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?






10 thoughts on “Why researchers and educators might not “get” how parents make educational choices

  1. I think the questions should sometimes have a different perspective — not looking at the educational system and why people don’t choose it (a focus on the schools), but looking instead at the families, at why parents DO choose to invest in their families. In other words, ask questions about parenting philosophy, not about educational philosophy. Many homeschooling parents have a fundamentally different philosophy about how they want their kids educated, because they have a different philosophy about having kids.

    It’s amazing to me that most research hasn’t even addressed that h.s. parents want lots of time with their kids. If you talk to the parents themselves, this is a recurring theme, no matter why they choose h.s. But it’s been overlooked. I think the research must be flawed, and perhaps it’s in its initial goal — figuring out what people don’t like about the system? or understanding why they love what they’re doing at home. Focus on the second.

    1. I agree. When I am asked about my decision to h.s., I always answer that it’s my philosophy about parenting, family life, and the role of children in the family that drives my choice. Education is pretty low on the list, but my kids are well-educated and always score well on the Iowa tests.

      1. That’s a great point. Researchers could be framing the question entirely wrong in the first place. Instead of just asking about educational beliefs, also ask about how your beliefs about children and how they should be raised impact your schooling choices. Interesting!

  2. I think a great question would be “What would you like school to give your child, short-term and long-term?” Sure it’s open ended, but I’m sure as with the other blog (thank you again for it too), you would get a variety of answers.

    Personally I’m starting to believe that the primary purpose of school should be preparing children to lead healthy lives. Considering our violent culture in America it seems of the utmost importance, in assessing which skills are mission-critical to later success, to include emotional and social health as high priorities. Yes, academic subjects are important too, but perhaps we should consider social/emotional health on a parallel level of importance.

    Happiness is a state of mind; one can not necessarily teach happiness – but one can certainly teach skills to counteract negativity (coping mechanisms for stress; conflict resolution skills; personal healthy releases, perhaps inclined toward creativity/art; reasonable expectations about the world that fall somewhere short of idealistic ones).

    I believe wholeheartedly that if schools taught these skills – not as occasional assemblies, not as once-per-month visits to each class from an “anti-bullying specialist” (you know my thoughts on that role already) – but as approximately marking-period-length, one-class-per-day coursework every other year (K-12) in which there are age-appropriate lessons, assessments, role playing examples and engaging group practices – we would not only counteract the violent culture with a healthier, more reasonable one in years to come but we would also create a more ideal learning environment for students in general.

    People don’t learn well under duress; study after study has affirmed this. Remove some of the ‘stress’ from school by teaching children how to cope with, diffuse or redirect energies from the stressful feelings/experiences in their lives, and one might reasonably expect that students will learn more, perform well, and retain more of their education as well.

    A sweeping shift in mindset like that in public schools would be persuasive. It may compel many of us who home school due to the disappointing or dangerous deficiencies we’ve unearthed in our families’ prior public school experiences to reconsider our positions and perhaps give some public schools another chance.

  3. I think there are some differences between parents who want to homeschool from the beginning and those, like me, who try the public schools and have negative experiences. Maybe this is a “parenting” difference, I don’t know. But having experienced the benefits of homeschooling, especially the non academic ones, I have no desire to switch back. I mean, I thought I had what I wanted, a small neighborhood school in a good district. And then it wasn’t.

      1. I am sure if you listed NON academic benefits, you would top the list with NOT-Making school lunches every day. Eating meals and cooking are a big part of homeschooling. Plus, I have found family meals can be the start of the best conversations! From what I know from my public school friends – as kids get older, they lose alll this time. Which of course, leads to more problems, besides losing quality family time, such as poor diet, weight issues….etc. When I talk to kids in the 17-19 year old range, that I am meeting through my kids college, I find that it is only the ones from Europe who appreciate food and cooking. The rest I have met have no idea!

