kitchen table math, the sequel: Homeschooling by the Numbers

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Homeschooling by the Numbers

Via Pat'sBlog who saw it at Maria Miller's "Homeschool Math Blog.

(Click to enlarge)
Homeschooling by the Numbers [Infographic]

Any thoughts on the accuracy of these figures?


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

There is an enormous sampling bias, as many home schoolers do not take the exams. Thus one sees the homeschoolers at the top and compares them to the public schools in the middle.

Also, the demographics of homeschoolers are different from the populations of the other groups. I suspect that if you compared matched populations (by education and income), you would see much smaller differences in results between the methods of schooling. That is, educated parents tend to have kids who perform better on the tests, whether the kids are home schooled or in public schools. The data provided here tells us almost nothing about whether homeschooling is better or worse than public schools, but it does tell us something about who is choosing to homeschool and have their kids take the SAT.

Anonymous said...

@gasstationwithoutpumps You really think homeschoolers are less likely to take the SAT? I'd say quite the opposite.

There *is* likely a demographic component, but those same educated parents are afterschooling their public school kids so I don't know that it's as large as all that. Locally they seem to do artsy projects in school and send the kids home to learn math from worksheets with the parents teaching them so I'm not sure how you would even tease out that data properly - in theory all parents are involved at same level.

Anonymous said...

(That last bit should be "at some level", sorry)

Lsquared said...

I suspect gasstationswithoutpumps is correct, at least about the demographics of parents who choose to homeschool, and that the differences between homeschooled and public schooled kids would probably not be statistically significant if you controlled for education and income.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that a significant percent of parents who homeschool are doing it because the public school wasn't working. I've seen these scenarios:
--we moved and my child got off track academically, I'm homeschooling for 2 years until he/she is ready to integrate back in.
--my child has special needs (aspergers, language development delays) and I can tailor instruction to them at home in a way they wouldn't get at school.
--my child isn't learning effectively at school for [unknown or social reason]. I'll homeschool for a few years and then we'll try again.
So, for these children, they are being homeschooled precisely because the public school wasn't working, and so homeschooling is likely to be better.

Add into the mix that a decent amount of the headaches of any given public school teacher comes from the kids who, for whatever reason, refuse to do any work. Homeschool parents don't have that problem (or when they do they have the leverage to do something about it).

Jean said...

That's true, Lsquared, that many parents wind up homeschooling because public school wasn't working. I frequently see those kids blossom.

I would also agree that many homeschoolers avoid testing altogether. Quite a few of those kids would do fine on tests, but I can think of some who would not. I do not know if the group of homeschooled kids who do test is varied enough to cover them. I think I might mentally adjust the "National Average Percentile" homeschooling scores slightly downward to account for that, but not terribly far. Otherwise the numbers look pretty plausible to me.

My own homeschooled kids have tested very well. I think they would probably do the same in PS. But I love having them home, and I think I'm giving them better academics than they would get at PS.

bky said...

The footnotes credits hslda (Homeschool Legal Defense Assoc) with some of the data, so I suspect its all hooey. I am a homeschooling parent, but I don't think the homeschooling advocacy group HSLDA has much credibility. Last year they publicized a claim that homeschoolers did better on standardized tests. I am not going to quote chapter and verse on it, but my recollection is that there was no serious statistical analysis of whatever data they collected. They paid for the "study" and then publicized it as if it were actual research, but I don't think any mustard was cut in that direction.

As far as anecdotes, I know lots of homeschooling parents who don't seem to have much concern with what they kids are learning in math, in particular. My guess would be that the average "unschooler" is not going to score high on math (just based on a handful of people I know).

There is a fellow by the name of Robert Kunzman at Indiana U who studies homeschoolers. See his website

and the "Three Key Points". A short quote:

"2. Claims that the "average homeschooler" outperforms public and private school students are simply not justified." He talks briefly about the HSLDA report.

Anonymous said...

"I do not know if the group of homeschooled kids who do test is varied enough to cover them."

I believe at least one state (Pennsylvania, maybe) requires all homeschooled kids to take standardized tests. One could compare the results of these tests to that state's public school kids, then start adjusting for the SES advantage/disadvantage of the homeschooled kids.

