If you are a homeschool advocate, you might want to say, “Homeschooling always causes all the positive things associated with the educational practice.” But are you also wanting to say, “Anything negative associated with a homeschooling family or group of families is caused by homeschooling?” If you are philosophically biased against parent-led home-based education, you might be thinking, “No empirical research can convince me of the merits of homeschooling.” On the other hand, if you think you are “simply an objective scholar,” you might be thinking, “Research simply does not tell us much, yet, about homeschooling.”
Professor Joseph Murphy’s new book, Homeschooling in America: Capturing and Assessing the Movement, makes me think, be thankful for honest researchers and scholars. They try to be fair with what research tells us. They do not have the advantage of inerrant, written revelation direct from God but they are straightforward and reasonable.
Homeschooling in America is a must-read for anyone interested in research on parent-led home-based education. For a scholar who is relatively new to the field, he worked at and developed a deep and sound understanding of the research literature on homeschooling before publishing this treatise. Further, Murphy presents the research field and his working hypotheses in a fresh, engaging, and evenhanded manner.
He begins with a macro-perspective overview and definitions and then adeptly moves on to the demographics of homeschooling, a history of modern-day homeschooling, an evaluation of factors that foster the growth of homeschooling in the United States, why parents home educate their children, research-based descriptions of “homeschooling in action,” and the impact or effects of homeschooling on children and society. Murphy’s finishing chapter involves a “theory of action” regarding the apparent positive effects of homeschooling.
Regarding the academic and social “impact” of homeschooling on students, Murphy writes the following about academic achievement:
First, we know more than some analysts suggest we do. Important empirically grounded clues are visible, and tentative hypotheses are being formed. At the same time, we know a lot less than advocates of homeschooling would have us believe. Second, there is a growing body of evidence that reveals how homeschool students are performing academically compared to national norms on standardized tests. (p. 140)
A little later in his book, Murphy carefully implies that research is suggesting notable correlations between the practice of home-based education and positive outcomes for students. He writes as follows: “Here we pull together these explanations for the positive influence of homeschools on the academic and social learning of youngsters” (p. 153-154). The main purpose of rest of this article is to summarize Dr. Murphy’s “theory of action.” I must note that he graciously recognizes (p. 154) that others (e.g., John Holt in 1981, Raymond Moore in 1982, and Ray, 2000, 2010) suggested the same planks in the theory that Murphy proceeds to present.
Professor Murphy posits three main variables in his theory of action. Consider the first: If there is a beginning point in the logic of action for homeschooling’s impact, it is most likely parental involvement … It is also the keystone variable in the success algorithm. It includes the massive amounts of time and energy that parents invest in the education of their children … (p. 155).
On this variable of parental involvement, I have heard many who doubt the positive impact of homeschooling say, “If only public-school parents were as involved in their children’s lives as are homeschool parents then the state-school students would achieve just as well.” One should note, however, it is one thing to suggest such a thing but it is another to expect or sway large portions of parents to practice such a thing when their children are gone from home and parents for 6 to 8 hours per day; it simply may not be possible to be as involved in their lives as are parents who practice home-based education.
“Instructional program” is the second plank of the theory of action that Murphy presents. He lays out that while some critics of homeschooling are concerned that parents are not state-certified teachers, it appears that they consistently offer their children one-on-one instruction, low student-to-teacher ratios, effective use of time, more academic learning time, “… a high degree of customization of learning experiences” (p. 157-158), considerable flexibility, more meaningful feedback between teacher and student, more extensive two-way dialogue between adults and children, an environment in which it is “… more difficult for a child to coast or hide in the crowd …” and “…easier for parents to teach using direct (authentic) experiences” (p. 159), and an execution of homeschooling as “… a good way to encourage student ownership of learning …” (p. 159).
The third and final plank of Dr. Murphy’s theory is the “learning environment.” Research literature suggests that home-educated children find themselves in “… more productive learning environments than those often found in the average public school …,” “… a climate that is safe and orderly, a nonthreatening culture in which the academic work of school can unfold …,” and “… the elimination of the negative peer culture sometimes seen in conventional schools …” (p. 159). “In its stead, one often finds a supportive culture that grows from committed families and loving parents …” (p. 159).
As part of this third variable in his theory of action, professor Murphy notes the high levels of personalization involved in parent-led home-based education. He writes the following:
On a second front, a positive learning environment is made possible by the nurturing relationships that seem to be more easily forged in homeschools. ….. The key here is the development in homeschools of a highly personalized climate in which the child is known, cared for, and respected more deeply than is possible in models of collective schooling … (p. 160)
Dr. Joseph Murphy calmly, carefully, and engagingly pulls together decades of research on homeschooling to offer the reader a well-reasoned “speculative” model regarding “… what might explain the positive effects of homeschools on the academic and social learning of children” (p. 160). Murphy’s is an exceptionally readable and engaging treatise for both the academic and layperson alike.
Ray, Brian D. (2000). Home schooling: The ameliorator of negative influences on learning? Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 71-106.
Ray, Brian D. (2010, February 3). Academic achievement and demographic traits of homeschool students: A nationwide study. Academic Leadership Journal, 8(1). Retrieved December 10, 2012 from http://contentcat.fhsu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15732coll4/id/456 .