Robert W. Butler
25129 Calle Viejo
Murrieta, California 92563

Keywords: Homeschooling, home schooling, home education, environment.

Programmed instruction was thought to be dead—and home schooling a novelty with a short life expectancy. The call for educational reform, however, has made these concepts more than a jumble of unrelated ideas. The convergence of these issues exists because many parents, being critical of the educational system, are leaving it and using programmed instructional materials at home to educate their own children.
Parents, educators and writers have expressed their concern over the state of education. Dorothy Waggoner stated, “U.S. education is failing all young people” (p. 1). Conservative scholar and columnist Thomas Sowell wrote, “Society has not failed its children. The public schools have failed” (p. 114). A parent in California quoted by Divoky said, “And finally I got wise and realized that the school is not our friend, that those people really don’t care about us and our children” (p. 396).
A previous suggestion to the problems of education was programmed instruction. In the early exploration of programmed learning it was observed, “of all the recent developments in education, few are likely to have an impact on classroom practice that exceeds that of teaching machines and programmed learning” (DeCecco, p. 136). Like many educational innovations it was hailed as the elixir for educational woes. It did not live up to its widely proclaimed expectations. Nevertheless, one observation was consistent as observed by Kelly and Cody, “Research reported on the merits of linear programmed material provides an obscure evaluation on all counts but one: they are effective” (p. 308). According to Saettler, more recent analysis has provided the same evaluation (p. 431).
Mayberry and Knowles report that “as we approach the end of the twentieth century, home schooling has become a popular educational alternative for an increasing number of families throughout the country” (p. 209). These “families are willing to take significant steps to protect their children from what they believe to be the erosive effects of modernization and secularization on the

American family and public education” (p. 210). One of the most important decisions they will make is in regard to curriculum. There is a wide range of offerings from traditional to innovative. Among these options, some parents have chosen to use programmed instructional materials.

The Problem

Hundreds of studies have explored almost every aspect of programmed instruction. There are many studies on home schooling; however, there have been no specific curriculum studies. Since programmed instructional materials did not have broad based acceptance in the classroom, the effectiveness of programmed instructional materials was a reasonable question to raise in regard to its potential success or failure in home schooling.
Therefore, the focus of this study was directed toward a specific curriculum choice of some home schooling parents, programmed instruction. The specific topic addressed was whether or not programmed instruction was academically effective in the home school setting.
In this study academic effectiveness was assessed through standardized achievement test scores. There were two arenas of academic comparison. First, and most significantly, the academic achievement of home schoolers who used programmed instructional materials were compared to the classroom students who used programmed instructional materials. Second, home school students who used programmed instructional materials were compared to home school students in general.
This study was limited to grades K – 12. Two classroom schools were used along with two home school groups, all in California. The students compared in this study used the programmed instructional materials produced by Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). The data collected from these schools was taken from California Achievement Test (CAT) total battery results. An assumption of commonality was made in regard to teacher training, socioeconomic backgrounds, acceptability of the testing procedures, curriculum procedures, and supplemental materials.
The Literature

