As the appeal of various educational alternatives continues to increase, the number of parents choosing to educate their children at home also continues to grow (Lines, 1991; Ray, 1992, 1995). And, although there are many public policy, educational, and legal issues surrounding this alternative, they are certainly not all resolved. In fact, these concerns may also be growing correspondingly (Cibulka, 1989; National Association of State Boards of Education, 1988; Zirkel, 1991). A number of journals have prepared special issues which have explored topics such as cognitive development, socialization, legal issues, and other aspects of interest to many researchers involved in home education or to policy makers, parents, educators and others (see, for example Education and Urban Society, 1988; Educational Leadership, 1994; Educational Review, 1989).
This article does not review those topics. Rather, the research reported in this article was designed to update current knowledge about home education and related policy matters by examining a specific area that is infrequently a target of inquiry–the content and direction of research on home education. That is, this article will provided a “look at the lookers.” It is hoped that this approach to knowledge about the content and direction of the research on home education will prove useful to educational policy makers, practitioners, to researchers themselves, and to those considering conducting research on home education.
Research on home education is an empirical cottage industry. By comparison, home education has not attained the prolific attention or status enjoyed by research on teacher education, learning styles, cooperative learning, or gender differences, to name just a few. Nevertheless, a small, but growing group of researchers have begun to conduct scholarly inquiry related to home education. Several organizations have also formed to address the need for research in the area (e.g, National Home Education Research Institute; National Center for Home Education; Home School Legal Defense Association). Accordingly, a small but growing body of research on home education has developed including books and journals, (see, for example, Ray [ed.], Home School Researcher, 1985-present; Van Galen & Pitman, 1991), scholarly articles (e.g., Education and Urban Society, 1988) and conference papers, theses and dissertations, and independent reports.
The objectives of this research were to investigate several unexplored issues surrounding not home education as an educational alternative, but home education research itself. Specifically, it is asserted that essential questionsCvital to the conduct of scholarly investigationsChave been given inadequate attention at best or, at worst, have been begged. Among these questions are:
1. Who is doing research on home education? Why? How might the knowledge base regarding home education be affected?
2. Which methodologies are commonly utilized to study home education? Are they appropriate, sufficient?
3. Is there a coherent agenda for current investigations of home education? What is that agenda? Is it too broad; too narrow?
4. What new areas for the future of home education research are likely or would be beneficial?
We ask these questions for several reasons. First, we note that we ourselves are involved in research on home education; these questions are simply of interest to us. Second, systematic scrutiny of a line of research can enhance rigor and quality in future endeavors; we hope to encourage such a result. Third, we wondered whether inquiry on home education is primarily being conducted by researchers who are involved in home education themselves. This would not necessarily be uncommon or unethical; female scholars frequently investigate women’s issues, scholars from private institutions have taken the lead in research on private education, and so on. However, such relationships can cause research results to be interpreted more cautiously than had the research been conducted by scholars without such ties. Finally, we are concerned with the practical applications of research on home education. It is our hope that the answers to the questions above will assist fellow researchers in future efforts, and that our results will eventuate in enhancing the practices of those engaged in home education.
Data Sources and Methods
Because this study concerned the home education research agenda, information was sought from recognized investigators in the area of home education. This population is characterized by both their interest in home education and demonstration of professional contribution as evidenced by the publication of relevant research in a scholarly outlet. A group of individuals meeting these characteristics was identified by compiling a list of authors who had published an article in the Home School Researcher within a three year period. Home School Researcher is possibly the only peer-reviewed journal in the world exclusively devoted to publishing research on home education. It is recognized that this sample does not represent all home education researchers; however, it can be argued that any bias introduced might be a favorable one insofar as publication in a journal would usually represent higher quality scholarship than publications appearing elsewhere. Additionally, few books on the subject of home education exist, and the quality of theses, dissertations, and independent reports is highly variable.
A survey was developed in the fall of 1992 and mailed to the 23 first authors identified in volumes 5, 6, and 7 of Home School Researcher (1989-1991). The volumes contained a total of 24 articles written by 23 different authors on topics related to home education. The survey contained items that formed three groupings. First, items collecting standard demographic information (e.g., Age, Gender, Ethnicity, Income, Education, Occupation) were included. Second, items common to many home education descriptive studies were asked (e.g., Marital Status, Children, Religious Affiliation, Home Education Experience). Third, items specific to home education research were included (e.g., General Research Interests, Specific Home Education Research Interests, Directions for Future Research).
This section provides the results of the targeted literature review and the survey of home education researchers identified for this study. First, information about survey responses and the targeted literature review is provided. Then, results are presented thematically, corresponding to the four primary questions described earlier.
