A new report claims that school-age children who are privately home educated and not registered with state agencies – even if the law does not require such registration – are “missing” and “educationally neglected.” The authors of the report, however, provide essentially no empirical data to support their claims and conclusions. In fact, it is possible that the data they report could be used to argue just the opposite of their proposals. This is a brief review of the report entitled Educational Neglect & Compulsory Schooling: A Status Report (Kelly, Barr, & Weatherby, 2006) that was recently cited in news stories (Allen, 2006; Associated Press, 2006) (see Note 1).
Philosophical, Theoretical, and Legal Issues
Kelly, Barr, and Weatherby are correct to be concerned about whether the parents of public-school children are making sure that they obey the law and that the state provides an adequate academic education for those enrolled in tax-funded, public schools. They are also correct in implying that for the sake of administering public schools and the law related thereto, it is helpful to have in place clear definitions of truancy and educational neglect.
On another note, however, there are several severe weaknesses in this report. First, the authors present a simplistic and imbalanced history of compulsory school laws across the U.S. and they misrepresent Idaho constitution and law, particularly by being incomplete in their presentation of them. For example, the Idaho constitution (like many states’ constitutions), as the authors correctly quoted it, says that the state must provide or offer tax-funded schools to the people but it nowhere gives the state authority to control or regulate the education of all the children within the state.
It should also be noted that the report’s authors appealed to the federal No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB) to argue for control of privately-educated students. The authors are remiss, however, to not include in their report that the NCLB does not apply to homeschool students (see Note 2).
Although they present this as a research-based report, the authors have committed several research errors. Essentially, with neither a logical rationale nor any empirical foundation, they equate a compulsory-school-age child not being registered with the state’s education agencies with “educational neglect” and being a “missing student.” The implication is that any student not registered with a state education agency is a “missing” student (and an “educationally neglected” student) even though there may be no legal (or moral) requirement in the state for the child to be registered with state education agencies. In a number of states, neither private school nor homeschool students are required to be registered with state agencies. Idaho, for example, does not require registration or contact with state agencies by homeschool families. Kelly, Barr, and Weatherby confuse presenting age-old philosophical and theoretical views and debates over the state’s responsibility for and authority over the education of children with empirical research methods.
Methods, Data, and Analyses
Kelly, Barr, and Weatherby claim that a discrepancy between U.S. census data and state education agency records about the number of school-age children can be used to make dependable conclusions about how many children are “missing” in any given state. For example, they assume that if national census data show more children exist in a state than state education agencies have registered with them, then the difference consists of “missing” children. Further, the authors clearly imply that those who are “missing” are at high risk of being “educationally neglected” (if not “educationally neglected,” ipso facto).
One reason that this approach is problematic is that the methods used to gather U.S. census data may not result in estimates that are precise and dependable enough for the purposes of the present study. Strangely enough, along these lines, the authors find that in some states the education agencies report far more students registered with them than the U.S. census data say exist in those states. By their methods, for example, New Jersey has 9,051 more and Florida has 82,838 more compulsory-age students “enrolled in educational institutions” than exist in the individual states. This paradox alone should make the authors’ conclusions suspect.
In many ways, in both their methods and narrative, the authors ignore the fact that some states’ laws do not require private institutional-school and private homeschool students to be registered with state education agencies. This presents a methodological problem, and it is a philosophical problem in that they ignore the fact that this variety in law reflects the freedom of education that citizens still enjoy in many states of the U.S.
Perhaps most problematically, Kelly, Barr, and Weatherby assert and conclude that more oversight and control of homeschooling by the state will ensure that fewer children in the a state will be “educationally neglected” despite the fact that they provide no data to support this claim. Even if one were to equate being “unaccounted for” with “educationally neglected” (which is not substantiated by the authors in any way), the authors do not support their conclusions with evidence.
Furthermore, using the data that the authors provide, the reader can do some statistical analyses that lead to serious doubts about the authors’ conclusions. For a first example, the authors write of “levels of oversight” by the state. They are not clear about this in their report but if they consider these levels to be ordinal in nature, that is, able to be ordered from less to more oversight, then one preliminary analysis by this author finds no correlation between level of oversight and the percent of “missing” students (see Note 3 below).
As a second example, the authors are also not clear about whether they consider the “levels of oversight” to be categorical in nature but if the levels are, then a preliminary analysis by this author finds no significant difference in percent of “unaccounted for” students according to level of oversight (see Note 4 below).
Kelly, Barry, and Weatherby do not provide any empirical evidence to suggest that if the state were to control homeschool families more then the education of homeschool children would improve. The preceding two examples of statistical analysis by this author make it even clearer that the authors of the report do not present a positive correlation between degree of state control and less “unaccounted for” (or “missing”) school-age children, let alone present data that would support a causal relationship between more state control of homeschooling and fewer children being educationally neglected. The report’s authors also ignore prior research findings that show no correlation between the degree of state control of homeschooling and homeschool students’ academic achievement (Ray, 2000). The authors are apparently trying to solve a problem of which they have not shown the existence.
The report’s authors conclude, among other things related to education in general, that the law should be changed in Idaho such that all homeschool children must be compelled to be registered with the state and be annually subjected to standardized achievement testing. They provide, however, no evidence that this will help homeschool children in particular or all school-age children in general. Along these lines, there is no inclusion in their report of the fact that the current body of research on homeschooling indicates that home-educated students generally perform above average in terms of academic achievement, do well with respect to their social, emotional, and psychological development, and are experiencing above-average success into adulthood (Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2004, 2005).
