WHAT HOME EDUCATORS NEED, WANT, AND USE FROM VARIOUS INSTITUTIONS: RESULTS FROM AND ONGOING STUDY IN FOUR WESTERN STATES 1
Brian D. Ray
Division of Science and Mathematics
Western Baptist College
and National Home Education Research Institute
5000 Deer Park Drive, S.E.
Salem, Oregon 97301
Department of Sociology
University of Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada 89154
J. Gary Knowles
Department of Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
In times past, families using schools as one resource among many for the education of their children was not unusual (Gordon & Gordon, 1990). “Domestic education and school attendance were often combined during a child’s education” (Gordon & Gordon, p. 193). Currently, the consideration of parents’ needs for help and resources as they teach their children has lead some to the proposition of cooperation between home educators and public (or private) schools. The subject of cooperation has caught the attention of several writers. John Holt (1983), one of the best known advocates of home education, was one of the earliest to publicly promote some form of partnership between conventional schools and home schools. Holt provided examples of school boards that not only accepted home education families, but invited their children to use the staff and equipment of the schools as part of their learning resources. He pointed out, however, that such examples of cooperation were the exception rather than the rule. As yet there is little evidence to indicate that the situation is much different today. Although Holt suggests that such cooperation can be helpful to the student, he mainly focuses on how the cooperation might benefit the schools and their purposes (e.g., bring enthusiastic and intelligent students to them, bring partial funding to the schools, and serve as a research project to improve schooling).
Similarly, others have recently discussed cooperation between public schools and home schools. Divoky (1983) concluded her work by saying, “…cooperative arrangement between a district and home schoolers — one that allows parents to use district resources, while the district continues to receive state funds for each child–may satisfy the needs of both parties” (p. 398). Knowles (1989) described ideas about cooperation that emerged from a longitudinal ethnographic study of home schools in Utah and explored ideas about how public schools might meet the needs of home education families. He suggested a number of things that might facilitate cooperation, including (a) public tax monies perhaps made available to the families, (b) a funding scheme in which school districts receive tax monies in proportion to the involvement of home school children in district programs, (c) the state assisting in training parents to teach their children, (d) research projects on home education by universities, (e) involving parents in the local parent teacher association, (f) resource centers being made available to home educators, (g) parents attending inservice training along with other teachers, and (h) home education students attending experiential (e.g., music and art) or large group (e.g., team sports and band) activities in the schools. Like Holt (1983), Knowles pointed out that many home-educated students have a high level of motivation and “…may be a distinct advantage for school instructors and other students…” (p. 408). Ray (1989b) made a case for sound state home education statutes and regulations that best lead to the education of children which is demanded by the compelling interest of the state (and no more), and are “…valid, clear, and practical…. Such an approach would enhance cooperation … between home educators and their community neighbors, professional educators, and state education officials. This cooperation would bring each state closer to its goal of an excellent education for all children, wherever that education may occur” (p. 15). Ray (1989a) also explained that advocates of conventional schools should develop constructive responses to home schooling, and that “…various responsible groups should contemplate how to ensure that the educational and familial needs of home schoolers are adequately met” (p. 20).
Mayberry and Knowles (1989) reiterated Knowles’ (1989) policy recommendations. In addition, they considered home education in light of its potential impact on society in general. They stated, “Home school families may indeed provide good examples of one way to preserve the family. Since both parents and schools have a role in education, such partnerships could represent a common effort toward common goals and best serve the interest of society, parents, and children” (p. 223).
The preceding discussion indicates that a number of people have invoked the concept of cooperation between home educators and schools. On the other hand, some professional educators and their representatives (e.g., National Education Association, 1990; National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1989-1990) have asserted that parents without formal training cannot provide an adequate education for children. Other educators have expressed more moderate views (e.g., National Association of State Boards of Education, 1988), or no views at all, about the capabilities of home education parents. It appears that none of these groups have taken the approach of determining the needs or interests of home education families or attempting to serve them.
Setting aside the idea that cooperation between home educators and schools might be beneficial to schools and the teaching of children therein, there is a possibility that such cooperation might be of assistance to home education families themselves. One approach is to assume that families who operate home schools have needs that can be met by institutions such as public and private schools, libraries, the government, and private enterprise. With this assumption in mind, those institutions could determine whether and how they could meet the needs of home educators. The institutions could then make policy based upon their assumptions about home education.
