This is a guest post from Gary Houchens, professor at the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at Western Kentucky University.
One of America's foremost scholars of school leadership and improvement is Joe Murphy, professor of education at Vanderbilt University. His 2012 book, Homeschooling in America: Capturing and Assessing the Movement, offers the most comprehensive look to date at one of the nation's fastest-growing school choice options. Murphy's book makes it clear that what we know – and don't know – about homeschooling offers deep lessons for professional educators.
In his book, Murphy offers a thorough, detailed, and easy-to-read examination of existing research. American homeschooling is a movement skyrocketing in popularity (as many as 4% of school-aged children are now educated primarily at home). Murphy traces modern homeschooling to the democratic and free school movements of the '60's, though religious conservatives dominated the ranks of homeschoolers by the 1980's.
While today's homeschoolers are largely demographically heterogeneous (white, middle class, religiously and politically conservative, and better educated than the average American family), as the movement has grown in popularity it also has become increasingly diverse, and secular homeschoolers also occupy an large and important segment of the homeschooling population.
1. Nonreligious homeschoolers tend to unschool.
Homeschoolers confess two typical motivations: a desire for more family time and an urge to pass on the family's values. Most report a concern that their children will be harmed academically, socially, or spiritually by traditional schooling. And homeschoolers make pedagogical choices that are strongly associated with religious motivations (with religious-oriented homeschoolers tending toward more traditional approaches to teaching and learning) or non-religious ones (in which case families tend toward more student-centered methods, such as unschooling).
2. Data shows homeschooling does no harm.
Murphy provides a thoughtful overview of research on the effects of homeschooling, noting that the dearth of sophisticated, controlled studies prevents researchers from concluding that the same child learns more in a homeschooling environment than she would in a traditional school setting. However, data is clear that homeschooling does no harm in that, on a variety of measures, homeschooled children perform as well as their traditionally-school peers. On the other hand, numerous studies show that homeschooled children from families of color, and of lower incomes and educational levels, typically perform higher than demographically-similar peers in traditional schools.
3. Socialization is a non-issue: homeschooled children are fine.
The most common argument against homeschooling is that children are not be properly socialized. But Murphy presents research rejecting this hypothesis, demonstrating that based on multiple socialization measures, homeschooled children are adept socially, and in fact have higher levels of adult interaction and engage in more community-based activities.
4. Current schools don't work. Homeschooling is a viable alternative.
Traditional schools fail because you cannot meet the needs of America's diverse children through a one-size-fits-all, state-run monopoly on education. The central planning required for the government to deliver any public good (including education) requires standardization, which prohibits schools from tailoring learning to the needs and preferences of individual children and their families.
But the homeschooling movement demonstrates that children can be effectively educated without these structures, and without a vast, expensive cadre of professionally trained teachers and administrators.
5. The future of education is outside of traditional schools.
As more and more families demand educational options that address their values, academic preferences, and individual learning needs, the traditional structures of schooling will become largely irrelevant. Professional educators can use their considerable political clout to resist this inevitable demand (paternalistically insisting that they know better than families, and denying those families their desired choices), or they can embrace personalized learning, truly innovative models of instruction, and school choice.
The greatest educators in the 21st century will very likely not work in traditional schools. But that doesn't mean there will be no place for professional educators. On the contrary, true educators will discover new venues by which to deliver the public good of education, and provide a far more meaningful learning experience for children than they were ever allowed in a traditional school.