"... the differences between homeschooled and public schooled kids would probably not be statistically significant if you controlled for education and income."

I believe several things are true.

(a) The homeschooled kids would test better per unit of instructional time. With 1-on-1 it would be stunning if this was not the case.

(b) The homeschooled kids would test worse per unit of teacher time. Homeschooling can be quite effective, but it isn't very efficient in adult time.

(c) The homeschooled kids would have wildly different areas of coverage. As an example, homeschooled kids seem to get a lot more geography than public educated kids. I have no idea why. And I'm part of this demographic :-)

(d) Adjusting for SES, the homeschooled kids probably do score higher than expected for a similar demographic in public schools. This would be because of the advantage of 1-on-1 instruction. Benjamin Bloom ran an experiment some decades back and concluded that for the few areas of instruction he examined, 1-on-1 instruction moved average kids up 2 standard deviations on the tests. The average kids wound up scoring at the 98th percentile. Homeschoolers get this advantage, and then give back something for (i) spending less time per day at a given subject, and (ii) not being trained as well as the BB tutors. I'd be surprised, though, if *all* of the advantage is given back.

-Mark Roulo

Hainish said...

(slightly off-topic)

Check out the horrendous lack of critical thinking skills in this video:

Obviously, homeschooling does not work!

Lisa said...

There are obviously many statistical components to take into account. Do you control for instructional time? Parents' educational level? Economic level? Kid's IQ? Teasing all that out could be a lifetime of work. It probably comes down to what is taught not who is the teacher. My younger kids will know Latin and logic, my older PS kids will be proficient at powerpoint and dioramas. All will take the SAT. We'll have to wait and see how that works out.

Crimson Wife said...

The stats come courtesy of the National Home Education Research Institute, which is an affiliate of HSLDA. That in particular makes me suspect that the demographic statistics presented are not representative of the overall homeschool community.

In particular, I suspect that the education levels of the parents tend to be an underestimate and the number of children per family an overestimate.

Anonymous said...

I think we should get beyond the "is homeschooling or public schooling better" debate. Obviously, all the people here who interact with children wish them all to be successful. To me, homeschooling is just another form of private schooling, and I never hear this question, "is private schooling better than public schooling".

Better to spend our time working out HOW can public school become more effective for everyone.

I find it interesting that public schools have standards, and homeschooling co-ops do not, but annecdotally, I believe the education at homeschooling co-ops to be superior. I am a homeschool mom, a homeschool co-op teacher.

But lest we get into an argument, what do I find more effective about homeschooling co-ops?

a) If the class isn't good, the teacher is not asked back the next year, so there is pressure for the teacher to perform.

b) teachers are generally moms (and sometimes dads). Generally the homeschooling moms and dads have had careers and have had a higher level of subject specific education.

c) Generally the kids are allowed to take what they want, and are therefore more motivated to pay attention in class.

d) The atmostphere is more like college, than high school or junior high, or ever elementary school.

I keep thinking that there has to be a way to replicate this model in a way that could benefit a public school model.

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Michael Weiss said...

Another issue that complicates such statistics -- and I think this ties in with gasstationwithoutpumps original comment about "sampling bias" -- is homeschool attrition. In my community, there is an enormous drop-off in homeschooling around the beginning of the teenage years; our own homeschool group is full of kids below age 10, but has almost nobody above age 14. (The kids of that age who used to be in our group all go to school now.)

Some of this (as far as I can tell) is planned by parents all along ("We're going to homeschool through eighth grade, and then send my kid to high school") but a lot of it seems to be a result of the usual adolescent/parent power struggles that all families have to deal with ("That's the last straw -- you start school tomorrow!")

There is also a (much smaller) phenomenon of kids going through school up until high school and then leaving to be homeschooled in 10th or 11th grade.

So when you look at SAT scores of "homeschooled kids", you are just looking at the scores of kids who happen to be homeschooled at the time they took the test. Kids who were in public school for 10 years and then homeschooled for 1 count as "homeschooled", while kids who were homeschooled through age 15 and then went to public school are counted as "public school". Since we have no reliable numbers on how many such transition kids there are, it's really impossible to disaggregate these numbers.