  4. As I contemplate the question, “Why did I homeschool my children? several answers come to mind. Plus, as a family who homeschoooled from Day 1, the answers to that question change over time. So, when formulating surveys, you must take that into account. My own response to the question is this:

    We homeschooled in year 1 – due to PCB’s on the playground (supposedly cleaned up in 2 weeks) on our town school, followed by a 1 hour bus ride for a 2 hour K class. Private K-1 programs in our area were $15,000/child – unfordable for us! To my surprise, the first year went well. As did the 2nd and 3rd. During these years, I would say we homeschool because we loved it. It’s now a way of life. Or – we love the travel. We love sleeping in, in the am. We love staying up late, when we want. Independence!

    After we reached 4th grade it was obvious that my kids were starting to jump ahead academically from their peers who attended formal school. It did not seem to matter if the schooling was public or private. By 6th grade we started to look into private high schools and found that most of the core English/history we covered. As we toured schools and asked questions it became apparent that many schools were put off by where my kids were at academically. There seemed to be widespread disbelief when I listed materials covered. There also seemed to be a similar jaw dropping reaction to the fact that my kids could be so far ahead in one area, but at grade level in MATH. One school told me that they thought this was a learning disability. My comment back was “not really – just a kid who hates math!” So, at that time in our lives we realized that we homeschooled becuase there was NO way to get back into the traditional school system as a high schooler.

    When my kids started classes in Community College, they were in 7th/8th grade. By the following year they were taking 3 clases per semester, plus they took a few clep tests for subjests we covered previously. For rergistration purposes, we were listed as homeschoolers. But, in my mind, my older kids were now full-time students at college. In 10th grade,my son turned 16. We wrote to our school district to say he was “droppping out” of school. This seemed very funny at the time, but now I just feel sad when I think about the process. How silly! My son took the GED and promptly received his AA degree from Cape Cod Community College. My daughter who was 15 was no allowed to take her GED. The legal counsel of CCCC deliberated and came up with a solution. My daughter would take some test called the “Ability to Benefit Test” If she passed, she could obtain her degree. It was a pretty funny solution considering my 15 year old had a 4.0 GPA and was 1 or 5 finalistists in the state for the Norman Mailer 2-year college writing award.

    As we finished up community college and applied to 4 year colleges, we were still called homeschoolers. The appplication process was brutal. Since my kids did not take AP classe many IVY colleges did not know what to do with them. It was then that you realize the stigma CC education has in this country. As my son’s GED prevented him from applying to schools as a freshman, even though he was 16 and wanted to start again as a freshman and have a 4 year college experience.

    My kids ended up with aceptance to several schools but ended up choosing Suffolk University in Boston. Sufffollk took all their credit and gave them a large merit package. Plus, a 2-child discount. The school was activelly interested in them and VERY happy to have them.

    Right now my children 18/19 are scheduled to graduate this May. My daughter will be the youngest to ever graduate from Suffolk. She is also part of the first class of students there writing a Thesis as an honor’s graduation requirement. Both of my kids are continuing with their education. My son is applying to Law Schoool. My daughter is looking to study clarinet performance at a conservatory.

    We have realized at this point in the game, there are NO application forms for college admitance that allow us to detail our path. There are no boxes for us to select, and certainly not enough space to explain “Why”.

    I continue to struggle with the “gifted” label. I perfer to state clearly that my children are educated. They were taught how to learn and how to love learning. I often say, making the jump from homeschooler to college is very natural. Focused study, class times of 1-3 hours 1-2X’s per week. Large time periods for independent work. Class choice – freedom to pick what you want to study.

    Now, I am still homeschooling my 10 year old. When asked, “Why do I homeschool?” I just shake my head. My usual response is, “Why do you send your child to school?” A system from my eyes, that seems inheritantly set-up for mediocrity. A system that sufficates individuality and creativity.

    I end by saying GOOD LUCK! I could never do what you do. I could never send my 10 year old to school.

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