Important to answering the question of effectiveness there was an overview of the two areas under consideration; first, programmed instruction and second, home schooling. Each of these two areas is important in order to answer questions about the effectiveness of programmed instruction in the home school setting. There is not a broad knowledge base about either.
Programmed instruction has been profoundly impacted by educational psychology and learning theory. Learning theories are connected to and flow with the tide of psychological approaches. “No single science has more profoundly influenced educational thought and practice during the past six or seven decades than that of psychology.”  As such “the growth of psychology as a science has provided a framework for the educator in which to view the learner and the learning process” (Eson, p. 5).
Behavioral theories have been primarily associated with B. F. Skinner. He said, “We learn by doing;” “we learn from experience;” and, “we learn by trial and error” (Skinner, 1968, p. 5). He made four suggestions on methods and repeated them regularly. First, be clear about what is to be taught. Second, teach first things first. Third, stop making all students advance at essentially the same rate. And fourth, program the subject matter (Skinner, 1984, p. 950).
“Behaviorism’s ‘official’ birth can be traced to John B. Watson’s article entitled ‘Psychology as the Behaviorists View It'” (Hughes & Hall, p. 38). He believed that “introspection forms no essential part of its [psychologies] methods.”  Built on that assumption “the subject matter of psychology became behavior rather than mind, and it became unfashionable in the United States to speak as a scientist of such things as cognition and consciousness.”  Nevertheless, “behaviorism has historically provided a systematic, inductive means for analyzing behavior that has advanced an emerging science in immeasurable ways.”  In fact, it “was the first major approach to the study of learning to become well established” (Good & Brophy, p. 152). The focus was on overt and measurable behaviors. “They locate causality in external events that cue behavior and reinforce stimulus-response relationships” (p. 182). This was the dominant theory into the late 60’s.
Another school of psychological thought is the developmental theories which have been primarily associated with Piaget. “Not until the later 1960s (some say with the publication of Meissers cognitive psychology, 1967) was it generally acceptable once again to turn our attention to the study of mental events and processes” (Hughes & Hall, p. 38). “By the late 1970s, modern cognitive psychology was becoming the dominant theoretical orientation in psychological science” (Saettler, p. 311).
There were four stages of cognitive development advocated by Piaget. The first was sensorimotor from birth to 2 years old. The second was preoperational from 2 years old to 7 years old. The third was concrete operational from 7 years old to 11 years old. The fourth was formal operational from 12 years old and up. “Piaget believed that the amount and quality of environmental experiences could alter the details of cognitive development for better or worse, but could not affect such basic tendencies as organization and adaptation, tendencies that are governed by heredity.”  However, development is effected by heredity and experience (Biehler & Snowman, p. 63)
Sociocultural theories were popularized by Vygotsky (Moll, p. 253). Its main feature was the “Zone of Proximal Development.”  It captures “the individual within the concrete social situation of learning and development.”  He advocated the inseparability of consciousness and human behavior. He particularly criticized approaches that “retained a conceptual isolation of mind and behavior” (p.4). He worked to develop concepts and theories to overcome this chasm. He argued that “learning in contexts, including the social, creates development that determines the level of learning and teaching for which the child is ripe” (Liben, p. 216). There are four principle points to this theory: 1) interaction between people, institutions (home, school, libraries, hospitals, government, etc.) and cultural artifacts (books, computers, etc.), 2) language – not generalized but specifically in medicine, science, law, education, business, government, etc., 3) structures of interpersonal relationships and 4) motives; goals, values and beliefs (Forman, Minick & Stone, p. 6)
In this mix is brain development research. “Much has been discussed about the right-versus-left side brain function, but the precise application to educational technology still remains to be applied” (Seattler, p. 439). A significant finding was that “the process of brain maturation was found to be discontinuous rather than linear. This meant that there were growth spurts that line up with the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete and formal stages” (Sprinthall & Sprinthall, p. 122). Thus, brain physiology has demonstrated changes in general accordance with Piaget’s stages. “Appropriate hands-on active learning experiences are important to such growth. Dull, passive experiences don’t help” (Glover & Ronning, p. 122). However, brain changes do not occur automatically. Interaction causes important differences to take place in the process.
Moving from  psychology to methodology, there are three characteristics of “modules of individualized instruction.”  First, they are self-instructional. Second, the materials teach. Thus, the role of the teacher changes. The teacher’s role becomes one who counsels, evaluates,  monitors and diagnoses. Last, there must be alternative materials for each objective based on learner performance or learning style (Gagné, Briggs & Wager, p. 38). “Experience has indicated that satisfactory performance of individualized systems depends upon maintenance of appropriate procedures.”  Without continuing support for the routines and procedures individualized systems typically fail. This would underscore that “the main problem facing individualized instruction continues to be the development of materials and the maintenance of the system” (p. 326).
Kulik examined forty-seven studies of programmed instruction (p. 135). Twenty-three favored programmed instruction and twenty-four favored conventional methods. However, only nineteen of the forty-seven showed a significant difference between the methods. Of those nineteen studies, twelve favored programmed instruction and seven favored conventional methods. “This meta-analysis showed that in general programmed instruction did not improve the effectiveness of secondary school teaching.”  Learning effectiveness and enjoyment were about the same. Interestingly, it was the more recent studies that showed programmed instruction as the more effective method.