Cranberry said...

These figure are WRONG. They are so wrong, that either a) they display ignorance of the US school system, or b) they purposefully try to mislead.

Look at table 6 of this report, from the College Board, entitled, "Type of High School": The figures match exactly, 1,093,374 Public, 139,022, Religiously Affiliated, 73,928, Independent, and (not mentioned in the "Homeschooling by the Numbers") Other or Unknown, 223,804.


Homeschoolers probably fall in the "other or unknown" category of test takers, which, ahem, have mean scores lower than public schools for critical reading and writing, and only 2 points higher on mathematics.

It's all very well to want to believe that homeschoolers would outscore public school children, but these figures don't prove it. These figures prove that children enrolled in parochial and independent schools outscore both home schooled children and children in public schools.

Anonymous said...

In California one of the standard ways to legally homeschool is to register as a private school with a very small student body.

These schools should show up as "independent."

I don't know enough of how other states work.

But, yeah, these stats tend to have a lot of problems ...

-Mark Roulo

cranberry said...

The College Board collects all sorts of information from the students themselves, not the states. Home-schooled students are assigned a special high school code for home-schooled students, so the College Board is not confusing home-schoolers with independent schools.

Home-Schooled Student Registration
Home-schooled students can register online or by mail for the SAT. When prompted for their high school code, they should enter 970000.

Anonymous said...

I definitely think homeschoolers overall learn and know far more. Demographics can be a factor but a child will simply learn far more one-on-one than a child who is competing with 25 other kids for a teacher's attention. Not to mention the time wasted during the school day.

I knew a mother whose 7th grade son read at a 3rd grade level. He was getting all kinds of help from the school but it didn't work. Finally, his mother pulled him out of school for two years (7th and 8th grade) and homeschooled. She raised his reading 5 grade levels in 2 years. She was able to do something that the school could not do and something she herself could not do when he was attending school.

I homeschool through an online public school. My next-door neighbor is always shocked to hear what my kindergartner is learning. Her daughter is in second grade at our "excellent" local public school but her mother said the school is far less demanding and teaching far less content.

Another advantage of homeschooling is that you know exactly what your child's weaknesses are and what concepts they are struggling with. I am able to work more with my child on what she doesn't get and quickly move past things that are easy for her. I also know her so well that I know how to make things understandable for her. I can easily connect what she doesn't know to something she does know. A teacher simply doesn't have this luxury.

FMA said...


What a great video! I'm currently teaching these things to my 5 year old. After watching this, I'm going to include my 2 year old as well.

Allison said...

All of these advantages are true, and can be true for a given child, but that doesn't mean they are true for all children.

Schools waste time and minds at all ages. It's tragic. But that doesn't mean that every homeschooler is giving even an hour of undevoted time to a student.

I know a group of religiously oriented homeschoolers. A handful are very academically oriented. Another dozen or so are homeschooling in order to avoid the world, and they are not academically oriented at all. Many more homschoolers fall in the middle.

My guess is we at KTM have a strong bias for coming into contact with those most academically oriented, and so we don't see what the rest look like. But my conversations with families who are happy to use Young Earth curricula for their homeschool science even though they don't believe the Earth is 4k years old convince me that most parents --even homeschooling ones--don't know how to evaluate math and science programs for quality anyway.

lgm said...

