Wednesday, 6 November 2013

An odd omission

Many home educating parents in this country say that they  value such qualities in their children as creativity, compassion, altruism and curiosity at least as much as they do academic achievement. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. At the same time, it is asserted that in addition to these immeasurable qualities, children educated at home do actually do better academically; reading earlier and so on. The source  for such claims, at least when made in Britain,  is almost invariably the work of Paula Rothermel. As many readers will know, in 1998 Paula Rothermel administered Performance Indicators in Primary Schools  or PIPS assessments to  35 home educated children and conducted literacy tests on some others. The results were astonishing, showing the home educated children to be greatly in advance of their schooled peers. So far, so good and these results are still quoted whenever the subject of academic achievement among home educated children in this country is raised. Nobody seems to have noticed a very curious omission.

At a conference this year, held in August, Paula Rothermel  presented a paper entitled, ‘Home-Education: The Cognitive Leap at 4-5 years: comparative research from school and home educated children’  Here it is:

This is an account of those same 35 children that were tested using PIPS in 1998. In fact, for the last 15 years, Dr Rothermel has always  quoted this same, exceedingly small piece of research. Never has an academic career been founded upon more slender and insubstantial material; 35 children, 15 years ago!  However, what I have been wondering lately is this. Rothermel knew all those children personally. She visited their homes, made friends with their parents and was enormously popular with the home educating families. Having found such outstanding academic ability in a cohort of home educated children, surely here is a rich vein to be mined? Instead of harping on, 15 years later about those same tests conducted in 1998, one would have expected to see some sort of follow-up. After all, those children must be nearly 20 by now. How are they doing?  Did their early academic success continue? Are they at university or working? Are any of them unemployed? What sort of GCSE results did they get?  Remember, these were being touted as academically gifted children, with brilliant prospects. In terms of literacy alone, Rothermel found that 94% of the 6 year-olds were in the top band, whereas in schools, one would expect this to be only 16%. These were astounding figures.

Just to make myself clear; here are families who volunteered to have their children tested academically, with startlingly good results. Paula Rothermel knew these people personally, had visited their homes, had their addresses and telephone numbers and so on. Has she never asked herself or indeed their parents, how these children got in in later years? I am sure that she must have done and yet there has been no further news about them. Of course, when she is attending conferences in Bogota or Barcelona,  all this might be new to them and they may not notice just how elderly these data are becoming,  but in academic circles in this country, the endless recycling of these same figures has become a topic of amusement over the years. Am I the only person in the home educating world who has noticed this, or asked himself what actually became of those shining and academically advanced children?

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