Stop Using My Homeschool Success Story to Erase Others’ Educational Neglect

CC image courtesy of Flickr, CollegeDegrees360.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. It was originally published on February 22, 2016.

In a commentary piece in the Chicago Tribune, David McGrath, a college professor, explains his transition from believing that homeschooling deprives children of their right to an education to believing that homeschooling is superior to other forms of education. Here’s the bit that stopped this homeschool graduate up short:

All that changed when I started teaching at the college level, on an evening when I came home from work, slipped off my shoes, collapsed into the recliner and announced to my wife that the best student in my college composition class had been home-schooled.

An 18-year-old only child, who had been educated by her parents for all 12 grades, chose a seat in the front row on the first day of class.

The following 16 weeks, she maintained eye contact throughout lectures and discussions, listened intently to me and her classmates, raised her hand to offer an observation, an answer or to ask a question when no one else would, followed instructions to the letter, communicated verbally and in writing more clearly than everyone else and received the highest grade on every assignment.

She was the first student to arrive, had perfect attendance the entire semester and was a catalyst for every lesson I ventured.

McGrath could be describing me as an undergraduate a decade ago. I, too, had perfect attendance, sat in the front, listened carefully, followed instructions perfectly, raised my hand constantly, and got the highest grades on every assignment. I was every professor’s dream student. I graduated college with a stellar GPA and went on to graduate school at a research university. But you know what? I am not at all okay with the way McGrath is using my story and that of other homeschool graduates like me.

Take a look at this bit, for example:

In the past 15 years, I’ve known of over a dozen home-schooled students in my college freshman and sophomore classes. All were competent in social interaction, and all had already developed their own methods of inquiry for independent learning.

Do you know who McGrath didn’t meet? Homeschool graduates so severely educationally neglected that college was completely out of the question.

According to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, there are actually a number of reasons to believe that homeschooling depresses college attendance rates—potentially by a lot. The number of homeschooled students who take the SAT and ACT is surprisingly low, and the only extant random-sample study of homeschool graduates found that having been homeschooled decreased the amount of higher education respondents went on to receive. But McGrath wouldn’t have any way to know about the educational wellbeing of those other students, because, as a college instructor, he’s only seeing the ones who attend college.

Let me put it more personally. McGrath didn’t met the kids I grew up with who were not educated, and for whom college was simply not an option. McGrath isn’t meeting educationally neglected homeschooled children because they’re not going to college. In a study published in 2010, researcher Michael Cogan found that the homeschool graduates at the private university he studied had higher GPAs than their public or private school graduate peers, but you know what he left unexamined? The question of why only 1% of the students at that university were homeschool graduates when a full 3.4% of students were homeschooled in 2011. In other words, Cogan was looking at the cream of the crop, and the other students were simply missing.

I’m also wondering how McGrath knows that every homeschooled student he has encountered was a good student. I’m a college instructor too, and you know what? I don’t usually know whether my students were homeschooled, public schooled, or private schooled. That’s because I don’t generally have any reason to ask that. I’ve taught roughly 250 students over the past year and a half, and I’m sure at least some of them were homeschooled, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never asked. I suspect that McGrath has also met homeschool graduates who were underprepared for college—and I know plenty such individuals personally—but doesn’t realize it because he assumed they weren’t homeschooled because they didn’t meet his stereotype.

I’m also put off by McGrath’s insistence that homeschooled students are automatically independent critical thinkers who love learning and drink up knowledge. Sure, that describes me and others like me, but what about the homeschool graduates I know whose homeschooling consisted of nothing more than being made to fill out worksheets at the kitchen table for years on end? I know situations where homeschooling killed students’ love for learning. McGrath talks about the benefits of receiving one-on-one instruction, but what of homeschooled children who were one of six, eight, or ten children, who clamored for attention but got lost in the mix because there were too many diapers to change and meals to fix? What of them?

Anyway, McGrath goes on as follows:

While my experiences are anecdotal, clinical studies have arrived at similar conclusions, such as the one conducted by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute. His study of 11,000 home-schooled students found they scored higher, on average, than public school students on national standardized tests by a whopping 37 percentile points.

McGrath is a college professor. He should know better than to fall for shitty statistics. The study he cites used a volunteer sample of students from highly motivated highly educated non-poor families. To match the effect of homeschooling you need to compare these students with demographically matched peers, not the public school average. The results of studies that use from a more comprehensive data set (see the data covered here) or pair students with demographically matched peers (see Martin-Chang here) look far different from those released by Ray, whose National Home Education Research Institute is for all intents and purposes an arm of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

There’s another point worth noting here. McGrath is an English professor. Why does that matter? Because homeschooling appears to decrease students’ math scores while either having no effect or a modest positive effect on their reading scores. And it’s not just me saying that, either. Allow me to quote from an exhaustive research review published by professors Milton Gaither and Robert Kunzman:

Given this persistent corroboration across two decades we might conclude, tentatively, that there may be at least a modest homeschooling effect on academic achievement—namely that it tends to improve students’ verbal and weaken their math capacities.