I've had some conversations with home schoolers too. Many are thrilled that the elementary day only takes them the morning to finish. They say that's b/c they have targeted lessons and there is no passing time. Well guess what, a good teacher in elementary has the day packed. Comparing our children's day (this was when my older was in grade 2 in a reg ed class with ability grouping), I found the hsers were not writing anywhere near as much, omitted health, math problem solving, critical thinking, the read aloud and most independent reading, and had no reports to do on their own. Also music and phys ed were omitted from their official school day, although riding bikes around the neighborhood, going to the playground, or an after dinner walk or a scout hike was counted as phys ed. Others I have met have taken it seriously and are able to deliver a sound academic experience - their day is as filled as a good elementary day and the time that would have gone to transport to school goes to transport to the library, a music class or lesson, and gymnastics or swim team. I'd also note the social skills training is difficult for many homeschoolers - they really are avoiding teaching how to deal with the more unsavory elements of the world and some are avoiding those who aren't of their religious persuasion. So hs to me is not the holy grail for many children as the resources needed are noticeably lacking. I hope never to be at the park again witnessing a mom with a copy of "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" try to force her relectant 8 yr old child into an auditory lesson on how to read. It seems easy to hs at a basic level, but to add in all the rest takes time and resources. Many parents just don't have those resources.

Crimson Wife said...

lgm- we finish the formal portion of our lessons by lunch time but still offer a very rigorous academic curriculum. And that includes a formal writing class through Johns Hopkins' CTY program and Singapore Primary Math with the Intensive Practice and Challenging Word Problems books.

Your description of elementary school day as being "packed" isn't what I recall from my own school days. I remember spending 90% of the time being bored out of my skull waiting for the rest of the class to catch on. Whereas in our homeschool, as soon as my kids have mastered a concept, we move on to the next thing. Much more time efficient!

ChemProf said...

Yeah, I have to say that if the definition of a good elementary school teacher is one who has a packed day for every student, I've never had one. My sister and I spent a lot of time reading our own books and generally waiting for other people to finish up, settle down, and get ready for the next thing.

lgm said...

Sounds like your schools weren't using ability/acheivement grouping.
I rarely had time to read in school as the day was packed with meaningful instruction and practice. My kids had it this way with certain teachers until full inclusion came in. That year my older kid read the entire LOTR series...which was probably better than the LA curriculum anyway and I started afterschooling.

Crimson Wife said...

The schools my kids are zoned for do not offer honors classes until ELEVENTH grade. By my calculations, that's nearly 10,000 hours' worth of sitting in classes where the pace is too slow and the material too easy. Not something I want to inflict upon my children...

ChemProf said...

We did have ability grouping, actually, and I was almost always in a split class (my second grade class was a 2/3 split). The class was usually divided into two or three groups, and then I was off in a corner, sometimes with one other kid. My sister spent all of first grade reading with another student while the teacher worked with the other reading groups. Ability grouping only solves so many problems. This was in the 70's, and in California anyway, I am not convinced things have improved.

Allison said...

There's another problem I've come across in kids from academically-oriented homeschooling families, and it's a less than clear distinction at where teacher-mom ends and where child-student begins.

I think this might be a function of mom more than dad, and it might depend on the child, but I've run across several families where unintentionally, the moms really hand-held their child through an assignment in a way that a teacher would not.

For example, the worksheet or assignment would be given, but the child wouldn't understand the directions, so the mother would explain it. The mother would often think this was just teaching, or maybe that their kid wasn't getting it because they hadn't taught it well. But over time, it simply became mom organizing, mom reinterpreting, mom breaking down the assignment into smaller pieces.

Especially in math, this is dangerous. If mom is habitually reinterpreting the directions, then the student doesn't know the math. That's not good. It's also an issue of executive function: in a school setting, the child is supposed to become more and more responsible for writing down their homework, doing the correct assignment, organizing their folders, etc. Now, the parents are part of that, by teaching good habits. But if there's no distinction between mom and teacher, then it's easy not to teach the good habits to the child, but to take over doing those things for the child instead.

Also, I noticed moms that would "correct" the child's work during the lesson, rather than have them do it on their own, make the mistakes, and then correcting it. Imagine a mom giving leading questions or telling the correct answer to a math worksheet as the child is doing it: "did you mean 3 or 4, Sally?" "13+2 is 15 not 16."

It makes everyone feel good for the child to "earn a 100", but if mom is really giving out the right answers, or covering over the mistakes, the child isn't learning--the child is writing down what mom wants to hear, but their mistakes aren't being addressed.

lgm said...