Survey and Literature Results
A cover letter describing the research and the survey instrument were sent to all first authors for the period described above. A subsequent follow-up mailing to nonrespondents ultimately resulted in 19 of the 23 surveys being returned. All of the returned surveys were completed properly, yielding a useable response rate of 82.6%. Each article appearing in the journal studied during the three-year period studied was reviewed and described according to: 1) methodology employed; 2) sample size; and 3) sampling characteristics. Interpretation of the literature review was more difficult, however, as some of the articles were difficult to classify using conventional research methodology descriptors.
Question 1 – Who is Doing Research on Home Education?
Research on home education is apparently being conducted by a fairly diverse group of researchers. Demographic characteristics of the group studied are presented in Table 1. As the table shows, the sample had a modal age category of 41-50 and modal income category of $35,000 to $44,999. The sample was primarily of Caucasian ethnicity; was married; and was fairly well-educated, with 18 of the 19 respondents reporting post-graduate training. The sample was nearly equally split between males and females, and the majority of the respondents indicated that their occupation was education-related, with the largest category being college or university professor. The sample appears to be consistent with descriptions of home educators generally, in terms of age, annual family income, highest level of education, and occupation (Mayberry, Knowles, Ray, & Marlow, 1995; Ray, 1992). The sample differs in that most home education is actually delivered by females (usually mothers) while this sample was gender balanced.
The sample also provided other demographic information on variables commonly measured in home education research. The majority of the respondents were married (89.5%); had an average of 2.2 children; and most (78.9%) indicated a religious affiliation. In these ways also, the sample appears to be similar to home educators.
However, some differences were noted, too. First, because of the variety of religious self-conceptions, the questionnaire item on religious affiliation did not present choices for respondents to check, but asked for self-description of religious affiliation. Although most of the responses (68.4%) could be loosely grouped as Christian, 10.5% of the sample identified themselves as Jewish, and 21.1%
Table 1. Selected characteristics of home education researchers.
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indicated “none” for this item. This finding is of interest because the percentage of the sample identifying themselves as Christian is substantially lower than that usually reported in descriptive studies of home educators, indicating that home education researchers may hold differing religious beliefs from home educators generally.
Roughly half of the sample (47.4%) had never engaged in home education. This finding indicates that the conduct of home education is not solely within the purview of home schoolers. However, those respondents who had engaged in home education at any time were apparently more willing than usual to persevere and were not as likely to experience what has been called home schooling “burnout;” for those who had educated their children at home, the average reported duration of the home education experience was 7.6 years.
As a practical matter, these findings might serve to ameliorate the apprehensions of home education research critics, who express concern that home education research may be biased by overrepresentation of researchers who hold strong religious beliefs and/or who are themselves home education practitioners. Interestingly, even our sample contained scholars who were skeptical about this very issue. For example, one respondent expressed the opinion that “many of the researchers are conservative Christians who are advocates of home schooling and [are] unable to be neutral scholars”; another respondent noted that, “I am concerned that most (or at least a large number) of the home schooling research was conducted by home schooling advocates.”
However, taken together, the data on religious affiliation and home education experience gathered for this study do not support such concerns. Instead, they suggest that those engaging in home education and those engaging in home education research form somewhat distinct groups and that home education research is not the domain of its advocates.
Another unusual finding was that, when respondents indicated their general research interests in response to one of the questionnaire items, home education was mentioned as a primary interest less than 30% of the time. More commonly mentioned research interests included cognitive/educational psychology, gifted education, and literacy. As is likely the case for researchers in other fields of educational inquiry, those conducting home education research may exhibit a common interest in the field, while possessing differing degrees of personal and professional connection.
Question 2 – Which Methodologies are Commonly Utilized to Study Home Education?
In a review of home education research, Wright (1988) revealed that much of the research on home education is descriptive as opposed to experimental or quasi-experimental. This trend appears to be continuing. The research reviewed for this study consisted of primarily survey or other descriptive designs and only one of the studies employed random sampling for any aspect of the research. In many instances, description of the sampling procedures was not included in the research report or was insufficient to determine how sampling had been conducted. Additionally, sample sizes were generally small to moderate. Table 2 presents a compilation of the methodologies, sample sizes, and sampling plans utilized in the 24 articles studied.
Obviously, controlled experiments involving random assignment to treatment (home education) and control (other educational settings) groups could not been utilized. More carefully conceived research designs, however, are clearly needed in home education research (Ray, 1988a, 1992; Ray & Wartes, 1991; Wright, 1988). First, attempts to study “unavailable” samples must be undertaken. Much of the research reviewed involved sampling frames derived from publishers lists, church groups, newsletter mailing lists, etc. Current research on home education has revealed much information about families who volunteer to participate in home education research; however these families may represent the “better” side of the total population. Comparatively little is known about other, “underground” or less-willing to be studied families.
