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.