>> Ability grouping only solves so many problems. This was in the 70's, and in California anyway, I am not convinced things have improved

It seems to come down to the resources available and the prevailing philosophy in the classroom. The only time I had idle was 3rd grade and that was spent reading...the rest of the time there were individualized learning opportunities, independent study, or I could make my own. I went to rural small schools in areas where 'idle hands=devil's work' seem to be the prevailing teacher & parent philosophy.

The only exception was a city high school that I went to briefly as my family transitioned out of military life. When I went to my rural high, I found I was 2 chapters behind in math after only 8 weeks of school...but the new school allowed independent study for math so no problem.

I've found similar teaching philosophies here, but it's not widespread and of course the consolidation of school districts combined with full inclusion means that independent study isn't offered.

Anonymous said...


It could be a problem that a mother may be doing too much hand-holding. It is something that a homeschooling parent has to be aware of.

But in school you can have the opposite problem. A child may not be getting enough hand-holding. A child may think concepts are unnecessarily hard if they are doing badly on tests, not because they can't do the work, but simply because they misinterpreted the directions.

There is no perfect way to do anything. You are often dealing with the lesser of two evils. Homeschooling, if done for valid reasons (concerns about academic quality rather than religious brainwashing), often is superior to public schooling.

Allison said...

Nothing I say about homeschooling should be construed as a defense of school.

the fact that given all of the problems listed here, that homeschoolers are still often better educated than their schooled peers is not a statement of the greatness of homeschooling. It's an INDICTMENT of our current schools.

But that doesn't take away that homeschooling should be better.

FMA said...


I actually think what those mothers are doing is a very good thing. Learning from your mistakes can be hugely important. Sure children need to learn to pay attention and become organized and all those other things, but elementary level children often need some help and hand holding to learn these things. It can be very unreasonable to expect young children to figure out these things on their own.

If a child answers 13+2=16, it can be very helpful for a mother to step in and say how did you arrive at this answer? It's incorrect. Let me see you do it again. If the child was careless in his/her counting the mother can then explain that this is why they got the answer wrong and explain the importance of carefully counting. If a child misunderstood what was asked, the mother can have them reread the problem and think carefully about what is being asked of them. This is not mom covering mistakes. This is a mom teaching a child how to avoid mistakes and how to pay attention.

Sure, if a mother is simply giving the answer that wouldn't be good. But if she is showing the child how to arrive at the right answer by clearning up confusion and misunderstanding that can very helpful. Correcting a child during the lesson isn't a bad thing if what you are doing is guiding rather than answering for them.

Even in schools, teachers will usually walk around the class, examine the work, and step in if they see a student doing the work incorrectly. The teacher can then address mistakes and confusion and help the child through the problem.

Obviously, by middle school expectations should be higher and students should be expected to work independently. But we need to be reasonable when it comes to younger children.

Allison said...

I'm sorry if I wrote poorly. I was not talking about a mother who told them to reread the problem or asked how they arrived at an incorrect answer.

I know several homeschooling mothers who now are aware that they thought they were correcting, guiding, and teaching their children, but found out that they were instead answering for them, interpreting instructions for them, organizing their work for them, tracking their homework for them. Instead of teaching their children, they were in little ways, doing their children's work for them.

You may have the self awareness to know when you are doing this. That's terrific. A good teacher in a classroom needs to know this line, too. Once upon a time, a good teacher was taught this. But my point is that homeschooling mothers that I know have routinely NOT had the self awareness they were doing this.

I don't understand the defensiveness, honestly. Why be defensive that much homeschooling needs real improvement? The truth sets you free. These mothers could be taught to be better homeschoolers if they were shown the issues. Papering over them under the guise that "but schools go too far in the other direction" isn't going to help their students succeed.

Crimson Wife said...

Allison- the practice that you're criticizing is called "scaffolding" and research has shown that it can be very effective because it allows the student to work on more challenging material than he/she could do totally independently. Daniel Coyle wrote an excellent book called The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born, It's Grown about how it's better to practice at the very edge of what one can do than to coast along doing too-easy stuff.

That's not to say that independent work doesn't also have value. In a good homeschool, the student is doing a mix of both.

Allison said...

Wow, I'm really not making myself clear.