Over and over proponents and detractors alike list active participation as a benefit of programmed instruction. Nevertheless, the movement was in decline by the late 1960s (Gagné, Briggs & Wager, p. 32). “By the late 70s programmed instruction in its many and varied forms was thought of by all but a handful of behavioral psychologists as nothing more than a series of ‘questions and answers'” (Deutch, p. 19). Contrary to that assessment, in the mid 1980s Plants and Venable wrote “programmed instruction at West Virginia endures by its own merits” (p. 277).
Flemming and Hunt made the following observation in their critical review of ACE in a 1986 article published in Kappan (p. 518). “The goal of the ACE program is to provide learning materials that are `thoroughly Christian’ from which a child can `learn truth from God’s point of view.”  “The materials from ACE guide children through a sequential home-study curriculum that relies on Biblical passages, moral homilies and similar religious texts.'”  The program is a complete, self-instructional curriculum for 12 grades. It consists of “PACEs (individual packets of self-instructional curriculum materials, which allow each student to work at his or her own speed).”  Each of the twelve grade levels is divided into twelve PACEs per subject. The basic subjects are mathematics, English, science and social studies. Additionally, there are materials for elective subjects as well. These include such areas as the Bible, language, business, art and physical education. “For the most part PACEs are well written, present information clearly and are organized around explicit objectives. The use of examples, practice exercises, systematic reviews and cumulative exercises illustrate the incorporation of commonly accepted, sound principles of pedagogy.”  They concluded their discussion of ACE with the following statement. “The world of ACE is quite a different one from that of scholarship and critical thinking.”
Let’s move to the area of home schooling. In the United States the world of home schooling today is small, vigorous and diverse (Lines, p. 510). However, the concept of children “learning predominantly from parents is a cross-cultural phenomenon and a natural occurrence within family contexts” (Knowles, Marlow & Muchmore, p. 198). In these cultures, often regarded as primitive, “learning at the feet of parents, extended family, or community member” was the only significant learning environment. “In such environments education was viewed as inseparable from life” (p. 201). This would have been more typical of education in the United States as well in its formative years. It was the historical norm (Bliss, p. 91).
“The modern emergence of home education has its roots in the philosophies of the educators who wrote on issues of reform during the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s” (Knowles, Marlow & Muchmore, p. 227). There are some specific events in the development of the modern home school movement. In the mid 60s there was broad criticism of public education. By 1970 there was popularity for alternative forms of education. In 1972 Wisconsin v. Yoder affirmed parental rights to educate. In 1977 John Holt established the first home school network (p. 198).
In 1987 Lines projected that there would not be further growth. She did not expected growth for three reasons: 1) economics, 2) two working parents and 3) private schools (p. 511). However, Ray states, “the numbers say that home schooling has not gone away, nor is there an indication that its popularity will disappear in the near future” (p. 17). If the estimates are anywhere near accurate, the current home school population, on the conservative side, should be over 1,000,000 assuming a continued arithmetic growth. With a more liberal estimate the home school population could be in the range of 2,000,000.
Several writers divide home schoolers into two groups: ideologues and pedagogues (Van Galen, p. 3). “The ideologue explain that they are home schooling for two reasons: they object to what they believe is being taught in public and private schools and they seek to strengthen their relationship with their children” (p. 4). “These parents advocate an education for their children that was organized and controlled by parents rather than the state” (Mayberry and Knowles, p. 215). The pedagogues’ “criticisms of the schools are not so much that the schools teach heresy, but that schools teach whatever they teach ineptly” (Van Galen, p. 16). They “question the ability of public schools to provide educational programs and learning environments conducive to the academic and social development of their children” (Mayberry and Knowles, p. 217). Lines observed that both groups shared a common belief that parents can and should be deeply involved in the education and development of their own children (p. 510).
Parents were looking for moral strength, spiritual strength and academic strength in the curriculum they used (Bliss, p. 95). In addition to these, there were four other prominent factors in their curriculum choice. These were: 1)  it was not overly demanding of children; 2)  it was not geared to academic acceleration; 3)  it was inexpensive plus reusable; and 4)  it was adaptable to home life (p. 140). A wide variety of choices are made from typical classroom materials to very experimental and creative materials.
“Although the number of children being home-schooled has increased dramatically in the last twenty years, home-schooling research is in its infancy, with virtually all of the studies having been completed in the past ten years, and most within the last five years.”  There have been studies in the areas of: 1)  family characteristics, 2)  academic achievement and 3)  effective development (Williams, p. 1). Here are a few of the academic studies. Wartes has established that home school students have consistently scored above the national norm in Washington State (Wartes, p. 46). Rakestraw found the home school students in Alabama scored significantly better in reading and listening. Home school students scored higher than the public school students in Arkansas at grade levels 4, 7, & 10 (Calvery, p. 4). Students in a state run home school program in Alaska scored higher on achievement tests than did conventional school students. The largest study done to date was of more than 10,000 (Ray, 1992, p. 7).