Also, other research designs can be employed to permit more accurate comparisons between home educated students and those educated in traditional settings. For example, comparative studies of academic achievement could employ matching of subjects on relevant characteristics. Sophistication in statistical analysis in articles from the period under study was rare. Even when sample sizes were sufficient, data analytic approaches for controlling for effects of important variables were frequently not utilized. Finally, longitudinal studies
Table 2. Home education research methodology and sampling characteristics.
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were conspicuously absent from the research designs observed. It is clear that investigations aimed at tracking home schooled students into and through their possible entry into traditional educational settings and even into their entry into the work force would complement the wealth of descriptive, single time point research that currently exists.
Question 3 – Is There a Coherent Agenda for Current Investigations of Home Education?
An explicit research agenda can assist the systematic advance of knowledge in a field and portend future areas of inquiry. The research reviewed for this study yielded several interesting observations about the effort of home education researchers. First, perhaps due to the newness of home education as an area of inquiry, many of the articles reviewed cited a relatively small, common literature. It was not uncommon to find a theoretical framework motivating the research to be weak or absent. Second, much of the home education research also appears to be somewhat parochial and applied in nature, with researchers often interested in home education practice within a region such as their state, or within a discipline such as mathematics.
However, we were also able to notice a discernable stream of inquiry in home education research. We describe the stream as consisting of five phases. First, early articles on home education seemed to address the question, “Who is doing home schooling?” These articles, and many of the early references cited dealt with demographic questions, apparently in an attempt to document participation in a relatively new educational movement. An example of this phase is found in the work of Wynn (1989).
A second phase of home education research addressed the question, “Why are parents choosing home education?” For example, studies by Howell (1989) and Mayberry (1989) examined the reasons for engaging in home education.
A third phase of home education might be defined by inquiry related to cognitive outcomes (see Wartes, 1990; Williams, 1990). To date, the cognitive outcomes studied, have often involved standardized achievement test scores of home schoolers as a group, or in comparison studies with traditionally-schooled students.
A fourth phase, or a companion to third can be seen in investigations of the socialization of home schooled children (see Johnson, 1991). As such, the cognitive outcomes and socialization outcomes phases may represent a reaction to external criticisms and attempts to provide legitimacy for the home schooling alternative.
If home education represents an efficacious alternative in terms of the goals of traditional education (e.g. cognitive and social) as it apparently does, we suspect that a fifth phase will develop. This phase might be marked by investigations of home education on its own terms. For example, given that home schoolers primarily choose that option for spiritual or moral reasons, we predict that researchers may soon begin to investigate these kinds of outcomes in the home schooling population. This phase might also address the “real life” outcomes of home education. For example, research could be directed toward investigating the career, family, personal, and professional correlates of home schooling.
In summary, home education research appears to be moving along a discernable path, which can be detected in retrospect. However, the research does not seem to be the result of a group of scholars pursuing an explicit research agenda or vision for the field. Possibly, this absence of vision is the result of the lack of a strong theoretical base to guide research efforts, to a lack of communication between researchers in the field, or to both. Regardless, a review of the literature yields the conclusion that applied research has outpaced theoretical development and that the latter is urgently needed in order to help develop a coherent research agenda.
As noted above, nearly all of the research on home education continues to focus almost exclusively on cognitive outcomes of home education (e.g., academic achievement) or on socialization of home educated students. Little attention has been given to psychomotor outcomes. Additionally, surprisingly scant attention has been given to religious, spiritual, or pro-social outcomes (see Cizek, 1994; Ray, 1988b; Ray & Wartes, 1991). This finding is especially surprising given that it is in contrast to the repeated observation that the primary motivation for most home educators reflects a moral, spiritual, or religious component (see, Gustafson, 1988; Lines, 1991; Mayberry, 1991; Van Galen, 1988). For example, reporting on research conducted with home schooling families in the western United States, Mayberry (1988) described the primacy of religious motivation:
The largest category of home school parents are those motivated by religious beliefs (65%)….They believe that it is their duty to instill particular religious beliefs and values in their children….Religious home school parents advocate an education for their children that is organized and controlled by parents and that focuses on Biblical training and teaching religious history. (p. 37)
Although not the only motivation, it is well documented, then, that the primary motivation for parents choosing home education is their desire to address the perceived spiritual, moral, or religious needs of their children. If this is the case, then a primary measure of home education’s effectiveness would seem to be appropriately focused on the extent to which progress toward specified moral, spiritual, or religious outcomes are attained. However, little or no efforts to examine these primary goals have been undertaken. The literature reveals that home education research may be driven more by a desire to assess home schooling from a traditional, institutional education frameworkCby standards of evidence and rationales that are external to the stated goals of the movementCthan by an alternative, radical approach that would be suggested by the counterCinstitutional, individualistic nature of the movement.
