but withheld from those assigning places, it could give us a large scale, fairly bias free snapshot of the status quo and over time answer a whole heap of questions.

    To leave it as is seems like an lost opportunity.

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  9. "If the info is collected at application stage, but withheld from those assigning places"

    Sorry, that should read...If the info is collected at application stage, but withheld from those marking papers.

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  10. Who cares what home educators or state school children do regarding educational attainment? it does not seem to top of any one list!

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  11. Must admit I agree anonymous despite posting the link to the statistics from Arkansas. As long as I'm sure we are not going to let our children down I don't really care how home education compares to school education in general. Education is important but attainment according to school measures is of minor significance to us as a family, as long as they are not held back from doing what they want to do with their lives (they haven't been so far and they range in age from 14-20).

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  12. 'Who cares what home educators or state school children do regarding educational attainment? it does not seem to top of any one list!'

    Who cares? Errr, me.

    It's not top of my list, either. Becoming a nice person is top of mine. Being well-educated is in the top 3 or 4 of my list of reasons though.

    Mrs Anon

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  13. Mrs anon Who cares? Errr, me.

    It's not top of my list, either. Becoming a nice person is top of mine. Being well-educated is in the top 3 or 4 of my list of reasons though.

    most people dont care are to busy with they own lives to worry about home educators or state school children
    dont think being a nice person will get you far in Labour?Brown UK.dog eat dog every man for him self you only got to see the way people shop in supermarkets to see that when we had that snow my goodness i never seen anything like it peoples trollys full up with goods thy run out of chickens! i asked the shop girl whats happened people to greedy she said!
    no one really worried about a load of home educated children/state school children!look at the state of some esates

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  14. I have to agree with Mrs. Anon. Educational attainment may not be right in at number one, but it is surely three or four. Happiness and health and being a kind person probably come at the top, but apart from them, I cannot think of anything more important that academic achievement.

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  15. I think I would have to agree that (again it isn't at the top of my list) educational achievement is important. Now this doesn't neccessarily mean GCSEs, but it does mean being as well educated as you can, even given the limitations that some children have for learning. There was never the possibility of me thinking "my daughter is autistic so it doesn't matter what she achieves" any more than I find it acceptable, for example, to care less about my girls education than I do my boys. In fact I care about my education too; I may be old but I hope I am still learning .....
    My elder boys (who went through school) are all doing the jobs they want and enjoying it; they can do this because they followed the educational qualifications they needed to get there; surely any parent wants their children to be in the same position as far as they are able?

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  16. Like I said, not top of my list, I didn't say it wasn't on the list! Some of the others outcomes mentioned are likely to rely to some extent on the suitability of the education they receive too, I do realise this. I just meant that it's not an end in itself or the main measure of success for us, especially when school measures are used.

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  17. simon said being a kind person probably come at the top,
    that will not get you far in Brown/labour UK its every man for him self your living in clock cukoo land if you think otherwise.Just look at how people behave on the streets on a friday night.

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  18. "Who cares what home educators or state school children do regarding educational attainment? it does not seem to top of any one list!"

    It's got to be up there on the list of quite a number of people otherwise...


    ......there wouldn't have been any attempt to collect that data in the first place.

    ..... in HEing circles and forums you'd never hear anybody mentioning HE in positive terms with regards to educational attainment, let alone feeling the need to defend it outside said circles/forums.....because there would be no criticism to answer, due to no one caring about the subject enough to comment negatively in the first place.

    "Just look at how people behave on the streets on a friday night. "

    The above and the supermarket example rather underlines why I agree with Mrs. Anon in terms of priorities.

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  19. "It's got to be up there on the list of quite a number of people otherwise...
    ......there wouldn't have been any attempt to collect that data in the first place."

    But whose is interested in this information? The parents and children who are directly affected and have the most to lose, or those with a commercial interest in human capital?

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  20. I'm curious to know what sinister "commercial interests" might be behind the DCSF plan to gather data on the educational attainment of home educated children. This sounds like a conspiracy theory in the making and I would very much like to be in on the ground floor of this one!

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  21. "But whose is interested in this information? The parents and children who are directly affected and have the most to lose, or those with a commercial interest in human capital?"

    By and large the same people who will quite happily discuss HE compared to state school and vice versa in every other context.

    HEing parents are not without interest in state school kids and their outcomes, the lists are littered knee deep with references to the failures of the state school system in terms of outcomes. Likewise you'll see parents who use mainstream ed do the same with HE.

    The range of "who" and their motivation is going to be fairly wide ranging.

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  22. But how much is the HE interest because they feel they have to defend their choices against the authorities and anyone who feels they have a right to challenge the choices we make for our families? Did you choose to HE just because you think you can educate your child to a higher academic standard than schools? Simon has mentioned before that quality of life issues are usually listed first as the reasons for choosing to HE in this country.

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  23. "I'm curious to know what sinister "commercial interests" might be behind the DCSF plan to gather data on the educational attainment of home educated children. This sounds like a conspiracy theory in the making and I would very much like to be in on the ground floor of this one!"

    Not specifically the collection of information though that's obviously part of the bigger picture. Of course the DCSF, government and business are interested in our children because they are potential human capital, it's hardly a secret so unlikely to be classed as a conspiracy. Do you really think government and business are concerned about the self fulfilment and happiness of our children above and beyond any effect it might have on their working, earning and tax paying capacity?

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  24. sarah -Just look at how people behave on the streets on a friday night. "

    The above and the supermarket example rather underlines why I agree with Mrs. Anon in terms of priorities.
    This sort of behaviour been going on for years nothing ever changed it lots of talk about but no change in peoples behaviour you go into any big town on friday night and just watch how people carry on drunk in street fighting shouting crime its terrible but nothing much is ever done! just talk by M.P's who live NO where no these places like many people on this blog?

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  25. 1 "But how much is the HE interest because they feel they have to defend their choices against the authorities and anyone who feels they have a right to challenge the choices we make for our families?"

    I find that aspect comprehensible, I'd love a thick wad of studies to batter people on the head with when they come up to me in the supermarket, vomit their snap judgments all over me and make me lose count of how much I've spent so far.

    In my case though it is not the sole or the even the primary consideration. You'd have to ask the other parents where they are coming from.


    2 "Did you choose to HE just because you think you can educate your child to a higher academic standard than schools?"

    There were pastoral concerns too, connected to the how the teachers were equipped to perform their role in the educational sense.

    I think I could have found a school with a better pastoral track record, but not one with a significantly better academic performance. So by and large the answer is yes.


    3 "Simon has mentioned before that quality of life issues are usually listed first as the reasons for choosing to HE in this country".

    I'm doing it for quality of life issues.

    We have a better quality of life since changing to HE, he is far, far happier enjoying success rather than suffering the sting of constantly being set up to fail. We hope for the same in the future, if thanks to a good education (fingers crossed) the doors he wants to be open to him are open and the quality of life he seeks is attainable.

    I don't see prioritizing a good education as contradictory to a seeking a decent quality of life, quite the opposite.

    4 "just talk by M.P's who live NO where no these places like many people on this blog? "

    Politicians mould the landscape, but it's my job to draw the initial map to help my son navigate the terrain they create and my priorities for him are cemented by the realities of the sharp end rather than dissipated by them.

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  26. 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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