In order to establish the effectiveness of programmed instructional materials in the home school setting, there needed to be a classroom standard for comparison. The author reviewed the cumulative files of all students in two classroom schools. One school was Cornerstone School of Escondido, California. It was established in 1977 and had used programmed materials since its inception. The other school was Valley Bible Christian School in San Marcos, California. It was established in 1979 and had also used the same materials from its founding.
The test scores were collected for all years from the school’s beginning through the 1992-93 school year. They were taken from the students’ Permanent Records. Both schools gave the CAT test each spring, usually in May. A list of the total battery CAT scores was compiled for the last three consecutive years that each student tested.
Two home schools groups were reviewed by the author to compile comparative material. One group was Grace Christian Schools , an individual study program (ISP) in San Diego County, California, of about 600 students. It was started in 1979. The other home school group was Western Christian Academy also an ISP in Prather located about 20 miles north-east of Fresno, California, with over 400 students. It was established in 1983. Neither school required CAT tests but made them available in the spring, usually May. When there was evidence of three consecutive years of using programmed materials prior to CAT test results, the grade level tested and the level achieved were recorded. If there was more than one qualifying profile sheet, the most recent one was used.
To compare the total battery average grade equivalent scores with national and regional test results for home school students, the average grade equivalent scores were converted to percentile scores using the CAT norming guides. This is a straight forward two step process. It requires two tables from the CAT norming guides. One is the “Raw Score to Grade Equivalent;” the other is the “Raw Score to Percentile Rank and Stanine.”  The appropriate norming tables were used for each student. For example, if an 11th grade student, testing in the April to June window, earned a total battery grade equivalent  score of 11.5, that represents a raw score of 148 according to the “Raw Score to Grade Equivalent” table. That raw score converts to a 49%tile score on the “Raw Score to Percentile Rank, and Stanine” table.
The scores at the high school level do not convert well to percentile scores. This is due to reaching the top of the test. Those students which achieve above the norm cannot counter balance those who achieve below the norm. The top end is reached by the twelfth grade where there is only a .1 grade level above the norm. Therefore, the percentile numbers will be adversely affected by converting from grade level achievement to percentile ranking. As noted in the previous paragraph, the grade equivalent scores were converted to raw scores. Using the same tables a 12.9 grade score converts to a raw score of 157 – 238. A raw score of 157 is a ranking in the 57%tile. For the purposes of Figures 1 through 3, the lower scores were always used. However, in terms of reality, that is not even a good assumption. The odds against every student achieving the minimum raw score for a 12.9 grade equivalent level are astronomical. Thus, estimates based on the raw scores, consistent with the pattern of the previous seven grades, were attempted in order to arrive at a more realistic number.
In terms of comparing to other test results, the CAT is a norm referenced test, as is the SAT. They use a national pool to establish their rankings. While there will be differences between these or other tests, those that are competent and nationally norm referenced will produce similar results. Certainly these results are not as precise as if all data were from the same test. However, they should provide a relatively accurate basis for comparison.