Alternatively, perhaps the neglect in studying clearly relevant outcomes lies in the difficulty of specifying what the desirable outcomes are, in deciding upon how they might be measured, and in gaining support for their measurement. Nonetheless, it is apparent that the difficulties will not be grappled with until the larger issue is seen as a legitimate area of inquiry by home education researchers and by home schoolers themselves. Ground breaking research efforts aimed at defining and describing desired outcomes will be necessary.
Question 4 – What New Areas for Home Education Research Are Likely?
The survey of researchers who had published articles related to their research on home education yielded interesting information about the possible future of home education. One surprising finding concerned an item on the questionnaire that asked respondents if they had maintained an active involvement in home education research since the publication of their work. Of the 19 respondents, nearly half (47.4%) indicated that they did not maintain an interest in home education research. However, several respondents to the questionnaire provided insights into what the future of home education might hold.
First, many respondents remarked about some of the weakness in the home education research previously discussed in this paper. For example, the need for more rigorous and more appropriate research designs, the need for more theoretical development, and the need to study “non-traditional” home educators were mentioned by respondents as issues that might guide future research. These same concerns have been voiced previously in the professional literature (Ray, 1988a, 1992; Ray & Wartes, 1991; Wright, 1988).
Three respondents indicated that research should be undertaken to investigate what home educators actually do. Such studies might examine the teaching strategies used by home educators, the quality and effectiveness of home instruction, the role that each of the parents actually plays in home education, or the effects of long term home schooling (including psychological effects) on both students and parents.
Additionally, several respondents indicated that few attempts have been made to establish linkages between home education research and educational research generally. For example, it would appear that research findings on effective practices in home education would be germane to current debates on general educational reform. Apparently, however, an ineffective system of communicating research resultsCor, an uninterested audienceChave hindered the dissemination of relevant information, and respondents indicated that research into systems of home education information dissemination should proceed.
Finally, respondents mentioned the need to investigate home school/ public school/ private school connections and their links to higher education and later life. The need to examine possibilities for collaboration between home educators and school officials was stressed, as was the need to examine the political organization of home schooling families. As one example, a case study of the mobilization of home educators and their effectiveness in influencing recent legislation (H.R. 6) that would have affected home education would be of great interest (see Home School Court Report, 1994).
Discussion and Recommendations
For home education researchers, reflections on the status of an implicit research agenda can assist in refining current efforts and suggesting potential future direction. The broad findings of this study provide an updated look at the field of home education research, and reveal that researchers in the area of home education might benefit from a critical analysis of current practice, paradigm, and perspective.
This update reveals that progress in several areas of home education research has been slow in comparison to the growth of the alternative. A review of literature has yielded a picture of home education research that is only loosely united, has not addressed a primary desired outcome of home education, is comparatively weak (as a whole) in terms of traditional academic rigor, lacks efficacy in influencing conventional general education policy, and is in need of a theoretical framework to guide research.
Despite these weaknesses, this study has revealed some unexpected findings about the enterprise of home education research. For example, it was observed that home education research is apparently conducted by a diverse group of scholars, who do not necessarily comprise a “closed system” of non-objective advocates. If not for the efforts of these researchers, knowledge about home education, perhaps the fastest form of grades K to 12 education in the United States, would be nearly nonexistent. In addition, the field of home education research contains many areas for fruitful future research that may benefit many people.
The research presented in this paper may also be useful to educators outside of home education. Issues and concerns facing one segment of researchers in private education necessarily affect others. Thus, this research may be of interest to researchers concerned with other alternatives such as Catholic education, Protestant academies, or other private schools. Certainly the issues, problems, and trends identified by the home education researchers surveyed in this study may provide valuable insights for the others.
Finally, it is observed that research on educational alternatives is particularly essential in times of pressures for general educational reform. The efforts of home education researchers have been beneficial to legislators, policy makers, and school officials, as well as to those engaged in home education, but the benefits of their research may transcend these audiences. For example, the future directions of research on home education might stimulate innovation and can offer transferrable educational practices that could benefit American education generally. The home education research agendas identified in this study may provide a critical testing ground for enlightened practice in other settings if further research shows that what works in home schools may be efficaciously imported into other educational environments, especially in the traditional educational system.
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