We looked yesterday at a ‘briefing paper’ about the proposed Welsh law on home education. This was designed to bamboozle education professionals into believing that there is good evidence that home education in this country is likely to lead to strong academic outcomes. One of the ways that this was done was to talk of a page on a website intended specifically for home educated children’s examination results and then pretend that these were the achievements of members of one home educating support group. We also saw evidence from the USA which apparently tended to suggest that home educated children did well academically and were more likely to go to college and university than schooled children. This is also implausible and for much the same reason.
The research quoted in the ‘briefing paper’ yesterday was that conducted by Larry Rudner and Brian Ray. Although extensive, it suffered from the same disadvantage as the statistics from the British website; that is to say, it was all self-selected. One sees at once the problem. Those volunteering to take part in such research are those for whom home education has been a success. Those who remain semi-literate after ten years of home education are unlikely in the extreme to offer to take part in any project looking at academic achievement. What is needed is a large group of young people, some of whom have been to school and others of whom have been home educated, so that we may compare their academic levels. Such a study has in fact been running in America for over ten years and the data from this provides a far more realistic and objective measure of the educational quality of home education than anything produced by Rudner or Ray.
Those wishing to attend college or university in the United States sit either the American College Testing assessment or the Scholastic Aptitude Test; the ACT or SAT. These measure such things as English, including reading ability, science and mathematics. Since the late 1990s, those taking these tests have been asked if they were educated at home. Of course, in a sense, this too is a self selected sample consisting only of those wishing to attend college, but that too reveals interesting information, as we shall see.
The first thing that one notices is that although home educated children taking these tests do tend to be slightly ahead of those who went to school, the differences are not dramatic. The ACT is scored from 1 to 36. The average schooled pupils score is 21, but home educated teenagers come in a little higher at almost 23. It gets really interesting when you break down the individual components of the scores. Home educated kids are quite a bit ahead on English, especially reading. This is not surprising really, since they spend much of their time in the company of adults; one would expect them to be more articulate and have a better vocabulary than those who spend their days in the company of other children. There is no difference at all in science and in mathematics, the home educated children lagged noticeably behind those who had been to school.
Another point to consider is that the proportion of home educated teenagers applying to go into further education seemed to be less than expected, given the numbers. In other words, it looks as though home educated children in America are less not more likely to go to university.
Of course, these figures must be treated with caution, but they are never the less intriguing. They do seem to suggest that the educational advantages of home education are not quite as pronounced as some would have us believe. The teenagers might have greater vocabularies, but they are worse at mathematics. There is no discernible advantage in science. The fact that a lower proportion of home educated children than expected is applying to go to university is also worth thinking about. This all gives a far more balanced picture of home education than one normally gains from looking at research financed by people like the HSLDA.