“The purpose of this study was to give a description of the curricula and methods used in the home school of home educators and evaluate by means of case studies the effects of home education upon those included in the study” (p. 1). Within this framework, Schemmer planned to examine the “dependent variables” of (a) academic achievement levels, (b) gain in academic achievement in one year, (c) curricula and methods used, (d) attitudes and values that motivated parents to home educate their children, and (e) legal actions parents may face.
Review of Related Literature
Schemmer provided an historical account of information related to present day home education. About 34% of her literature review focused on compulsory education laws and court cases dealing with them. About 20% of the review considered the influence of Raymond Moore and John Holt on the re-emergence of home schooling in the U.S. 32% of the review dealt with research and interesting findings related to factors such as home environment, parental influence, and private schools. Only about 15% of the review dealt with home education research. However, this us understandable since not much existed when the dissertation was in development.
Population and Methodology
Schemmer selected four families for her case studies, representing five children. To her credit in terms of appropriate selection procedures for case studies, she pointed out that “Each family represented a different approach to home education efforts. It was believed that the choices involved added insight regarding various ways families perceive and approach home education for their children” (p. 49). The community of the families was rural/agricultural in nature. One student had attended the local public school, two had not attended the local public school but had attended the public school in another state, and two had never attended public school.
Each family was carefully described in terms of family structure, type of community, parents’ occupations, ages of children, and so forth. The descriptions are clear and understandable.
Five instruments were used to gather data. The four developed by the researcher are included in appendices in the dissertation.
The Peabody Individual Achievement Test was used to answer the research questions dealing with achievement in the areas of mathematics, reading recognition, reading comprehension, spelling, and general information. Schemmer did not report on the reliability and validity of the instrument. The other four instruments were developed by the researcher.
The Home Education: Parents as Educators Scale consists of 20, Likert-type items, and was used to gather information relevant to curricula and methods used and what motivated parents to home educate their children. In an attempt to validate the scale, a pilot study was conducted. The scale was given to ten private school teachers and ten certified public school teachers; 13 were returned.
The instrument… indicated its validity by the expression of the differences of values and attitudes as measured by the groups included in the study. The instrument was responsive to the answers of the two groups of teachers surveyed indicating the ability of the instrument to measure those values and attitudes for which it was intended. (p. 68)
The preceding was supported by a table presenting the responses in percentages. Using teachers in conventional schools was a curious way to validate the instrument. It seems to this reviewer that it would have been more appropriate to use public, private, and home school parents in the validation pilot study in order to receive feedback from a population more similar to those with whom the instrument would be used in the research.
The Parent Interview Schedule consists of 14 open-ended questions, and was used to gather information concerning curricula and methods, motivation for home education, and legal actions.
The Child Interview Schedule consists of 12 open—ended questions, and was used to gather information regarding curricula and methods, likes and dislikes about home education, and thoughts on amount of interaction with other children.
The Observation Guide for Home Education Instruction consists of several questions categorized under each of six major sections (i.e. planning, description of classroom environment, teaching methods, description of materials, use of materials, and evaluation procedures).
Schemmer described her study as “… an in-depth case study…” (p. 75). From one point of view, this is an accurate description in that she did gather relatively large quantities of data regarding the research questions. In addition, she did use triangulation in that she used four self—developed instruments, interviewed parents and children, and utilized a standardized achievement test. On the other hand, it apparently was not “indepth” in the sense of a participant observation study or an ethnographic study in which hundreds of hours of observation over many months to years are involved. This comment is meant only to clarify the research procedure that was used.
Findings and Conclusions
Schemmer provided detailed descriptions of each of the four families in terms of the research questions addressed. Before summarizing her findings, the researcher astutely stated some limitations; of which four are hereafter stated. First, the results were limited to the four families in a rural Midwestern community. Second, “… all families were deeply religious” (p. 185). Third, “One student had previously been diagnosed as having learning disabilities by the public school” (p. 185). Fourth, the study may have been limited by “… the skill and ability of the researcher in interacting individually with each family and in accurately gathering and recording the data from each family” (p. 185—186).
Following are the findings/conclusions relevant to the five research questions. First, “… it is concluded that of the home educated students included in the study, only 40~ were able to achieve at or above the grade level expectancy for students of their chronological age in the public school” (p. 188). Second, only three of the five students had been previously tested and were included in the analysis about achievement gain. It was reported that the question about gain per year remained largely unanswered, due to erratic patterns by the three students in the several areas measured by the test.
Third, curricula and methods were addressed. “There was great variety in the amounts and quality of the materials used by each family. Three of the families involved followed curricula provided through commercial publishers. One family did not. However, it can be stated that all families did provide materials for the students” (p. 191-192). Schedules and plans varied from “fairly rigid” to “essentially unstructured” (p. 192). All of the mothers were primarily responsible for the home education programs; while all of the fathers were supportive of the programs “… and in some instances helped with the instruction” (p. 192). All of the home educators had experienced education beyond high school; with individuals ranging from having some training in a Bible college to state certification in elementary teaching. “… the methods observed were those which appeared to come most naturally to each home educator in relating with her child” (p. 193); with styles ranging from being facilitators of the learning process using the discovery approach to “… more active roles in developing inquiry through the questions asked and leading the students toward a particular goal” (p.193).
Those attitudes and values which appeared to be most meaningful regarding their reasons for home educating were related to the areas of socialization and value training desires of the parents. … there was 75—100% agreement among the parents on all statements concerning socialization. Responses showed also that there was 75—100% agreement among parents on all except one statement having to do with value training
Those attitudes and values which appeared to be least considered by the home educators had to do with the areas of academic achievement and attitudes of the parents toward the public school. There was less agreement among the parents on those statements… (p. 196)
Fifth, one family had legal actions brought against it. A criminal summons, related to compulsory education laws, was delivered to the family. However, legal actions were dropped before the trial date. “Two other families in the study were investigated by the welfare department and the probation office as a result of home education” (p. 197).
Schemmer also offered some general observations about the four families. Several of them were a part of the report of findings and were mentioned previously in this article. Others among them were the following:
1. All families had at least four children.
2. None had televisions in their homes.
3. All showed great autonomy as a family unit.
4. “None of the parent educators appeared intimidated by perceived threats from public school officials” (p. 198).
5. “All the children in the study were readily able to communicate with the researcher and made her feel that they were glad to be a part of the study” (p. 198).
6. “All the children in the study were engaged in other groups outside the home which offered opportunities for social contacts with other children” (p. 198).
7. “All the home educators expressed the belief that achievement testing alone may not measure all that is of value in the education of children” (p. 199).
8. “The parents in the study disapproved of the academic and social competition in the public school and expressed that it was detrimental to the child” (p. 199).
9. “All the families in the study appeared to be genuinely interested in their children and were trying to provide educational experiences for them to the best of their abilities. The abilities of the parents in being able to provide for their children’s educational growth remains unknown” (p. 199, 200).
Schemmer has provided a careful description of four home schooling families. She was careful to caution the reader that her findings apply to these four families in their community, and not necessarily to any others. The descriptions, via the achievement test and her self—developed observation and interview instruments, provide much insight into the everyday activities of home education. Schemmer did not provide any particular grounded theory pertaining to home education, as one might expect from a case study and somewhat qualitative study. However, she has presented a factual, balanced, and quite objective summary of the home education lives of these four families.