On the other hand, it may be more appropriate to explore whether home educators believe they have needs that might be effectively met by other institutions. This approach allows the primary actors, home educators, to articulate their needs rather than depending on some other institution for which many home educators have displayed little affinity (e.g., public schools as reported in Mayberry, 1988a, 1988b) to articulate their needs for them. Once home educators state their needs, presuming they exist, other institutions could reasonably consider what to do about them.
Research to date has not clearly identified the needs of home education families. No research has focused on the needs of these families. Ray (1988b) stated that researchers should “…question home-school parents carefully to find out more precisely what their objectives are for their children. They should then follow the youth over a long term to determine whether home schooling is actually effective in meeting the home schoolers’ goals” (p. 26). Likewise, researchers should ask home educators to articulate their needs from their own (home schooling) perspective. They could also be asked what they need from or would like to be offered from both public and private groups or institutions. If home education parents believe that they have significant needs, then other institutions might do well to consider how to offer assistance to the home educators.
Other institutions, like libraries, science museums, private schools, and public schools should realize that their purpose is to serve all citizens and their families in the local community. A well-served and well-educated citizenry is important to society. In addition, it is a fact that a number of children who are home educated will one day enroll in private or public schools. This is because the family may decide that its objectives for the child’s home education have been met, or circumstances change such that they believe that enrollment in a conventional school is the best option at the time. It is increasingly more common for administrators, faculty, and staff in various private and public institutions to come in contact with the home educated as either temporary clients or full-time students. Therefore, good relationships with home educators and their children make good sense.
The purpose of this study is to ascertain what home educators say they need, want, and use from other institutions, and this is done in order to assist both public and private sectors in policy decisions regarding home education.
This study was part of a larger, ongoing, field-initiated, federally funded project (Knowles, Mayberry, & Ray, 1991) that examined home education in four Western states in order to develop implications for conventional schools and to inform policy making. The findings and discussion in this report are based on data from only one of the four states. Further detail on the methodology for this study was provided by (Mayberry, Ray, & Knowles, 1992 [this issue]).
Population and Sample
The target population of this study was all home education families in one (Washington) of the four western states which are a part of the larger study previously described. Home education leaders in the state were consulted to determine the best strategy for contacting the most representative sampling of all families in the state. It was decided to use the mailing lists of two statewide organizations and of one private service organization. A third organization, of a statewide nature and with a sizeable mailing list, decided to not participate. The state leaders with whom the researcher discussed matters believed, however, that the lists which were already obtained would include the large majority of addresses on the list of the non-participating group.
We did not have any particular reason to hypothesize that the findings from this one state will significantly differ from what will be found with all four states.
We formulated survey items that would elicit responses relevant to the objectives of the larger ongoing study and the objectives specific to the present report. A questionnaire comprised of 56 items (or 290 variables for analysis) was constructed.
Steps were taken to maximize the validity of the survey. A list of relevant concepts was developed and a variety of ways to measure them were sought. Studies dealing with similar concepts were reviewed, and questions measuring these concepts were identified. Approximately one-third of the items were drawn from a survey of Oregon home schools (Mayberry, 1988b).
Other sources of questions came from polling agencies such as the National Opinion Research Company, the Gallup Foundation, and the United States Census Bureau. The questions chosen from these sources were then studied and a judgment made about their ability to elicit information germane to the concept.
In addition, both closed- and open-ended questions were used to measure similar concepts, and the responses to these multiple indicators could be compared to see if each had produced similar results.
The validity of the survey was further enhanced by a pilot study. The survey was pilot tested with a group of home education parents. They were specifically asked to point out questions they felt were not adequately addressing their attitudes or beliefs about specific topics, and their input helped to refine the survey. The responses and suggestions emanating from the pilot study provided input for the final construction of the survey.
