HOME SCHOOLING PARENT SUPPORT GROUPS IN KANSAS: A NATURALISTIC INQUIRY INTO THEIR CONCERNS AND…
This study is a naturalistic inquiry into the concerns and functions of home schooling parent support groups in Kansas as determined by home schooling parent support group leaders. It provides an analysis of characteristics found in common among the various autonomous groups.
Home schooling parent support groups have emerged in the American educational sector as a “grass roots” movement whose members hold specific beliefs in their constitutional prerogative to instruct their children in the home. Parent support groups at the local, state, and national levels have formed intersecting channels of communication, which provide an ongoing dissemination of pertinent information. Each year, these support groups increase in number and organizational strength as their unique functions are recognized by teaching parents.
Statement of the Problem
References to home schooling parent support groups in professional and research literature are scarce, and findings are dissimilar. There is insufficient information relating to their concerns, their functions, and their impact within the home schooling movement.
Home schooling parent support groups are established in most areas where there are home schooling families. In Kansas, twenty‑six such local, autonomous parent support groups are officially listed in home schooling newsletters. This consortium of families educates thousands of children of school age (Kansas State Department of Education, 1991). Because of the compelling interest of the state in an educated citizenry, concerned inquiry has been directed toward home schooling educational programs. The focus of this inquiry is aimed toward acquiring information regarding the concerns and functions of home schooling parent support groups in Kansas.
Review of the Literature
Although there is a paucity of professional literature on home schooling parent support groups, there is a rapidly accumulating body of professional literature in education and sociology providing an historical and philosophical overview of the background of home schooling in the United States. The literature abounds with studies defining the demographics of the population engaged in home schooling, ascertaining the motivations of families for home schooling, and documenting the learning outcomes of such individualized, tutorial instruction.
From the research it can be determined that parents who home school their children have established themselves as accepted members of their communities. Generally, home schooling parents are more affluent, have acquired higher levels of education, have more children, and attend church more consistently than the average American family (Buhr, 1988; Gladin, 1987; Mayberry, 1989; Ray, 1986, 1990). Priority motivations for these families who home school include the following factors: religious convictions, academic excellence, character and moral training, strengthening the unity of the family, and providing positive socialization (Gladin, 1987; Knopf, 1988; Van Galen, 1988). Research into the outcomes of home education reveals that the test scores of home educated children have equaled or surpassed their public school peers on standardized measurements in the areas of academic achievement, self concept, creativity, and emotional adjustment (Delahooke, 1986; Ray, 1990; Taylor, 1986; Williams, 1990).
The existing literature refers infrequently to home schooling parent support groups. Home schooling parent support groups may exist without volunteering knowledge of their existence to those not within the home schooling movement. Rose (1985) stated that during his investigation of home schooling families in South Carolina, he became aware of groups of home schooling families where no membership list of names or addresses existed. He wrote that home schooling families were “usually grouped in geographical areas and often met together to encourage social interaction, exchange ideas, and generally encourage each other” (pg. 110).
Van Galen (1986) described the role played by Christian home schooling support groups in helping Christian home schooling parents become apprised of the norms, values, and practices associated with the Christian home schooling movement.
Linden (1983) wrote that some families who home school are affected by their affiliation with home schooling parent organizations, while the results from a questionnaire in Gladin’s work (1987) suggested home schooling families were not influenced by home schooling parent organizations.
In a study of home school characteristics and the families who operate them, Gustavsen (1980) reported that 55. 2 percent of parents who home school did not belong to any home schooling parent organization. “Reasons for this isolation may be that the parents do not know that organized home school associations exist, or perhaps they are suspicious of these organizations. Other parents may just be operating under the threat of government intervention and penalty; thus they prefer going at it on their own” (Gustavsen, p. 125). The remaining 44. 8 percent of parents were members of an organized, overt parent support group.
Home school leaders maintain the importance of home schooling parent support groups. The effectiveness of the support groups as a strengthening and unifying factor in legal, social, and relational identity is attested to in books, newsletters, and magazines published within the home education movement. Gustavsen (1980, p. 145) recognized “the inspiration from others who are involved in home school operations” as one of five factors essential for success in establishing a school in the home.
As families become involved in the home schooling movement, parents, in their search for certainties and specific direction, form groups to meet for the purpose of sharing experiences and gaining insights for the effective education of their children (Gustavsen, 1980; Preiss, 1989).
Little is known about the concerns and functions of these home schooling parent support groups. The findings in this study will aid in eliminating this void.
The research design used to investigate the concerns and functions of home schooling parent support groups in Kansas was drawn from the theoretical work of Lincoln (1985). Given the paucity of research on home schooling parent support groups, the research design for naturalistic inquiry provided a suitable “fit” for the subject under investigation and resulted in an integrated product.
