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    Home Schooling Gets An A+ In Canada
    By Hank Campbell | September 9th 2011 04:00 AM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    Can professional teachers in a crowded classroom hobbled by arcane government policies teach kids well?   Probably, in most cases, but institutionalized education and their unions have gone to war against any changes to the status quo, even when the status quo is clearly broken.  The only acceptable change is more money.

    Home schooling can do a great job, if it is structured and has a formal curriculum.  It may even be an advantage, according to a new study in Canada.

    If you're thinking that sounds like a solution only available to the upper middle class, well, maybe you're right, or at least only available to families willing to sacrifice and only have one person working in an increasingly tax-heavy culture, but doing what the researchers could to factor in marital status, number of children, employment, education and household income, the benefits they found with structured homeschooling couldn't be explained by differences in income or maternal education.  Parental willingness and determination to do a good job wasn't quantifiable.

    The study in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science looked at 74 kids between 5 and 10 years old in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, half homeschooled and half in public schools. Each child completed standardized tests calibrating their reading, writing and arithmetic skills - the "Three Rs" schools used to focus on before education became about framing modern events through social justice issues. 

    The public school children did well, performing at or above normal levels, but kids in structured homeschools had superior test results; a half-grade advantage in math and 2.2 grade levels in reading.

    'Structured' is a key term.  Clearly, 'homeschooling' means different things to different people, just like education does in general.   Efforts in the US to establish actual national standards, like No Child Left Behind and in the foreign countries that beat US kids on standardized tests, have been criticized by education unions despite their success - fluctuating standards for homeschooling can be even more contentious.  We've all seen stories of parents who claim to be homeschooling but it basically means not doing much teaching at all; the kids do what they want.

    A subgroup of 12 homeschooled children had no education structure or curriculum - unschooling, they call it - no tests, no textbooks.  Unlike kids in structured homeschools, unschooled children performed worse than public school children.   "Differences between the two groups were pronounced, ranging from one to four grade levels in certain tests," said first author Sandra Martin-Chang, a professor in the Concordia Department of Education.

    The standard fallback position for the status quo when faced with superior results of alternative education methods is 'socialization' that public school offers - I never bought that argument.  Are children really better off socially learning that sex and drugs are acceptable, or that they aren't cool if they wear the wrong clothes or if they don't play sports? Socialization is the worst argument for institutional education - 50% of the kids learn nothing except the world is a tough place instead of how to do science.

    In Canada, Martin-Chang estimates that about one percent of children are homeschooled and  estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics (2008) say 1.5 million kids in the USA are homeschooled. "Structured homeschooling may offer opportunities for academic performance beyond those typically experienced in public schools...compared to public education, homeschooling can present advantages such as accelerating a child's learning process."

    I went to two public school systems - one in Florida and one in Pennsylvania - so I am not knocking public education by noting there may be ways to improve education.  The one in Florida was terrible - it was during progressive attempts at forced integration so they were busing kids out of their neighborhoods and busing in kids who didn't want to be there.  No one cared about education, including pissed-off teachers who were stuck having to enforce social engineering.

    The good school system was out in the country in Pennsylvania - yet the class sizes in Pennsylvania were larger than the school in Florida. Education is tough and teachers have a tough job, there is no cookie cutter solution no matter what people with various agendas maintain.  But all options should be on the table and not under the control of a government or a union. 

    Comments

    I would just like to point out that just because unschooled children, especially those age 5-10, didn't perfom well on your measurement, does not mean that it isn't successful. The pr emise of unschooling is that children learn in the real world by doing real things. The point is to help them learn about things they want and need to know without extinguishing their natural love of learning, not t to try to impose knowledge according to some arbitrary timtetable nor prepare them for standardized tests.

    Hank
    I get your point in a sense but if all knowledge is subjective then no one can communicate.  This was, in the early 1990s in the US, the idea behind Ebonics and Outcome Based Education.   We can't lament that kids perform poorly against other countries and then have an education system that can't be measured because kids are 'smart' in all the wrong ways.

    We don't need to create robots but we do need kids who can read, write and do arithmetic.  Unschooling is a devastating experiment because it takes a decade to see the outcome - like homeopathy to cure cancer, it isn't worth the risk.  Your idea behind unschooling sounds nice, 'natural love of learning' and what not, but having 5th graders who are at 1st grade reading levels isn't learning at all, it's abdicating responsibility to the next generation.
    Wait a minute! We have how many public high school graduates who are UNABLE TO READ THEIR OWN DIPLOMAS but unschooling is the "devastating experiment"?! WHAT A JOKE!!!!

    I'll take my chances with UNSCHOOLING aka LIVING any day...

    About 16 years ago , I had a pair of siblings who had been home-schooled until the age of 15 and 16, respectively. Their mother and her network felt that it was a good cutoff point; otherwise they felt inadequate with the math and sciences.