In the two classroom schools there was a total of 200 students who met the criteria as established for purposes of comparison. Figure 1 shows the average achievement and grade distribution for these students. The top line is the normed grade level. The second line is the average grade level achieved by all qualifying test scores. The third line is the number of tests per grade level. The fourth line represents the converted average level achieved as a percentile ranking.

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Figure 1. Classroom CAT test results.

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Figure 2. Summary of classroom results by three age groups.

To examine these numbers in terms of totals and groups, look at Figure 2. On this table there is listed the total number of tests, the average grade level achieved in terms of above or below the tested grade and average percentile achievement. These scores are then broken down into elementary (grades 2 – 5), intermediate (grades 6 – 8) and high school (grades 9 – 12).

Overall achievement was average. The overall average grade level achieved was only .18 of a grade level above the tested norm. Both the elementary and high school were a little below average with the junior high almost a year above. The overall achievement was at the 56%ile. The junior high was the highest at the 62%ile. and the high school was the lowest at the 49%ile.
The grade level norm and average level of achievement are graphed on Chart 1. The averages of the upper grades were negatively effected by the top of the test. Over most of the tested years 12.9 or 12+, converted to 12.9, was the top score. As the tested norm moves toward 12.8, those who test to the top could not counter balance those who tested below the norm.

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Chart 1. Mean grade level achieved by classroom students shown against national norm.

This also become a problem with the percentile conversions. Whether one tested in the 56%ile or the 99%ile, each would be 12.9 or 12+ in terms of grade level. Therefore, the percentile scores, as represented, were the lowest possible scores. They would be higher to the degree that any student scored above the 56%ile to achieve a 12.9 or 12+ grade level. Based on the previous 7 grades, it would seem reasonable to assume, if the actual percentile scores had been collected, that the average percentile ranking would be between the 60%ile  and 70%ile. Even at the 55%ile for the high school level the overall average would be increased to the 58%ile.
In the two home school groups there was a total of 115 students who met the criteria as established for purposes of comparison. Figure 3 shows the average achievement and grade distribution for these students. It is structured the same as Figure 1.
To examine these numbers in terms of totals and groups, look at Figure 4. It is structured like Figure 2. Overall achievement was above average. The overall average grade level achieved was just over one grade level above the tested norm.

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Figure 3. Total number of students per grade, mean grade level achieved, and mean percentile score of home school students on the CAT.

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Figure 4. Summary of home school results by three age groups.

Both the elementary and junior high were almost 1 1/2 grade levels above the tested norm. The high school students were a little over half a grade level above the tested norm. The overall achievement was at the 68%ile. The elementary was the highest at the 83%ile. The high school was the lowest at the 54%ile.
The tested norm and average level of achievement are graphed on Chart 2. As with the school numbers, the averages of the upper grades were affected by the top of the test. This was true for both average grade levels and percentile conversions, just as it was for the class room numbers. However, based on the previous 7 grades, it would seem reasonable to assume, if the actual percentile scores had been collected, that the average percentile ranking would be between the 70%ile  and 80%ile. Even at the 70%ile for the high school level the overall average would be increased to the 75%ile.

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Chart 2. Mean grade level achieved by home school students shown against national norm.

As stated previously, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has provided test scores with one of the largest sample sizes using the Stanford Achievement Test. The results were covered by Ray (1992). For purposes of comparison, Figure 5 is a table created from these test numbers and is similar to Figure 2 and 4. The overall percentile by grade spanned a low of the 65%ile in second grade to a high of the 82%ile at the kindergarten level.
There have been some regional results from California. One is from the San Diego area. The average was at the 65%ile. Another is from the Sacramento area. Their average was at the 68%ile. And, the third is from the San Francisco Bay area. These students achieved at the 82%ile. As with the national achievement numbers from the HSLDA study, none of these test results were from the use of the California Achievement Test.
The most recent statistics available from Accelerated Christian Education on the use of their programmed materials were from California Achievement Test results in May 1983. A nationwide survey was conducted by McGraw-Hill of almost 7,500 students. The average student performed at the 65%ile.