The population consisted of the twenty‑six local, autonomous home schooling parent support groups officially listed in home schooling newsletters in Kansas. A sample was selected using the maximum variation sampling technique. Data collection was ongoing during the months of April and May of 1991. Triangulation of information was provided by using three different methods of data gathering: interviews, observation, and document analysis.
Findings were based on an analysis and interpretation of thirteen unstructured interviews. Eleven of those interviewed were leaders in home schooling parent support groups, one an editor of a statewide newsletter, and one a keynote speaker at a home schooling parent support group seminar. Observations of home schooling affairs were conducted during a two‑day seminar, a fine arts fair, a field trip, a teaching seminar, and a curriculum fair. Document analysis was accomplished using newsletters, pamphlets, and other related printed material.
Standard methods were employed to establish credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. To establish credibility, the researcher entered the field under investigation by conducting a home schooling program for an eleven year old son.
Data collection and data analysis were performed concurrently, during which time the data were coded and sorted. The regularity of response content was analyzed for consistency, and the criterion used for delineating and identifying the functions of the home schooling parent support groups was the quantitative measure of frequency.
The findings of this study involve five major concerns and the accompanying functions which have evolved for fulfilling the demands of those interests. Seven further concerns emerged from the data collection and analysis. These concerns were not as frequently referenced as the five major concerns.
Home schooling parent support groups serve to function for home schooling parents in the following five major areas: (a) legal concerns, (b) support concerns, (c) group activities, (d) teacher training, curriculum, testing, and resources, and (e) new home schooling families.
The seven other concerns expressed by leaders in the home schooling parent support groups include (a) programs for older children, (b) teaching credentials, (c) unrealistic expectations, (d) open membership, (e) adult peer pressure, (f) public education, and (g) relationships with public schools.
The existence of an inherent unity in home schooling parent support groups is evidenced by the fact that home schooling parent support groups have implemented functions in the five major areas of concern and are developing programs to meet the needs recognized in the seven further concerns. The individual moral imperative to home educate children is a source of internal cohesiveness in the home schooling parent support groups. A major unifying element is familial commitment to achieving shared objectives. Expressed in each interview with home schooling parent support group leaders was a clear and consistent compatibility of purpose. The unity of intentions, directions, and goals between home schooling parent support groups and the parents who are home schooling their children has manifested in specific functions performed by the home schooling parent support groups.
What follows is the result of data coalesced to describe the concerns and functions of home schooling parent support groups in Kansas as perceived by their leaders.
Functions Relating to Legal Concerns
Through coordinated efforts, home schooling parent support groups function to provide legal information and legal alternatives regarding legislative changes and pressures. They have become an informed body through a networking of newsletters and interlocking statewide phone trees whenever legislative action pertaining to home schooling is proposed.
The legal climate in Kansas is equivocal. Adaptation, speculation, persistence, experimentation, and improvisation are required of home schooling parents in their efforts to be in compliance with the law. This condition has contributed to the continuing formation of support groups. Personal support during times of legal confrontation is one benefit of an affiliation with home schooling parent support groups. By offering accountability, visibility, and public credibility to their members, home schooling parent support groups are seen as a partial solution to the prevailing legal dilemma.
Functions Relating to Support Concerns
The home schooling parent support group provides identity, diminishes estrangement, reinforces the sense of belonging, and offers an authenticity to the home schooling experience. Individual families find support and encouragement in their home schooling endeavors as home schooling experiences are shared within the local support group.
The sharing of experiences and mutual support among home schooling families encourages the freedom to reveal dilemmas, uncertainties, and discouragements, and to do so without discomfort. The recognition that these home schooling difficulties are common to other home schoolers who have achieved functional resolutions encourages individual home schooling families to persevere.
Functions Relating to Group Activities
Child orientation and peer group involvement is a dominant concern for home schooling parent support groups. The persistence with which parents endeavor to educate the whole child is reflected in the continuing socialization with activities and programs for the home schooling children.
A major function of the home schooling parent support groups is to provide social and educational group activities for the students. The flexibility of the home schooling parent support group’s organizational structure facilitates continual emergence of new educational programs and social events. An extensive spectrum of activities including guest speakers, graduation exercises, grade promotions, holiday programs, field trips, family fun nights, group projects, group teaching units, and school traditions are arranged for home schooling students.
A collaboration exists among teaching parents which encourages them to display leadership in educational innovations, creativity, and individual entrepreneurship.
There is a general pedagogical bias among these teaching parents which tends toward concrete learning experiences, group activity, hands‑on learning, and an action orientation.
