Are black home-schooled students making the grade?

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A new research effort aims to find out how African-American home-schoolers stack up academically against students in traditional schools.

The National Black Home Educators and Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute are soliciting volunteers for this study in the hopes that it will provide more data on the nature of black homeschooling.

“We want to get some kind of pulse on the academic achievement of the children who are homeschooled [in] comparison to public school norms,” Dr. Ray said of the project. ”[We want to] find out a little bit more about the reasons and motivations of black families who choose either homeschooling, public schooling, or private schooling.

Researchers and education specialists agree that there is very little data on African-American homeschooling. They contend that more research is needed to get a better understanding of its inner workings. Additionally, education experts want evidence for the claim that homeschooling is better than traditional schooling.

But that’s just about all that they agree on.

Ray says that he is conducting standardized academic achievement testing on solicited African-American home-school students using tests similar in nature to the Stanford Achievement Test, the Iowa Test of basic skills or the California Achievement Test.

Parents will also answer surveys about their demographics, their choices and how they made their decisions on public, private or homeschooling their children.

He adds that ever since the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of the Education that dismantled legal segregation in schools, many people within the black community and many people told the black community that public schools would be a grand, wonderful thing that would just make everything better. But, he added, many African-Americans have decided that for some reason traditional schooling is not working very well.

About a decade ago, Aretha Taggart lost her faith in traditional schools.

Just six months after enrolling her daughter in a Christian private school, Taggart, of Pepperell, MA, began seeing distinct changes in her daughter, who at the time was 5-years-old.

“The change in [Clarissa’s] behavior was so radical. She was frustrated; she would treat her brothers very unkindly. Some of the conversations she was bringing back home with me just raised some yellow flags,” she explained. “Clarissa asked me if her stomach was too fat. [She asked] questions mainly about her image. Then [there was] fear of being teased.”

Taggart and her husband decided to stop sending Clarissa to traditional school and to educate their child themselves.

“Basically we did this work within our child,” Taggart explained, ”… in molding character and politeness and etiquette and as parents we just assumed that going to a private Christian school, that those types of things would continue to be nurtured within our child,” she said.

She now she homeschools her four children ages six to 14. She explained that beside the concern that her daughter’s social behavior was troubling, she wanted to be able to help her daughter with her school work and to be a part of her learning.

But in the beginning she remembers she and her husband did months of extensive searching to find information on homeschooling.

Although the information she was searching for back then was more in line with answering the basics of how to start homeschooling, where to find curriculum materials and the financial sacrifice that her family would endure, she feels that the questions raised by Dr. Ray’s study and the potential results would have been helpful to her years ago.

“That type of study would help me because I might read something and say ‘hey this is why I started looking into it’. Another parent might say this is why I started looking into homeschooling and that might have took off some months of me looking, ‘cause back when I started I really had to dig,” Taggart said.

But this is where some education experts have voiced concern.

Dr. Robert Kunzman of Indiana University, Bloomington and Dr. Rob Reich of Stanford University, both agree that African-American parents — or any parent for that matter — have the right to home-school their children if they so choose. They also understand the many factors that prompt black parents to abandon the public school system.

However, this is where the commonalities end. Both experts are of the view that a major drawback with homeschooling research is data sampling. In addition, Dr. Reich is highly in favor of home-school regulation.

“A lot of the most highly publicized studies used non-random samples of home-schoolers. They solicit volunteers and as a result the findings are not necessarily representative of the full spectrum of home-schoolers,” said Dr. Kunzman, who specializes in curriculum and secondary education and education policy.

He added that the ideal would be if we knew everyone who was homeschooling and distributed the questionnaires or surveys randomly among the full population of home-schoolers, but the methodological problem is we don’t know who is homeschooling because in many states home-schoolers are not required to report or enroll their home-school to the state.

This then advances the point Dr. Reich makes in support of home-school regulation.

“The entire [population] sample is going to be biased in favor of people who are likely going to be successful on a test. You really want a bunch of people who never knew they were going to be tested,” said Reich, a professor of political science and teaches courses on public service and ethics in society.

Reich argues that home-schools need proper state regulation in order to enforce these guidelines, which he says are not always fully met by the states themselves or homeschooling parents.

“If parents aren’t obligated to allow their kids to be tested then Dr. Ray’s method is the only method we have to study home-schools.” Reich calls this voluntary participation and he contends that we should not pretend that a study of home-school kids that volunteered for the study tells us about the average home-schooler.

“All we know is about those kids,” he emphasized.

Reich adds that there needs to be caution that the data in solicited research isn’t misrepresented.

“If people in the home-school movement want to claim that homeschooling is a better option academically than public schools, then [they] shouldn’t be permitted to say that with a straight face unless [they] have the data to show it, and currently we don’t have the data,” he said.

“I welcome the day when a rigorous study indeed showed that the average home-schooler did better than public school students. But we do not have a study of that kind yet.”

Until then he concedes that some information is better than no information.