    The interesting thing was that one sister was the best math student I had; and the other was the best chemistry student in her class.

    The often heard statement in the staffroom that year was: "Shut down the whole school system from grades 1 to 9, and let them all be home-schooled"! Of course that came from biased senior high school teachers who were lucky enough to have children of parents who could handle the challenging but worthwhile task of home schooling.
    Hank
    That was my thought in paragraph two - clearly not every family can afford a stay-at-home parent at all, or have a parent with the patience and mindset to teach, so we need a public education system.  I just prefer not to sneer at those parents who give it a try unless, as I note above, their interest is advocacy and not education and they think an 'unschooling' approach is valid, when both common sense and one (limited and with a data set too small to be valid) study show it isn't.
    I do not buy into the argument that sex and drugs have moral attributes of evil and good. Drugs don't use people, people use drugs. Sex doesn't have people, people have sex... The negative attributes of sex and drug use normally arise when people fail to reason through their actions regarding sex or drug use.
    Whether home-schooled or public schooled, the parents have the ability to have a major affect on how the children perceive the material and ethical social value concerning the usage of sex and drugs. While I don't lay all the blame for the child's actions on the parent and I understand the parents may fail to reason themselves, all parents should accept responsibility for their child's education on the art of reasoning.

    My youngest two out of five children still attend school, none of my children have had problems with sex or drugs. They will stay in public schools, not because public schools are great at teaching (we take up the slack at home), but because the public schools need their voices of reason and we take an ethical responsibility towards the public.

    Hank
    It's an interesting take to say you put your kids in public school to make other kids better people - if that could work en masse it would be terrific.  The fact is the top argument for public schools - socialization - is a negative to far more parents and kids than regard it as a positive.   

    In fairness to public schools - like I said, I went to one so I am a fan - private schools also score better but those also do not have to take any kids that have a variety of other issues.  Public schools, being required to take all students, have to do what they can.    That's a separate issue because it is the unions in education that are at war with anything that is an alternative to their control sphere, and that is as detrimental to education as unschooling. We could obviously improve public schooling by getting rid of disastrous tenure policies and throwing more money at schools that do the worst.
    Gerhard Adam
    I think the point being demonstrated is that parental involvement is good, regardless of where they attend school and when parents aren't involved, then it is detrimental.

    In too many instances, the schools are expected to perform some sort of "magic" to educate their children, while their parents simply view it as a babysitting service.  If parents don't care about an education, it is hard to imagine that this would be anything but disruptive to the classrooms.
    Mundus vult decipi
    There is stuff like the Neighborhood Project where evolutionary biology is expected to show us the light. It seems like he advocates an "unschooling" approach, but I didn't read the book only this interesting (and correctly negative, imo) review by Jerry Coyne: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/books/review/the-neighborhood-project-...

    Hank
    Generally speaking, if I don't know a topic or project and Coyne is against it, I am on his side. (1)

    Coyne is tackling group selection in that piece and he does a good job for a lay audience but, really, NY Times readers aren't scoring all that well on science tests.  A review is just that and it's already over the head of most.  More people have heard of Wilson (and EO Wilson) than Jerry Coyne so which expert do they believe? If biologists can't agree, how do we make a solid curriculum for high school students? 25 years ago Dawkins would have been taught too, yet no biologist would advocate that today.

    (1)  The only thing I disagree on, and I disagree with most evo-devo people, is teaching evolution in school.  He addressed it in his first paragraph, but the example I use is more basic; evolution is hard to understand.  We teach anatomy in high school classes but not brain surgery, we don't expect high schoolers to be experts in quantum mechanics, and teaching just enough evolutionary biology for students to be wrong ends up doing more harm than good.  So I would teach genetics and discuss evolution but save the real teaching for college.
    So I would teach genetics and discuss evolution but save the real teaching for college.
    You probably would not apply this to AP biology. It is presently part of its curriculum, as it should be, given that it's a college credit course offered in high school. The problem with leaving it to college is that most future engineers, mathematicians, chemists etc--will take at the most 1 biology course in college, and it will usually be a survey course spending very little time on evolution. Arts students, for the most part, won't take any general biology courses at all. Result: the bulk of even the educated population will never have a good, hard look at the evidence for natural selection unless they read several books on their own. If a high school teacher does a good job with at least introducing the idea with a discussion of something like the classic peppered moth experiment, at least, early on, it opens a window for individual investigation.
    Hank
    You probably would not apply this to AP biology.
    Right, I am talking about a regular science class.  We can't continue to complain about the competence of teachers and the understanding of students while Jerry Coyne and David Sloane Wilson argue the nuances of group selection in public, meaning to the readers some aspects of biology aren't settled science. I know that frustrates biologists, who would prefer that people just believe in experts, but that must include Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins, despite their later being shown wrong. People should move to Europe if they want that sort of culture.   Skepticism in the America's can be frustrating but it is a real gift in most cases.