These ladies found out that their children were incapable of performing at grade level in a school setting after a few years of homeschooling. They weren't doing well on state assessments either.

When they had other tutors come in and teach their children, they found that their children were a year or more behind where they thought they were in math and writing. And yet they showed how far they'd gotten in every book, how many perfect worksheets they'd recorded.

They weren't having their children practice at the edge of what they could do. They were doing the work for their children, but they were unaware they were.

If you say "you meant 15 not 16, right?" enough times, if you break down the instructions "Color in the shape represented by the cross section" for your 8 year old enough times, if you keep acting as if they would have done the right thing, or they meant to do the right thing, you are cheating everyone out of learning.

I'm disheartened that I can't find a way to express myself so clearly as to differentiate what CW and the others are talking about from the kind of leading behaviors that John Holt talks about which undermine authentic learning. I don't know how better to express the difference. I can't see how other teachers could talk about this and separate out these issues well either. If we were in a seminar together learning teaching methods, and I brought this up, I can see how teachers wouldn't be able to distinguish the difference at all.

Kai said...

I am a homeschooler and I completely understand what Allison is talking about. I had this problem (and still do to some extent) with my now 14 year old son. He is gifted and has learning disabilities, so in order to get him to learn anything when he was younger, I had to be by his side at all times, redirecting his attention, and making sure he was on the right track. I know I asked leading questions (I still do when I'm pretty sure he could figure something out on his own with a bit of prompting). But when we got to algebra (in 5th grade) I finally realized that he had to wrestle with things totally away from me. So we would go over the lesson together and then he would leave the room and do the problem set by himself. It would take forever, because he was also experiencing untreated ADHD at the time. It was painful, but it worked.

BTW, at the end of 8th grade, he scored at the 98th percentile on the 10th grade ITBS (as compared to 10th graders). I did not administer the test.

He is now learning second year algebra on his own. He just received 100% on his most recent test. I was involved to the extent that I corrected it.

He does, however, need significant input in the area of writing. Lately I've been orchestrating every step or the writing process for him. My plan is to back away gradually so that by his senior year he is able to write a paper from start to finish without input from me.

Crimson Wife is right. It is called scaffolding. And it works great when the teacher/parent knows when to back away. Scaffolding is the reason my son with multiple learning disabilities is able to function at his intellectual level. He would never have been able to do that in a school as it requires too much maintenance.

ChemProf said...

I also know what Allison is talking about, and it can be subtle. We see it a lot with peer tutors. They think they are helping, but they wind up giving away the right answer without meaning to. The tutor and the student both feel like progress is being made, but with blank paper the student still can't do the work. (Of course, this is another way of saying that this can happen in non-homeschooling contexts too -- it is really common in older elementary students "helping" younger kids).

Anonymous said...

As a parent and a teacher, it is easy for me to do what Allison is describing, particularly when I am tired. It is easy to lose sight of the large goal of understanding the concept and instead just accomplish the less important goal of completing the assignment. I afterschool using Singapore math with my son, and there are times when I know that he has misconceptions or is missing a key part of the concept. Diagnosing exactly what is wrong is hard work and often not something he embraces enthusiastically, so sometimes I just take the lazy way out and feed him enough information to complete the assignment and get on with our evening. It isn't in his best interest for me to do that, though. I can understand how homeschool parents could establish this interaction pattern early on and find it difficult to change.

Saying this is more true of moms is correct in my observation as well. I am more likely to feel (incorrectly) like I am being loving when I clean up after my children or finish their chores for them, while my husband is better at taking the long-term view that these are responsibilities that they must learn to complete themselves.

LynnG said...

Do some homeschooling parents do a terrible job? yes.
Do some schools/teachers do a terrible job? yes.
Not sure where that gets us. But homeschooling offers some huge advantages that can't be duplicated in the schools -- even a "good" school. No one can tailor a lesson or curricula to the interests and abilities of a child as well as a one-on-one parent can. A dedicated homeschooling parent is better than a dedicated teacher, hands down. Is a poor homeschooling parent worse than a poor teacher? Probably. A bad homeschooling situation can go on and on, year after year, and no one can step in and correct it; theoretically that wouldn't happen in the public school.