Data Collection and Analysis
A person, who was neither one of the researchers nor a representative of anyone who provided mailing lists, went through the lists in order to eliminate redundancy. This third-party person mailed surveys (with self-addressed stamped envelopes for their return) to 4,500 of the resultant 4,600 addresses. Due to the timing of the acquisition of the lists and other unforeseen limitations, the list of the second statewide organization and the remaining 100 addresses from the first list were later merged with redundancy eliminated. This second merging resulted in a list of 1,245 addresses. Linear systematic sampling was used to select a representative sample of 472 of these addresses, and surveys were sent to them. Subjects received a survey and a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of the survey.
The responses of 582 families were usable in this study. It is difficult to establish the response rate from the preceding figures. Problems associated with whether the mailing lists were up-to-date and the degree to which all addresses actually represented active or once-active home education families interfere with an accurate inference about the response rate. If all the 4,972 families mailed to were active in home education, then the response rate was 12%. If only 80% were active (and this may still be a high estimate), then the response rate was about 15%. The researchers were encouraged to note that the returns included respondents from the general demographic and motivational categories of home school parents in previous research (Mayberry, 1988b; Van Galen, 1986).
Quantitative data were entered and stored in one data base. The SPSS (SPSS, Incorporated) statistical program was used for computation of descriptive statistics. Inferential statistical analyses were not performed. Qualitative responses to open-ended survey items are not incorporated in this report.
Several items on the survey addressed the needs and wants of home educators. They are presented in this section in varying detail.
Home education parents were asked about what public school facilities or services are made available to them as home schools and used by them. Table 1 shows that the facility/services available and used most frequently were “certain classes” (12% of respondents), “achievement testing” (10%), and “libraries” (10%). The least used facility/services were “psychological services” (2%) and “counseling” (2%). Table 1 also reveals that large percentages (25% to 63% for the various categories) of parents did not know whether certain services and facilities were available.
Parents were asked which public school facilities or services they would use if they were made available. Table 2 shows that parents are most interested in using certain classes (55% would use them), school sports programs (43%), and libraries (39%). They were least interested in psychological services (4%), counseling (8%), and special education classes (12%).
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Table 1. Public school services and facilities available and used by home educators.
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Table 2. Public school services and facilities home educators would use if they were made available.
Parents were able to express their degree of agreement or disagreement with the idea that they needed or would like 14 different things from society. Their responses are presented in Table 3. A strong agreement was expressed for their home school support group to continue functioning or for a group to begin that is near them (55% strongly agree), for the state or federal government to provide financial assistance in the form of educational tax credits or tuition vouchers that could be used for home instruction (55%), and for support and encouragement from family, friends, church, and/or community (54%). The things that were perceived as the least needed or wanted were that the school district would provide more help and resources from certified teachers (12% strongly agree), help and resources from certified teachers not connected to the school district (15%), and guidance on effective teaching methods for the home education setting (19%).
Parents also expressed their views on government money being used for education in nonpublic settings. Table 4 shows that 55% oppose government tax money being used to help church-related schools, but 71% would like to see a voucher system (for both public and private schools) adopted in the United States. Even if a $600 per child voucher were available to them for use at a public or private school, however, 83% would still home educate their children. The voucher would most likely be used to provide educational resources for the home school.
Many home educators in this study (72%) gather resources to help assist their home schools by participating in support groups and home school organizations. When asked to indicate how these organizations serve them, the two most common functions mentioned were meeting other home school parents who provide the moral support and encouragement needed to continue home schooling (selected by 70%) and offering suggestions on effective ways to teach at home (selected by 57%) (see Table 5 and Table 6).
Home education parents were asked what changes would have to be made in public schools before they would consider sending their children to them. Table 7 shows that the response that received the highest ranking from parents was that they “would not consider sending child to public school regardless of changes made.” Forty-four percent of the parents rated this as response priority #1. The change that would cause most parents to consider public schools was “smaller classes and more individualized instruction” C 21% of the parents ranked it #1 while 8% ranked it #2. Providing religious instruction was lowest on the list C 8% ranked it #1 and 4% ranked it #2.
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Table 3. Things home educators need or would like. (Responses were to a five-point, likert-type scale with Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Uncertain, Agree, and Strongly Agree. Numbers presented are percentage of responses. Missing data account for the balance of 100%.)
Table 4. Home educators’ response to public money being used for private education and for the education of their children.
Table 5. Participation in home school support services.