Since the authors of the report propose that all homeschool parents should be compelled to register their children with the state and have them tested, they are begging a salient question that they ignore: Should not the state compel all private institutional schools and the children in them (e.g., Catholic schools, Islamic schools, Jewish schools, Lutheran schools, Mormon schools, and New Age schools) to be registered with the state, controlled by the state, and tested by the state even if they are not funded by a state’s citizens’ tax dollars? Why did the authors not address this question?
On another note related to the authors’ findings, if they believe their methods to be valid, why are they not asking more serious questions about the eight states in which more school-age students are registered with state education agencies than the federal census shows exist? For example, is it possible that public schools are claiming more students on their rosters than are truly on them? If so, might this suggest fraud upon the states’ tax payers?
Finally, there is no indication in the report that its contents (e.g., operational definitions, analyses of data, conclusions, recommendations) were reviewed by a jury of peers before its publication. This does not necessarily diminish the quality of the report but the fact that it was not reviewed by scholarly peers before its publication should be noted by its readers and those who might attempt to base social policy or law on its contents.
In summary, while the authors of Educational Neglect & Compulsory Schooling: A Status Report make a few observations worth considering and include some interesting data, the report is full of methodological research errors, incomplete philosophical and theoretical discussion, and conclusions that are not based on empirical evidence. Some of the most notable concerns of this author are the following:
1. The report’s authors present a simplistic and imbalanced history of compulsory school laws across the U.S., misrepresent Idaho constitution and law, and misapply the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
2. With neither a logical rationale, nor a legal basis, nor any empirical research foundation, the report equates a compulsory-school-age child not being registered with the state’s education agencies with “educational neglect” and being a “missing student.”
3. The authors claim that a discrepancy between U.S. census data and state education agency records about the number of school-age children in a state can be used to make dependable conclusions about how many children are “unaccounted for,” “missing,” or “educationally neglected” in any given state. This approach leads them, for example, to conclude that Florida has 82,838 more compulsory-age students “enrolled in educational institutions” than exist in Florida. This foundational paradox alone should make the authors’ conclusions suspect.
4. Perhaps most problematically, the authors conclude that more oversight and control of homeschooling by the state will ensure that fewer children in the a state will be “educationally neglected” despite the fact that they provide no data to support this claim.
5. Two different preliminary statistical analyses by this author (using the report’s data) show no relationship between “level of oversight” by the state of homeschooling and the number of students “unaccounted for” or “missing” in a state. Simply put, there is no correlation. One could argue, therefore, that reducing state control might lead to fewer “unaccounted for” children just as well as one might argue the reverse.
6. Kelly, Barr, and Weatherby provide no empirical evidence that their recommendations will help homeschool children in particular or all school-age children in general.
1. This brief review is the responsibility of the author. Neither this review nor the statistical analyses conducted by its author have been reviewed by research peers.
2. See Title 20, Section 7886(b) of United States Code.
3. For the sake of this preliminary statistical analysis, it was assumed that the ordinal categories of less to more oversight should be arranged in the following order: no oversight, students register with local school/school district, multiple oversights, progress monitoring/assessment data, and curricular oversight. Second, only 5 categories of oversight were used; the category of “other oversight” was not included because it did not appear to fit the ordinal model. Third, states with a negative percent of “unaccounted for” students were not included. Finally, the nonparametric Spearman correlation coefficient of .09 was not significant (p = .57).
4. For the sake of this statistical preliminary analysis, all 6 categories of oversight were used. Second, states with a negative percent of “unaccounted for” students were not included. Finally, a one-way ANOVA showed no significant difference between the 6 groups (i.e., categories), F(5, 35) = .419, p = .832.
Allen, Anne Wallace [Associated Press Writer]. (2006, January 27). Report: Conn. has more school students than Census counted. Retrieved 1/28/06 online http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/connecticut/ny-bc-ct–educationreport 0127jan27,0,5508559,print.story?coll=ny-region-apconnecticut.
Associated Press. (2006, January 27). Report cites ‘educational neglect’ in Idaho: Thousands of school-age children not accounted for. Retrieved 1/27/06 online http://www.columbiatribune.com/2006/Jan/20060127News014.asp.
Kelly, Philip, Barr, Robert, & Weatherby, James. (2006 [no publication date is on the report; may be 2005]). Educational neglect & compulsory schooling: A status report. Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies Final Report, 2004 – 2005. Boise, ID: College of Education, Boise State University. Retrieved 1/26/06 online http://www.idaho-post.org/MDteams/documents/EducationalNeglectFinalReport.pdf.
Medlin, Richard G. (2000). Home schooling and the question of socialization. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 107-123.
Ray, Brian D. (2000). Home schooling: The ameliorator of negative influences on learning? Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 71-106.
Ray, Brian D. (2004, Fall). Homeschoolers on to college: What research shows us. Journal of College Admission, no. 185, 5-11.
Ray, Brian D. (2005). Worldwide guide to homeschooling. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, Publishers; pages 80-81.
About the Author
Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., is an internationally-recognized expert on homeschool research. He is president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Oregon, USA. Dr. Ray has been a professor at colleges and universities at the undergraduate and graduate levels, in the disciplines of science and education, and a certified classroom teacher in both public and private schools. He earned his Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University, an M.S. in zoology from Ohio University, and a B.S. in Biology from the University of Puget Sound. Dr. Ray does research and speaking internationally, and provides expert testimony in legislatures and courts. The National Home Education Research Institute is a nonprofit research and education organization. Dr. Ray may be contacted at the National Home Education Research Institute, PO Box 13939, Salem OR 97309 USA, (503) 364-1490, fax (503) 364-2827, www.nheri.org, email@example.com ###