Functions Relating to Teacher Training, Curriculum, Testing, and Resources
Home schooling parent support groups maintain an instructional environment equipped with pedagogical information. This promotes teaching methodologies that have pragmatic application to home schooling. Traditional education concepts are springboards for creative innovation and contribute to the home schooling tutorial method. The bias is toward application, experimentation, and collaboration.
The purchasing of home school material represents a major investment for most home schooling families. A function of the home schooling parent support group is to provide information on the variety of published curriculums, arrange curriculum fairs, and extend opportunities to counsel with home schooling families who have used a particular curriculum.
Many support groups exchange educational resources and curriculum materials. Some have formalized this procedure into lending libraries for tapes, magazines, videos, cassette recordings, books, and other educational effects. An adjunct to the home schooling parent support group’s function is to offer a service of standardized testing to evaluate the progress of the student.
Functions Relating to New Home Schooling Families
Among the membership of home schooling parent support groups are experienced home schoolers who have formulated versatile methods for communicating with and assisting people who are potential home schoolers. Upon initial contact from an interested family, individual members of the particular home schooling parent support group provide general information pertaining to legalities, curriculum possibilities, and the availability of support group functions.
New home schooling families are introduced to the variety of existing curriculums and are invited to seminars to examine publishers’ displays and become apprised of the experiences of other home schooling families who have used such curriculums. They are assisted and counseled on how to select a functional curriculum suitable to their individual educational needs.
In the initial stages of home schooling, dramatic progress in academic growth is often not apparent and discouragement pervades the learning experience. This discouragement is diminished as new entrants into the home schooling movement gain encouragement and support from members of the home schooling parent support group.
A significant contribution to the initiate home schooler is the mentoring assistance offered by the more experienced home schoolers. The collective experience of these veteran home schoolers covers a wide and varied range of academic expertise.
Seven Other Concerns
Present in the data are seven further concerns that affect the home schooling movement. They are not as frequently referenced as are the five major concerns. They differ in type in that no function has been fully developed by home schooling parent support groups in response to these seven emerging concerns.
1. Home schooling parent support group leaders expressed an imperative to implement academic programs developed to meet the evolving educational needs of children as they reach high school age.
2. Home schooling parent support group leaders reveal anxiety about the tradition of equating teacher competency exclusively with the earning of a teaching credential. This unfounded presumption creates a perspective which implies that without a teaching credential the home schooling teacher will be inadequate.
3. They cautioned parents to be wary of unrealistic expectations relating to the outcomes of home schooling.
4. It was important to establish that no philosophical, religious, or ethnic persuasion be a hindrance to any family desiring to join the home schooling ranks.
5. Adult peer pressure asserted through family and community members objecting to or deriding home schoolers has been an uncomfortable current in the home schooling movement.
6. There was a general feeling of disquietude concerning the effects of public school education.
7. Members of home schooling parent support groups were engaged in achieving positive relationships with many local public school systems.
The findings of this study indicate that additional investigation is warranted. There is an insufficiency of professional literature regarding the home schooling parent support groups. There are many academic resources and social characteristics present within the framework of home schooling parent support groups that are as yet undocumented. Further studies which describe, analyze, and interpret the home schooling parent support groups at the local, state, and national levels are needed. There remains an unexplored realm of research dealing with the area of parental collaboration in education as applied to home schooling parent support groups. The focus of other research should be directed into the many functions that the home schooling parent support groups provide, the aims and purposes which unify this confederation of entities, the benefits of membership, and the organizational structure that sponsors the potential for self regulation. These findings will contribute to a mutual understanding and greater compatibility between the unstructured home school groups and those professional educators who are also striving for excellence in education.
Based upon the findings of this study, the following recommendations are offered to the members and leaders of the various home schooling parent support groups. Home schooling parent support group leaders should take the initiative of leadership and work directly with public school administrators and state legislators, establishing a two‑way avenue of communication. Questions and concerns about individual home schooling families in the local school districts should be resolved with the aid and consultation of the local home schooling parent support group leaders. The public school authorities should be apprised of the functions of the home schooling movement through its variety of publications which explain the aims and goals of the movement, its academic and social outcomes, its legal status, the aspirations and expectations of teaching parents and the role of the home schooling parent support groups in the local communities.
The development of legal functions in the home schooling parent support groups suggests that members should assess their collective political acumen and strength. Their efforts should be directed toward seeking legislation that will provide legal safeguards and social acceptance for the family interested in conducting an autonomous, though qualified, school in the home. The legal findings carry further implications for the future regulation of home schooling in Kansas. A statewide coalition of autonomous home schooling support groups should be recognized by the legislature as an entity capable of conscientious self‑ regulation. This alliance of home schooling parent support groups should be mandated to create their own provisos, qualifications, postulates, stipulations, measures, prototypes, norms, principles, and evaluations for the purpose of achieving a framework to support the educational goals for the child.
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