Table 6. Functions served by home school organizations in families’ home education activities.
Table 7. Changes public schools would have to make for home educators to consider sending their children to the schools. (Responses are rank ordered according to how frequently a response was given first and second priority. The numbers following the response show the percentage for which a response was given first priority and then second priority by respondents.)
Discussion and Implications
Home educators in this study have revealed much about what they do and don’t need and want from other institutions. First, it appears that they would definitely like certain services to be available to them and their children, their students. Based on what home educators use in the education of their children and what they say they would use if it were available, the school services and facilities in which they are most interested are libraries, textbooks, certain classes, achievement testing, and sports programs. They appear to be least interested in the school services and facilities of counseling, field trips, health screening, special education classes, and psychological services. In addition, they are more interested in help and resources from certified teachers not connected to the school district than from school district teachers. The majority say they need or would like guidance on effective teaching methods for the home education setting and more educational research on home education made available to them.
It appears from this research that families are interested in services that are at times the most difficult or expensive to provide at home and the least likely to interfere with the education and training of their children in a way that is consistent with the family’s particular philosophical or religious beliefs. The present findings and previous research concerning reasons for home educating (Knowles, 1988a, 1988b; Mayberry, 1988a, 1988b; Ray, 1988a; Wartes, 1987; Williams, 1990) are consistent with this inference.
One point should be made, however, regarding the interpretation of the percentages presented above (specifically related to school facilities and services desired or needed). Those who state their interest in special education services might appear to be insignificant strictly because relatively few families might have students who are particularly slow to learn or have significantly impaired learning abilities. It is possible that those families who do have students who would qualify for special education classes might in fact be very desirous of assistance. It is also possible that a service or facility may be in low demand in terms of numbers of families wanting it but actually high in demand in terms of the intensity of need or desire that families expressed for that service or facility. Further research in this area is needed.
Responses related to the use of tax money in education might indicate a paradox in the thinking of the home education parents. On the one hand, 72% expressed agreement that the government should provide financial assistance in the form of tax credits or vouchers for use in home instruction. Consistently, 71% would like to see a voucher system, using tax money, which includes public, parochial (church-related), and private schools (which is similar to the views of parents in other Western countries). Contrariwise, 55% oppose tax money being used to help parochial schools “make ends meet.” A couple of considerations should be made here. First, it might be that these parents distinguish between money going to a child (voucher) to be used for education (which might include religious education) and money going directly to a religious school. Second, including both concepts of vouchers and tuition tax credits in the same item on the survey might have made the item, and therefore the interpretation of responses, ambiguous. That is, the use of tax money versus reduction in tax liability can be interpreted as two very different propositions. It may be that these findings simply indicate that these parents believe in individual choice and parental prerogative in the use of any money that might be available for the education of children. This interpretation is consistent with the implicit belief in choice that is part and parcel of home educating one’s child.
The results from this study might not make it possible to determine whether these parents treat vouchers and tax credits differently. It is clear, nevertheless, that writers who might be construed as supporting home education for various reasons do have different interpretations of the safety or hidden dangers to home educators of either vouchers or tax credits (Lieberman, 1988; Phelps, 1990). Those interested in pursuing the advantages or disadvantages of such financial assistance should consider legal and philosophical arguments about such aid for home educators.
Even though home educators expressed that they would like some form of financial encouragement or support from the government, they also expressed the desire to be free of taxation which supports public schools. In fact, 60% of them agreed that they should be free of such taxation. It appears that they do not want to bear a double tax C their money to educate others’ public school students and additional money to educate their own at home. This may be their desire, but some suggest that the double tax may be around for more than a little while (Phelps, 1990).
The need for freedom from taxation that supports public schools is consistent with the need to be left alone, with no hassles or interference from federal, state and local school officials. Three-fourths of the parents agreed on this latter point. This desire for autonomy is corroborated in the finding that parents stated emphatically that they would continue to home educate their children regardless of how public schools changed or what public schools could offer them. The need to be left alone has already been articulated by some home education advocates (e.g., Farris, 1990). Finally, the parents’ responses to a survey item, regarding assistance in the form of vouchers, imply that they are very dedicated to home educating their children even if financial assistance were available to use in private or church-related schools.