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Figure 5. Summary of HSLDA test scores by three age groups, showing number of students and mean percentile.


The programmed instruction movement and the modern home school movement have had separate sources, causes and motivations. They merge in an effort by parents to educate their children outside the public school environment. There is a very fundamental issue at work. “Parents believe they know better than government what ought to be going into their children’s minds and hearts.” (Thomas, 1994, p. 5M). While Flemming and Hunt were critical of Accelerated Christian Education’s world view (p. 523), many home school parents are critical of the world view promoted on public and sometimes private school campuses. Thus, the materials provided by ACE are more conducive to or compatible with the world view of the parents. Additionally, programmed instructional materials conform to many of the criteria found by Bliss  in the curriculum choice of home school parents. The materials are not overly demanding of the child. They are not geared to academic acceleration. They are inexpensive. And, they are adaptable to home life (1989, p. 140).
The problem articulated at the beginning was that parents are loosing confidence in the public educational system and are choosing to educate their children at home. The curriculum choice of such parents is programmed instructional materials. Thus, the question was raised as to the effectiveness of programmed instructional materials in the home school setting. Effectiveness was supported on two fronts. On one, the academic achievement of classroom students who used programmed instructional materials was compared with the results of home school students who used the same materials. In the second area, the academic result of home school students who used programmed instructional materials were compared to home school students in general.
The question was, “Are programmed instructional materials a good choice?”  According to this study the evidence leads to the conclusion that programmed instruction in the home school setting is an effective curriculum choice. There were better academic results in the home school environment than in the classroom environment when both used programmed instructional material. Additionally, in comparison to home school students using other curriculums, students who used programmed instructional material achieved comparable academic levels.
In both areas of inquiry, programmed instruction and home schooling, the results of this study have been consistent with prior results. In the area of home schooling, consistent with previous studies home school students produced higher academic results than classroom students. While there are some limited exceptions, the body of research on home schooling to date has drawn that same conclusion. Under the topic of programmed instruction the classroom use of programmed instructional materials produces a comparable academic results to those of conventional classroom instruction based on the normed results.
If viewed as one tool among many, there are goals which programmed instruction can accomplish more quickly and efficiently than other tools. No system or method is an educational panacea. People are too diverse and education is too broad to be limited to a single all inclusive approach.
Home schooling is no exception. On a single case basis the picture is not always that of success. However, as long as parents believe that public education does not have their or their children’s best interests at heart, they will seek alternatives. For those who opt to home school, programmed instructional materials are achievable and can produce an academic product of which a parent can be proud.


There are several areas of research that might shed light on the results of this study. Here are at least five.
How successful is the switch from programmed instruction to other methods of learning? Is it a benefit or a liability to a typical college education? What is the long term impact?
Much has been made of analogy testing. How would students using programmed instructional material perform on an analogy test? This would relate to thinking skills.
What parent/teacher training would improve the student’s academic results for those using programmed instructional materials? What impact does supplemental activities have on the results? Is the content significant?
Is there any correlation between the results and learning style of parent and/or child? Does personality of parent or child or the combination of parent/child interaction have impact on the results? What is the effect of the parent/child relationship on the results?
Was it the programmed instructional materials or the home environment that fundamentally produced the academic results?
Of these potential issues, the last is certainly the most significant. If in fact the home environment is the single most significant issue in the academic results of home school students, parents should feel more at ease with their curriculum choices. Claims of academic accomplishment dim as a compelling motivation in curriculum choice. Ease of use, convenience, personal preference and the like are adequate reasons to prefer one curriculum over another. While academia will debate the pros and cons of each choice, parents want a curriculum that is achievable with respectable results. Programmed instruction meets the demand.


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