In other words, McGrath’s experience would likely have been very different had he been a math professor rather than an English professor. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education draws on a variety of different data sources to outline this discrepancy in their post, The Homeschool Math Gap. In fact, there is research to suggest that having been homeschooled even affects students’ choice of major, making them less likely to major in STEM fields. McGrath probably doesn’t know this, but then, has he ever thought to even ask, or to look into it? It sounds as though he did a quick google search, fell for the first statistic that confirmed his anecdotal experience, and determined that there was no need to research further.

McGrath began his essay talking about his doubts about homeschooling and his concern about there being “little oversight of home-schooled students in half of all states” including his own. He finishes his essay with this statement:

An estimated 1.8 million students are home-schooled in the United States, often for religious reasons, or for insulation from schoolyard problems such as bullying. But the best reason may be that they get a better education.

Yes, that’s right, he flat-out states that homeschooled students “get a better education.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad McGrath has learned that homeschooled students can receive a good education! I am just as unhappy with stereotypes that posit all homeschoolers as backward and uneducated as I am with stereotypes that posit all homeschoolers as innovative and well educated. Both stereotypes are wrong. But while McGrath may have decided that there’s nothing at all to be concerned about with regards to homeschooling, I know that this is not the case.

The lack of oversight for homeschooling in most states is a very serious problem, and leaves too many children without an education. I saw it growing up, and I see it today in networks of homeschool alumni such as Homeschoolers Anonymous. Some children thrive being homeschooled while others fall on their faces with no way to pick themselves up. I know homeschool graduates whose parents gave up teaching them algebra because it was too difficult. I know homeschool graduates who had to teach themselves to read at 16. I know homeschool graduates whose education was so spotty that they can’t pull together a high school transcript. And don’t even get me started on child labor law violations, because what I’ve seen is completely egregious. We desperately need accountability for homeschooling parents.

I am not okay with McGrath using homeschool graduates like me as an excuse to display an utter lack of regard for my less-fortunate friends. I am not okay watching my friends and their pain erased in a paean to an educational method that is only as good as the parents who facilitate it. I am not okay with being part of an argument for maintaining a status quo that deprives children of their right to an education.

Count me out.

Dear Homeschool Kids

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chlot’s Run.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Abi Pearson’s blog, Rambling Writer. It was originally published on January 27, 2016.

Dear Homeschool Kids,

So I’ve seen these videos / blog posts / comments floating around everywhere and I just felt the need to say something. You’ve probably seen it too, a homeschooled alumni or currently homeschooled kids giving answers to questions that seem silly. “Did you actually do school?”  “Were you super sheltered?” “Did you have any friends at all?”   I remember doing this too, I thought these questions were laughable. Then as I grew older, I began to meet or read about other homeschool alumni, and I realized some of these questions are perfectly reasonable.

Here’s the thing fellow homeschoolers. Some of us had it great, some of us got a good education, had friends and generally just had a great time. My mother has spent so many hours researching the best curriculum. Obviously no one’s perfect, but I know that she did and continues to do the best for her children. I know I got a pretty good education, a little lacking in math and science. But the point is my mom really tried.

But some of us didn’t. Some homeschoolers were raised in families that didn’t take education as seriously for females. Some of them were abused, and some didn’t have any friends outside of siblings.  The more I read and the more people I meet through the internet, the more I realize that abuse and education neglect are both misunderstood topics, and that very few people want to talk about the problems.

Abuse and education neglect in homeschooling families happens, and happens more frequently then most people realize.  Stories like the ones shared herehere, and here, are just some of many stories that are being told by homeschool alumni.  My point isn’t to say homeschooling is bad or anything like that. My point is to simply help create more awareness in this area. We’ve all read about the stories of children being taken away from homeschooling and/or homesteading families, and I feel that some people think those cases are just random exceptions picked up by the media. Abuse can happen in any home; the schooling or religion doesn’t make people immune.

So if you’re a homeschooler, next time you’re asked one of these questions, don’t just laugh it off. Instead thank your parents or guardians for giving you the education and opportunities that you had because some people aren’t as lucky as you. Maybe consider donating to organizations like this one. But at the very least let’s all stop pretending like there’s nothing wrong.

Bob Adelmann’s Deceptive Use of Homeschooling Statistics

Bob Adelmann, YouTube screenshot.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 13, 2015 with the title “Can You Be More Deceptive? Homeschool Edition.”

I just came upon an article by Bob Adelmann of the New American discussing U.S. test scores as compared to those in other nations, and then arguing that homeschooling is the solution to U.S. underperformance. I bring it up because it is a really good example of the way some homeschooling parents use bad data and outright lies to argue that homeschooling is academically superior to other methods of instruction.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 12th grade. While there were some gaps, I got a pretty good education overall and went on to excel in college. As a homeschool alumna, there is nothing that bothers me more today than people using bad stats and deception to argue that homeschooling is better than public or private schooling when in fact there is no data that actually says this. Accuracy matters, people! Do we really need to lie to make homeschooling look better? Really? 

Okay, end rant. Let’s look at what the piece said:

The recent flurry of test results on how American students are faring in school has resulted in much commentary decrying their dismal performance compared to their international peers.

. . .

This prompted George Nethercutt, a former member of the House of Representatives, to declare that “Americans get an F in civics” in his article in The Hill last week. He asserted, “The findings showed broad failures. If policymakers don’t soon pay attention to such failures, the perpetuation of citizen understanding of the basic concepts of the American system will continue to be at risk.”

. . .

Nethercutt’s conclusion, with himself and his performance in the House as a prime example, is correct: Students with little or no understanding of their history will have little ability to steer the ship of state in a constitutional direction in the future.

That’s why the home-schooling movement is so vital to keeping that ship afloat and away from the shoals of authoritarianism. In another study (that Nethercutt failed to mention) from the DOE’s Educational Resources Information Center, homeschoolers are learning precisely the skills needed:

Homeschool student achievement test scores were exceptionally high. The median scores for every subtest at every grade were well above those of public … school students.

On average, homeschool students in grades one to four performed one grade level above their age-level peers on achievement tests….

Even with a conservative analysis of the data, the achievement levels of the homeschool students in the study were exceptional. Within each grade level and each skill area, the median scores for homeschool students fell between the 70th and 80th percentile of students nationwide….

For younger students, this is a one year lead. By the time homeschool students are in 8th grade, they are four years ahead of their public/private school counterparts. [Emphasis added.]

Nethercutt is a product of the public schools and traditional universities, and so is severely limited in his ability to see what’s really needed in education in America. That’s why his solution misses the mark when he suggests that “all states should adopt basic requirements for graduation.” No, George. States and the federal government should remove themselves from the educational process altogether and allow the home schooling movement to flourish and grow even more rapidly.

At this point you may be curious to which study Adelmann is referring. I was too! Adelmann says the study is “from the DOE’s Educational Resources Information Center” but does not provide its name or link to it. One wonders why.

It turns out that the Department of Education’s Educational Resources Information Center does not conduct research itself, it merely archives digests of existing research conducted by a variety of scholars in a sort of library to make it easier for researchers or policymakers to find information. The study in question is The Scholastic Achievement of Homeschooled Students, by Lawrence Rudner, published in 1999 and funded by a grant from the Home School Legal Defense Association. You can see a digest on ERIC here.

Portraying a study conducted independently from the Department of Education with money from the largest homeschool lobbying group in the country as though it is in fact an official study conducted by the Department of Education is incredibly deceptive. Adelmann doesn’t even give the reader a link where they can go to find out more about how the study is conducted. Given that linking is standard procedure, especially when quoting, I can’t help but see this as intentional deception.

And what does the study itself say? How was it conducted? You can read an overview at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. In sum, the study was conducted using a volunteer sample, and it does not correct for background factors. To quote the overview linked above:

Rudner’s study tells us essentially nothing about homeschooled high schoolers, children of color, poor children, unschoolers, children with poorly educated parents, children being raised by single parents or by parents who both work, abused or educationally neglected children, or disabled or special needs children. The higher-than-average standardized test scores earned by Rudner’s highly privileged group of homeschoolers are only what we would expect from a study where nearly all disadvantaged children are excluded.

Adelmann makes it sound like the study he is citing proves homeschooling superior to other methods of education, but in fact the study shows only that privileged homeschooled children tend to score well. That’s no surprise, but it’s also no solution for our education system, where the majority of U.S. schoolchildren now live in poverty.

But perhaps what’s most shocking about Adelmann’s use of the Rudner study is this statement by Rudner himself, at the end of his study:

These comparisons between home school students and students nationwide must be interpreted with a great deal of caution. This was not a controlled experiment. Students were not randomly assigned public, private or home schools. As a result, the reported achievement differences between groups do not control for background differences in the home school and general United States population and, more importantly, cannot be attributed to the type of school a child attends. This study does not demonstrate that home schooling is superior to public or private schools. It should not be cited as evidence that our public schools are failing. It does not indicate that children will perform better academically if they are home schooled. The design of this study and the data do not warrant such claims. All the comparisons of home school students with the general population and with the private school population in this report fail to consider a myriad of differences between home school and public school students. We have no information as to what the achievement levels of home school students would be had they been enrolled in public or private schools. This study simply shows that those parents choosing to make a commitment to home schooling are able to provide a very successful academic environment. [emphasis added]

In other words, even Rudner himself did not claim that his study showed that homeschooling was superior to public or private schooling! In fact he insisted that his study did not show that! Rudner argued only that his study shows that homeschooling can work, not that it always does or that it works better than other methods of instruction. Indeed he explicitly stated that his study does not show that children will preform better if they are homeschooled.

In other words, not only did Adelmann act deceptively by portraying Rudner’s HSLDA-funded study as a government study, he used the study’s findings in a way that Rudner explicitly said they should not be used and to mean things Rudner explicitly stated they did not mean. If this isn’t gross deception, I don’t know what is. I am utterly disgusted.

Homeschooled Kids Matter: A Response to Will Estrada

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Recently Will Estrada, HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations, posted on social media an image of himself and HSLDA’s Deputy Director of Federal Relations Andrew Mullins heading to Washington, D.C. with the statement, “Snow won’t keep us from fighting for freedom on behalf of millions of homeschoolers around the world!” A homeschool alumna commented on the image, saying, “Smiling won’t keep home school kids from dying from abuse and neglect.”

Will Estrada responded (and fellow HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly agreed with in a subsequent comment) with the following:

We’re fighting for homeschool freedom for ALL kids so they can escape bad public schools. For the gay teen being bullied and his mom wants to homeschool him. For the Christian teen who is told she can’t read her Bible. For the kids in public school who are being sexually abused (see this story:…/is_sexual_abuse_in_schools_very…)

That catchy little slogan “all kids matter” rings hollow because HA and CRHE do nothing to help the kids in the situations above. We do. By fighting for homeschool freedom so parents, not faceless government bureaucrats, can protect their kids.

Which brings us to the major difference between HA/CRHE and HSLDA: HA/CRHE turn to the tired old liberal position: find something wrong, and add more government regulation and laws. Whereas homeschoolers find something wrong and turn to freedom. That’s why homeschool parents continue to win. Sure, HA/CRHE will continue to get little quotes in the NYT, but it’s why homeschool parents, not HA/CRHE are winning in states like VA, PA, IL, MA, and others.

Here is an image of the interaction:


Since Estrada seems unfamiliar with what HA/HARO actually is and does, and confuses us with the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), I figured I’d clear up some things for him:

HA is Homeschoolers Anonymous, an internet project of the non-profit organization Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO). As an organization, HARO gives its unqualified support to children who experience a negative or threatening environment in public schools. This is why, from day one of our organization’s launch, we have made explicit that we support homeschooling. As HARO’s FAQ page states, “We believe that homeschooling is a powerful, useful tool. It represents a democratic approach to educational progress, innovation, and creativity. It allows a child’s learning environment to be tailored to individual and personal needs. When homeschooling is done responsibly, it can be amazing.”

HARO’s mission is to support homeschooling families and communities by educating those families and communities how to make homeschooling safer and more supportive to at-risk children. We created a free curriculum on child abuse awareness that such families and communities can download and utilize. Our presentation Facing Our Fears: How the Voices of Homeschool Alumni Can Help Homeschooling gives multiple constructive suggestions for how homeschoolers can rethink certain ideas that have created problems for alumni. We have more such curriculums and presentations in development. We are currently offering a scholarship for homeschool alumna who are entering STEM fields.

So yes, Estrada, HARO does help kids who want to be homeschooled… by helping to make sure homeschooling is a place that they actually want to be and in which they will thrive.

In contrast, here’s the sad truth about what Estrada said: HSLDA’s “help” for these children ends the day they become homeschoolers. Estrada and his organization are “fighting for freedoms” for homeschooling parents; they have no interest in fighting for the freedoms and rights of homeschooled children. In fact, HSLDA — and Estrada himself — have repeatedly gone on record opposing any rights for children. They refused to launch a public awareness campaign about child abuse for their members. They have made light of educationally neglected children. They have gone to bat for parents who put their children in cages. They have defended convicted child abusers. They have given legal and financial support to more than one abusive high-control group. They have promoted books that encourage physical child abuse and gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to a man who has been accused since the 1980’s of sexually harassing and molesting over 30 women. They even refused to help a homeschool mom who was desperate for guidance after her child was allegedly molested by the child of another homeschool leader.

HSLDA has made the lives of numerous homeschooled children a nightmare.

There are homeschooled children who remained trapped in abusive homes because of HSLDA

So while HARO believes strongly in the power of homeschooling and believes it should be an option for children (especially at-risk children), we are not going to give Estrada gold stars for pretending that somehow bullied LGBT* kids can “escape bad public schools” because of HSLDA. He doesn’t get to whitewash his organization’s history towards either children’s rights or LGBT* issues. And we refuse to entertain Estrada’s revisionist attempt to clothe HSLDA as a champion of LGBT* children when he and his organization daily and explicitly contribute to their dehumanization and oppression.

Finally: HARO is not the same organization as the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), which Estrada could have discovered with a simple Google search. HARO has never been quoted in the New York Times. But if we ever have the opportunity, we would tell the newspaper the same thing we would tell Estrada: that HARO’s position is neither to “add more government regulation and laws” nor to “turn to freedom”; HARO’s position is that we must stop turning a blind eye to the children left damaged and abandoned when organizations like HSLDA value “winning” more than actual children’s lives.

Since HSLDA has made clear they are willing to let homeschooled children be the collateral damage of their “winning” strategies, others must rise to the occasion and do the hard work of protecting those in harm’s way. This is the task to which HARO has dedicated itself.

Homeschooled kids do matter. The question is whether or not HSLDA will someday acknowledge that fact.

Announcing the Results from HARO’s 2014 Survey of Homeschool Alumni

surveycoverHomeschool Alumni Reaching Out is happy to announce the 1st installment of results from our 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement. Data analysis was generously provided by the amazing team over at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE).

About the survey

In 2014, HARO, the parent organization of Homeschoolers Anonymous, conducted a survey of adult alumni of the modern Christian homeschool movement in consultation with CRHE. The purpose of this survey was to investigate the life experiences of Christian homeschool alumni by collecting information that past surveys of homeschool alumni had not. The data collected will be used to advocate for the interests of current and future homeschooled children.

The survey, written by HARO Executive Director R.L. Stollar, was developed over a span of 9 months. Work on the survey began on November 24, 2013 and it was opened to the public on August 18, 2014. A set of approximately 90 initial questions were first created. These questions were then tested, modified, and re‐tested repeatedly over a span of 6 months to create the survey questions that were on the final version. The questions were specifically run by a diverse group of people, including Christians and non‐Christians, conservatives, moderates, and liberals, homeschoolers and unschoolers, and so forth. The final version of the survey featured questions on demographics, academic school experiences, non‐academic school experiences, food and health, religion, present and future personal life plans, sexuality, mental health, and abuse.

The survey, conducted online through SurveyMonkey, was estimated to take respondents 30 minutes to complete. It was first promoted through the homeschool abuse survivor community, from which it spread across the country through online social networks (primarily Facebook). Survey respondents were required to affirm that they were 18 years old or older, had been homeschooled for at least 7 years, were homeschooled in an environment which was classifiable as Christian (including Christian‐influenced new religious movements), and were taking the survey through completion for the first time. A total of 6,249 people started the survey; 3,702 respondents completed the survey before it closed on September 15, 2014. Only the completed responses were recorded and analyzed.

To download the first installment of results from HARO’s survey, click the link below:

A Complex Picture: Results of the 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement

HARO is extraordinarily grateful to CRHE for donating an immense amount of their time and energy to analyzing the survey data. If you would like to support CRHE’s work, they are currently holding a fundraising drive.

Not All Homeschoolers Are Religious (But Many Are)

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 14, 2014.

Sometimes I feel like I have to play this thing from both sides.

When I and other bloggers talk about some of the problems in the conservative Christian homeschooling subculture, we are informed by secular homeschool parents that not all homeschoolers are religious, and in fact that religious homeschoolers are just a minority today and not really a problem to be worried about. Well yes, we know that not all homeschoolers are religious. However, it’s a simple fact that many—perhaps even the majority—are.

When I read comments on mainstream news articles about things like Clare being kicked out of her homeschool prom for her dress, I see individuals who assume that all homeschoolers are religious, that all homeschooling is about religious indoctrination, and that homeschooling should therefore be shut down plain and simple. This is not helpful and certainly not true. There are secular homeschool leaders, textbooks, support groups, and conventions. A significant and growing percentage of homeschoolers are not religious homeschoolers.

And here I am, caught in the middle of misperceptions on both sides.

There is a lot I could say here, but I think it might just be simplest to quote from information put out by the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. This passage comes from “Reasons Parents Homeschool,” a page on the organization’s website.

Sociological research on homeschool families and their motivations, practices, and characteristics suggests that, going back as far as the late 1970s and early 1980s, there have been two main groups of homeschooling parents. First are evangelical and fundamentalist Christians who want to give their children a Christian education, and second are progressives who believe that formal schooling stifles children’s natural creativity and that education takes place best outside of the classroom. Throughout the past three decades, these two groups have coexisted in what sociologists and historians have described as an often uneasy tension. While the two groups at times cooperated, they also each created their own local, state, and national homeschool groups, conferences, and organizations. Research suggests that those with religious motivations have been the larger group by far since the 1980s, and that this group has also been the more successful at networking and building organizations and infrastructure.

Recent work suggests that these two groups continue to exist with very similar motivations and characteristics as in the past. Many parents today continue to homeschool for religious reasons, and religious homeschool curriculum is common. Conservative evangelical speakers teaching the supreme importance of the family and the scientific reality of creationism make their rounds speaking at homeschool conventions and before homeschool audiences across the country. At the same time, progressive educational reformers such as John Taylor Gatto speak at “unschooling” conferences and gatherings, encouraging parents to forgo classrooms and textbooks and engage in radically child-led learning.

Even as many parents continue to homeschool for religious or pedagogical reasons, recent sociological work suggests that an increasing number of parents are choosing homeschooling for purely pragmatic reasons: because the academic quality of the local schools leaves something to be desired, or because of bullying or health problems. Some families homeschool in order to be closer as a family, or simply so that children may have access to an individualized education. While homeschooling in the past has often been an act of religious or pedagogical protest, homeschooling has today become mainstream and accepted as a valid educational option. In an era of increasing school choice, parents turn to homeschooling for a variety of practical reasons that are often very family-specific.

I also want to quote briefly from “How Have Scholars Divided Homeschoolers into Groups?“, which adds another dimension to this.

The most recent addition to scholarly literature on homeschooling is Jennifer Lois’ 2012 Home Is Where the School Is (Lois, 2012). In contrast to earlier scholars, Lois focuses specifically on homeschooling mothers. Perhaps the most notable thing about her work is that she categorizes these mothers slightly differently than previous scholars. Rather than dividing them into ideologues and pedagogues or believers and inclusives, she divides them into “first choice” and “second choice” homeschoolers. First choice homeschoolers, she says, are mothers who feel that they are called to homeschool, whether for conservative religious reasons or progressive pedagogical reasons. In fact, Lois’ work seems to suggest that both types of mothers similarly find root for their choice to homeschool in their common identities as mothers. Second choice homeschoolers, in contrast, are those who come to homeschooling after other educational methods fail their children. For these mothers, homeschooling is not an identity but rather a temporary educational options. Lois finds that first choice homeschooling mothers report higher levels of satisfaction and that second choice homeschooling mothers are likely to look forward to the day when their children are grown or back in school.

Feel free to read these entire pages if the excerpts interest you. The basic point I want to make is that, yes, religious homeschoolers make up a significant percentage of both the homeschool population and the infrastructure of the homeschooling world, and that, at the same time, there are many who homeschool for pedagogical or pragmatic reasons that have nothing to do with religion. It is wrong to assume that all homeschoolers are religious (or that all religious homeschoolers are extremists) and it is wrong to assume that religious homeschooling is a marginal or insignificant part of homeschooling as a whole. 

I want to finish with a chart from the National Center for Education Statistics. The data displayed was collected in 2011.


When reading the chart, bear in mind that many scholars feel that sociological work may get at parents’ motivations more accurately than a survey of this sort. I tend to agree, as my parents might put academics down as their number one reason for homeschooling on a survey like this even though they are very clearly and solidly religious homeschoolers. Further, “a concern about environment of other schools” may mean a variety of things, religious or secular. Finally, some scholars question whether religious homeschoolers may be less likely to participate in a government survey of this sort, and whether that may skew the results.

If you want to read more, you may also find “A Brief History of Homeschooling” and “Homeschool Demographics” of interest.

When Precision is a Red Pen

Heather Doney is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education and blogs at Becoming Worldly.

As someone who has been studying and working on homeschooling issues from an academic as well as personal angle and who recently co-founded the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), I want to say that Benjamin Keil makes some good points in “A Call for Precision”. He makes good points about the plural of anecdote not being data and also how we want to avoid confusing different types of arguments or reasoning for one another. I also think that Sarah Henderson made some good points, too.

We are talking about, within, and to a group of people who often suffered educational neglect. I know I did. Some people have been able to largely overcome it. I too have a masters degree today. Some have not. We want to be very careful not to intimidate anyone or make them feel like their story or perspective is not “correct” or “educated” enough to be told.

This is a place for people to tell their stories as they see them through their own eyes and for others to provide feedback and support, not judgement or academic critique.

So while I am working with a team of former homeschoolers who are trying to do our best to get the quantitative data we have (which is slim) all in one place and collect and share the qualitative data (which is just coming together), fact is we (and by this I mean all of us) do not have the kind of data to know how abuse and neglect in homeschooling compares to that occurring in other educational settings. It is a question to be answered, a known unknown. We just know that it happens and that there are some really bad cases and the watered down or nonexistent laws on homeschooling in many states don’t pass a basic common sense smell test.

I also think it is instinct for people to use the info they have and generalize based on their social milieu. It happens a lot, annoying social science researchers everywhere, since we want to measure and quantify.

But is a natural human tendency.

So I think Keil’s points would have been stronger if he had noted that homeschool parents who keep saying “these stories are rare” and “most homeschoolers are ______” really need to notice that they do this way too much, that it isn’t helping, and they need to knock it off. A really good example of exactly what we don’t need any more of: this post in Christianity Today.

“Anecdote passed off as data” doesn’t make for an airtight case if anyone does it and frankly so many of us have had to sit by and have our experiences silenced and dismissed while homeschool parents and leaders got a pass for this sort of nonsense for years. The “data” collected by Brian Ray’s NHERI was spread around in the media and the homeschool community as proof of homeschooling’s excellence across the board.

As a matter of fact, Ray’s “Strengths of Their Own” study isn’t proof of anything except that self-selected participants in a survey (with just under a 30% response rate, I might add) of white, middle and upper middle class Christian homeschool families usually do pretty good. I could do a voluntary study of prep school kids, say they represented American students as a whole, and it would be much the same kind of result.

Which is to say it is not an accurate depiction of the population at all.

My initial thoughts from combing through the quantitative and qualitative data available and also running a support group are that it seems that homeschools aren’t too different from public school in terms of us having “haves” and “have-nots.” The difference is we pretend our have nots just don’t exist because we don’t measure them. There are generally no mechanisms in place to shut down failing homeschools or fire failing or abusive homeschooling teachers.

Because there seems to be this huge socio-economic status/class difference in homeschool student experiences and outcomes, we will need to pay a lot more attention to that gap before any of us do any more generalizing about what homeschooling as a whole is and isn’t. We also need to make sure we leave wide open spaces where people can safely tell their stories without worrying that the rest of us will be judgy perfectionists or parse it apart harshly.

Even if we are well-meaning in taking the red pen to someone else’s story and perspective, that can be very intimidating and used as a means to quiet their voice.

Too many of us have already had more than enough of that happen in our lives and don’t need any more. So I want to say that while I want solid arguments and good data as much as the next person, even more than that I want people to feel free to tell their own story and share where they see it fitting into the whole. After all, it is because a growing group of people are telling their first-person stories that we are even discussing the need for data in the first place.

Stories are powerful things.

Matt Walsh: “Let’s talk about everything as hyperbolically as possible”

Matt Walsh. Source:

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

As Matt Walsh once said, “Let’s talk about everything as hyperbolically as possible.”

Except Matt Walsh never said that.

Then again, no politician ever said, “Let’s treat all homeschool parents like felony child abusers,” which was the title of Walsh’s December 18, 2013 post on homeschooling.

I read Walsh’s homeschooling post the same way I read many of his other posts: with a mixture of bemusement, facepalms, and sadness. Sometimes he has interesting observations; but all the times, whatever potential insights he could be making are lost in his predilection for hyperbole and grandstanding.

Matt Walsh is Rush Limbaugh 2.0: Same Hyperbole, New Tattoos!

In his homescholing post, Walsh stands on a soapbox of “parental rights” and speaks dramatically about how if parents do not have “the unquestioned and absolute right to teach and raise our own children,” then — no exaggeration — “we don’t have any rights at all.” That is really the crux of his argument, which deserves analysis. But the specific context for the argument, from which he gets the title of his post, is the recent and tragic death of a 14 year old homeschooled boy, Teddy Foltz-Tedesco.

I would like to look at Teddy’s death first.

Teddy’s death, caused by horrific child abuse, should bring all conversation about homeschooling and parental rights — really, any and every political conversation — to a halt. The kid, only 14 years old, was beaten until he was unconscious by his mom’s boyfriend. He was not taken to a hospital until hours after the fact. Five days later, after suffering internal bleeding and brain contusions, he died.

But that was the end of the story, not the beginning. I will let Homeschooling’s Invisible Children explain what happened prior:

The abuse started three year prior, when Bush started dating Widdersheim. The family became increasingly isolated, and Teddy’s father did not see him after his tenth birthday. Two years before Teddy’s death a grandmother tried to intervene in the family, but Widdersheim refused to believe her children. Friends and neighbors contacted social services, but after teachers at Teddy’s school started an inquiry with the Ohio children’s services agency, Widdersheim withdrew her children from public school to homeschool them.

Too many people failed this kid. His own mother, his siblings, friends and neighbors, social services. People who could have acted, should have acted, did not. People who tried to act should have tried harder. Policies in place to protect kids like Teddy failed. Services we pay for to keep this from happening did nothing to stop it. It makes me nauseous. I’m not a libertarian and I’m not an authoritarian, but moments like these make me want to be both: I want to punch the walls of the entire child protective system in a blind rage because they had laws and money but they did not save this boy! and I want to ban everyone from ever being parents because if we can’t stop kids from dying let’s just take all the kids away from parents!

But neither the complete absence of laws nor passing every law ever will make each and every kid safe.

That’s the maddening factuality of politics’ limitations.

But that does not mean we should stop trying to make better policies. That does not mean we burn homeschooling to the ground or give parents free rein to do whatever the hell they want to their kids.

And most of all, that does not mean it is compassionate or right to encourage others to harass people trying to make the world a better place, even when those people are misguided. Yet that’s exactly what HSLDA and Matt Walsh did.

See, after Teddy’s death, his birth father and other family members began pressing for legal reform in an attempt to spare other kids from Teddy’s fate. His birth father and other family members approached Ohio state senator Capri Cafaro, the result of which was the proposed S.B. 248. The bill (which was later withdrawn) would have required all homeschooling parents to undergo an annual interview with social services before homeschooling.

This proposal was, in my opinion, doomed to fail at the start, not to mention misguided. (Ironically, it was also the first piece of legislation that the newly-launched Coalition for Responsible Home Education took a position on, and even CRHE opposed it.) But HSLDA quickly spun it as — and I quote — the “Worst-Ever Homeschool Law.”

Yes, the “Worst-Ever Homeschool Law.”

HSLDA knows their followers. They know how they respond to such rhetoric. They know their followers will flood social media and rant and rave and bully Facebook pages to no end, just like they did the German Embassy’s Facebook page for over a month, calling people Nazis and tyrants and other colorful phrases.

And then along comes Matt Walsh, saying Senator Cafaro was — and I quote — “repulsively exploiting the child abuse death of a 14 year old kid,” despite the fact that the Senator only proposed that bill because of the prompting of that kid’s father.

But, you know, facts get in the way of hyperbole, don’t they? 

Walsh wouldn’t get nearly as many blog hits if he didn’t exaggerate. HSLDA wouldn’t get nearly as much dedicated fervor from their audience if they didn’t say the bill was basically the Second Coming of Hitler. (Which makes one wonder, who is really exploiting Teddy’s death here?)

So of course inspired by both HSLDA and Walsh, angry homeschool parents flooded the Facebook page dedicated to Teddy’s death and run by his father. Teddy’s remaining family were berated and harassed for days. It was, in my opinion, a real low for the homeschool movement: a mob of people verbally abusing a grieving parent who lost his son, all in the name of “parental rights.”

But it wasn’t just sad. It was aggravating. Because there are real issues here. There are issues that demand a serious, sober debate — between legislators, child protective services, and homeschool advocates. There are heartbreaking failings that demand self-reflection within homeschooling communities about how to protect the communities’ kids from parents who misuse homeschooling.

But we don’t get any of that.

We get Walsh’s hyperbole and HSLDA’s spin.

Which means we don’t get better laws. We don’t get self-reflection. And we don’t get safer kids. 

But Walsh gets more blog hits and HSLDA gets more members.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Homeschooling leaders and advocates can do better than this. We can do better than this.

No kids are saved while homeschooling leaders are off tilting after windmills of persecution. No progress is made — towards either safety of kids or freedom of education — when we cast our movement in Manichaean colors.

Matt Walsh: no one wants to treat all homeschool parents like felony child abusers. No one. No one thinks all homeschool parents are “dangerous terrorists.” No one. Not even us here at Homeschoolers Anonymous, who are apparently now “whistleblowers documenting the horrific secrets of the fundamentalist homeschooling movement.” Yes, not even us whistleblowers of horrific secrets, who blog daily about homeschool abuse, think all homeschool parents are or should be treated like terrorists or child abusers. You are vainly slapping the face of straw men. You have an entire field full of straw men. You are running around with a pitchfork and screaming at figments of your imagination.

Let’s look at the facts calmly, please?

The facts are, parents do not have “the unquestioned and absolute right to teach and raise our own children.” No. Never. This is good. This is how it should be. In refutation of this sentence of Matt Walsh’s from his post’s second paragraph, I would simply present this later sentence from — you guessed it — Matt Walsh:

You should be able to lose your claim over your child if you are truly abusive, or if you commit any felony crime that would put you in prison and require your kids to be cared for by someone else.

This is pretty simple, really: if you should lose your claim over your child if you are abusive (or for any other reason), then your right to teach or raise your own children is not “unquestioned and absolute.” So Walsh really does not mean half of what he says, or he simply ignores how he contradicts himself. There should be limits on parental rights. The state should have power over your children that supersedes your own.

To some extent.

We are ultimately arguing what the extent to which we should apply the principle; we are not actually arguing about the principle. Walsh confuses these two things. You cannot say “this right should be absolute unless.” If there is even one “unless,” then the right is — by definition — questioned and conditional, not unquestioned and absolute.

Walsh might want fewer restrictions on parents than Teddy’s dad might want, or the NEA might want, or members of the responsible homeschooling movement — myself included — might want. But all of us, Walsh included, believe we need to protect kids. We need to question parents’ right to teach and raise their own children when those parents teach and raise their children to believe God wants them raped and impregnated due to an impending Armageddon. We need to make conditional parents’ right to teach and raise their own children when those parents beat their kids to death in the name of righteousness.

People who believe “parental rights” should not be an excuse to rape and murder your kids are not “lunatics,” as Walsh might have you believe. They are not people who — again, a bizarre tangent on Walsh’s part — think “a person’s only fundamental parental right is to butcher their children.” The desire to protect children from abuse is a highly ecumenical one, transcending people’s beliefs about abortion.

So how about we not talk about everything as hyperbolically as possible?

We could sit down in person over a cup of coffee, or write reasonable blog posts with intelligent rhetoric, where we sift through the issues at hand. Issues that could literally mean the life or death of other homeschooled kids — or public school kids, even. We can have big conversations: about how to improve child protective services, how to help out parents trying to educate their children in safe and nurturing environments, how to assist public school teachers raise achievement for all groups of kids, and how to counter child abuse in any and every context.

By all means, let’s indict sexually abusive teachers in public schools. Let’s indict abusive teachers in public schools, private schools, home schools — even colleges. Let’s join with people like Boz Tchividjian and fight abuse in churches; let’s call out and bring to justice the Jerry Sanduskys in secular institutions, too.

But we’re not going to do that with hyperbole. We’re going to do that with well-vetted policies, dedicated parents, outspoken child advocates, and an endless supply of compassion for survivors and support for those fighting for them.

Let me put it another way:

The time for hyperbole in the homeschooling movement is over. It is time for productive discourse and action.