Parents also expressed interest in financial assistance from business or other private organizations. It might behoove businesses to seek out relationships with home education families. The potential benefits to businesses and the community at large that might accrue from association with home educated students could be similar to the enthusiasm and high abilities that public schools might gain from them (Holt, 1983; Knowles, 1989). The Advanced Training Institute of America (1991; see also, Gothard, 1991) is one group that is already developing associations between businesses and home education.
Home educators also need service and support from nonpublic institutions. They expressed a strong need for local home education support groups and statewide organizations. Their involvement in such organizations appears to be a crucial element in their lives by providing support, encouragement, and aide.
Basically, home educators appear to believe that services and facilities paid for by the public (which includes themselves) should be made available to them as they strive to educate their own children. Relatively few (up to 12%), however, are using public school services or facilities. This is consistent with the findings of Williams (1990) who noted that only a small percentage of home education families in Ohio sought assistance from their public schools, although the contacts that did take place were positive and beneficial. Similarly, McGraw (1989) who found that less than 15% of Indiana families educating children at home use available public school services.
Significant numbers (up to 55%) in the present study say that they would actually use certain of these services and facilities if they were made available. This is also somewhat consistent with McGraw who reported that 85% of the families in Indiana might use public school services if made available. The parents in the present study are interested in help from educators when they as parents request it. It seems significant that in this study parent-teachers were more interested in help from educators that are not formally associated with public schools. This is confirmed as we have spoken with a number of home educators and professionally trained teachers around the country who work together. It is also important to note that home educators are most interested in services that will not interfere with the values and beliefs that their families hold. That is, they show strong interest in things like certain public school classes or libraries, but very little interest in counseling or psychological services from public schools. At the same time, however, they express interest in services that might challenge them to rethink and change their educational practices.
Finally, 68% of the home educators said they needed or would like made accessible to them more educational research on home schools. We know that many home educators are listening to the research. For example, a number of them have discussed how Van Galen’s (1988) research and classifications of ideologues and pedagogues have stimulated their thinking. Mattingly (1990) studied the instructional environments of 20 home schools in two states and identified various areas of adequacy and weakness. If publicized, his research might cause home educators to reflect on their home school environments. Perhaps the home educators in this study are saying that they will seriously consider and possibly use the findings and conclusions of researchers such as Van Galen and Mattingly to enhance what they do with their children.
This study illuminates the fact that home educators do have need of services and support. At the same time, however, they would like the liberty to educate their children and seek out and use services and support at their own discretion. They desire freedom from pressure to use unsolicited help and freedom from overt interference, especially from those associated with the state or federal government.
Another aspect of the findings should be given close consideration. It appears that home educators might benefit from various institutions publicizing the services that they make available to home education families. From 25% to 63% of the respondents did not even know whether the 11 public school services and facilities listed in the survey (i.e., libraries, textbooks, classes, club membership, counseling, sports programs, field trips, health screening, achievement testing, special education classes, and psychological services) were available to their home schools. It might be that public school personnel do not even know whether their services are available to home education students. Myers (1990) found that public school personnel demonstrated little awareness regarding students taught at home, and many schools had not developed any policy that deals with home education students. Home educators’ lack of knowledge about public school services might simply be a function of public schools not having policy on how to serve the home educators in their district. In addition, when asked if the 11 services and facilities were made available, 13% to 23% did not know whether they would use them. These families represent citizens of the state who participate in paying their taxes and who express a need and desire to use public services. It would be appropriate for public education officials, at the state, county, or local level, to make a dedicated effort to inform home educators of what services are available to them.
In summary, home educators express that they have needs and would like a number of institutions to offer assistance. They appear willing to receive help, support, and encouragement in the form of ideas from professional educators, public school services and facilities, finances, expressed support from friends and community, and research findings on various aspects of home education. They need to be informed of help that is available by those who offer it, whether they are home school support groups or state schools. Simultaneous to expressing needs, the majority of these home educators are strongly dedicated to continuing the home education of their children, regardless of the assistance offered to them or changes that might occur in conventional schools.
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1. Funding for this Field Initiated Research Project (Grant No. R117E90220) was received from the United States Department of Education. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Education.