Sunday, November 13, 2016

In Furtherance of Religious/Moral Instruction

It’s one of those little populist side issues that few even think about. Many just assume that it is a reaction to the plunging quality of American public education. But it is a clearly expanding trend that just may be one more barometer of citizens’ disenchantment of their own country and what they perceive as changing values all around them. Homeschooling.
Emma Brown, writing for the November 1st Washington Post, had a chance to analyze recent figures released from a 2012 survey (Homeschooling in the United States: 2012) from the U.S. Department of Education: “Approximately 1.8 million U.S. children were home-schooled in 2012, more than double the number that were home-schooled in 1999, when the federal government began gathering data on national home-schooling trends, according to estimates released Tuesday [11/1]. The estimated number of home-schooled children represents 3.4 percent of the U.S. student population between the ages of 5 and 17.
“The increase was fastest between 1999 and 2007, then slowed between 2007 and 2012, according to the estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics.
“The figures show that most home-schoolers were white and living above the poverty line in 2012. An estimated 4 in 10 home-schoolers had parents who graduated from college, while about 1 in 10 had parents whose formal education ended before they graduated from high school.” The split of students show a roughly equal split among rural, suburban and urban families.
Very few families actually have either the luxury of time or the expertise to home-school, so the fact that this seems only to impact a small minority of student might cause most of us to believe that these numbers are too marginal to be relevant. Most states have rules and requirements for homeschoolers. But in examining all of the tea leaves around us, mired within an election cycle of exceptionally negative, vituperative campaigning with populism at the fore, it is interesting to note the alterations in motivation for this educational segment. Changes in methodology of these surveys, as technology has changed, have blurred the comparisons over time, however.
“Researchers conducted the home-schooling survey of a nationally representative sample of students via telephone from 1999 to 2007. In 2012, they instead asked questions via mail, introducing some methodological changes that make it more difficult to compare results over time.
“It’s particularly difficult to tell whether parents’ reasons for home-schooling have changed. In 2007, for example, 36 percent of parents said that providing ‘religious or moral instruction’ was the most important reason for home-schooling. It was the top-ranked ‘most important’ reason for home-schooling that year.
“In 2012, that share appeared to fall: Seventeen percent named religious instruction as most important and 5 percent said moral instruction was most important. But the question was asked differently, with religious and moral instruction as two separate reasons instead of one combined reason, and so it was not immediately clear whether the numbers represented a real change in parents’ motivations.
“The share of parents who said their most important reason was concern about the environment at other schools, such as safety, drugs and peer pressure, rose from 21 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2012. But that change was not statistically significant.” The Post.
Is the fact that this is mostly a white movement relevant? Do whites have a particularly values issue with the rest of society that is not share with black Americans or do the averages simply address relative affluence to be able to afford homeschooling? The report tells us specifically: “Most homeschooled students were White (83 percent) and nonpoor (89 percent), lived in cities or suburban areasand rural areas. Homeschooled students spanned all grade equivalents.”
Here are some of the salient findings of that study:
·         Nine in 10 homeschooled students’ parents reported that concern about schools’ environments was an important reason for their decision to homeschool...
·         Websites, homeschooling catalogs, public libraries, and bookstores were the more frequently cited sources of curriculum for homeschooled students in 2012. Curricula from public and private schools were among the least cited...
·         About a quarter of homeschooled students had parents who took a course to prepare for their child’s home instruction...
·         About a third of middle school-level homeschooled students (35 percent) and a third of high school-level (34 percent) homeschooled students took online courses...
·         Most high-school level homeschooled students had home instruction that included basic algebra (88 percent), earth sciences or geology and biology (69 percent each)...

That homeschoolers tend to do better on standardized tests than general academic averages is often touted by organizations promoting the practice, but dealing in the world of averages is a dangerous basis for making this choice. Indeed, quality might be a side benefit of targeting individual instruction, but that is seldom the main reason given by homeschooling parents. What is salient, however, is how many parents have lost faith in our public educational system… and perhaps in our overall American society itself. One more tea leaf. The brew may just be getting toxic.
I’m Peter Dekom, and is the flaw our system, our values or this pervasive notion that money trumps just about everything else around us… and at a very long-term cost to us all?

No comments: