First, I want to thank all the homeschooling parents who have participated in the discussion on this blog and on Facebook about my thoughts on homeschooling. I’ve learned so much from you. There should be so many more discussions like this one between parents, educators, and those involved in research in education. Many, many more.
I think that many of my preconceptions about homeschooling and other types of nontraditional educational choices that parents make is, in part, due to how parental decision-making is framed in the media and in academia. For instance, I wrote my comprehensive exam in my doctoral program about student choice under No Child Left Behind. I thought I had a pretty good understanding about the factors that contribute to why parents decide to keep their kid in public school or choose another option.
Turns out I hadn’t thought of most of them. And I think there’s a reason why. Most of the research that I have cited or used in my own thinking is based on survey research. Either pollsters from organizations such as Gallup (which organizes the largest surveys of parental attitudes toward American education) or educational researchers who use survey research tools both ask parents on the phone, by mail, or in person a set of specific questions with a limited range of responses. For example, a survey question might ask, “Are you satisfied with your neighborhood school? If you are not, what is the main reason why?” And most parents who respond “No. I am not satisfied” also check that they are most dissatisfied with the “academic quality” of their local school.
But this does not capture the full range of experience for these parents or the complexity of each individual family’s situation. Not sure what to do with this valuable information from parents on my blog, I analyzed the responses on my blog and on Facebook to my post and categorized them. According to my quick analysis, there were more than 20 reasons that parents described for homeschooling that might fall under that highly general category of “academic quality.” There were also reasons written about eloquently by parents that couldn’t be classified under any rubric that I’ve seen, such as parents’ desire to spend more time with their children or the travel schedule of military families.
I think there is a need for more qualitative research — an in-depth understanding, asking questions that begin with “why” or “how” — about parents’ and children’s experiences in the educational system. In other words, not just surveys or checklists, but extended conversations about families’ stories, with more listening to individual variation and less categorizing of families’ experiences into predetermined reasoning.
What are the best questions that researchers or educators could ask parents about their kids’ education?