I may be a bit naive about this, but I think most parents have their child's best interests at heart. Just because you see a kid at a park or riding a bike, doesn't mean they aren't keeping up (or surpassing) grade level. It is very hard to make accurate judgments from afar.

FWIW, my personal experience is that my kids got good grades and excellent report cards at school, but were bored out of their minds and spent the bulk of their day reviewing material they all ready knew. This in a school that has been consistently ranked near the top in the state. The teachers were "differentiating" instruction, which meant my kids might get a different work sheet than the kids that couldn't read.

Also, I've seen the TAs working with the SPED kids and give up in frustration -- and just tell them the answers. What Allison points out in homeschooling parents happens in the public schools with just as great a frequency.

Allison said...

I thought the point of this thread was to talk about issues, not say that because there are issues we should give up, or default to the other option.

-- I think most parents have their child's best interests at heart.

And this is true whether kids are in school or not. But it doesn't get a huge part of the problem: why are their children getting such a poor education when their parents ARE doing their best to pay attention, and do have their kids' best interests at heart?

There are lots of small reasons, adding up to big problems. Just as we on KTM bring up problems with schools, so we can educate ourselves and others, we should bring up problems with homeschools so we can educate ourselves and others.

Again, I'm confused at the defensiveness. Wouldn't it be better to let everyone see the problems, so they can be improved? I mean, isn't that the point of KTM? Why should it be limited to traditional schooling problems?

TerriW said...

I'm confused at the defensiveness.

Oh, I'm not. Homeschooling is just one of those things that the default conventional wisdom of is negative. So you are used to being the butt of jokes, etc. But -- unlike the usual still-okay-to-be-mocked things in our culture, like obesity -- this is tied up with parenting our kids, which makes it a Big Emotional Hot Button.

So, the defensiveness? I have it in spades, though I rarely bother to act (post?) on it. When people are talking out of ignorance, it's easy to just remember that people do get that little happy ping in their brain when putting down the way that "other folks" parent their kids. Easy to ignore and move on.

It's harder to untangle the sting when people are making legitimate criticisms that need or should be addressed or discussed. I'd like to think that I can talk about these things without the emotional subtext, but ... well. Heh.

lgm said...

Why enter an intellectual discussion if all that can be contributed is an emotional reaction? The result is just stalling the discussions that need to happen, which is basically what's happening with school budgets in my area.

Statements like this:
>>No one can tailor a lesson or curricula to the interests and abilities of a child as well as a one-on-one parent can<<
are nice emotional reactions, but they miss the details that are preventing the children from getting a good education. Yes, you as a parent do 'know your child best' as every educator around here fondly says, but a significant percentage of parents do not have the deep content knowledge of the subject that is necessary to understand the child's level of mastery & convey more than a cargo cult version of content. To say that situation is preferred over a having a knowledgeable content expert (a 'teacher') is not real world. Very few children have parents who really know math beyond arithmetic symbol manipulation. The rest of the children need someone knowledgeable, whether that's a relative, a teacher, a peer, or a mentor. And it's not just math, it's everything beyond the intro level.

The other thing is - does the lesson REALLY need to be tailored as much as some parents demand? Does not having a checking account REALLY prevent the child from figuring percent interest to the point that the problems should all be tailored to only include his real world experience of shopping, and that to only involve objects he personally has experience with? Or does the child need to be allowed to think, learn new things, perhaps even struggle and use some 'what if' questions?

Tailoring to the instructional level, yes. Many schools could do a better job. NY state could stop the practice of demanding seat time for credit and start letting capable children test out in math.

Anonymous said...


Teachers often lack the content knowledge too. That is one reason why our educational system is in so much trouble. Our teachers unfortunately often aren't anywhere close to being expert in the subjects they teach.

TerriW said...

Why enter an intellectual discussion if all that can be contributed is an emotional reaction? The result is just stalling the discussions that need to happen, which is basically what's happening with school budgets in my area.

Huh. I think perhaps you took my comment to the logical extreme, rather than its intended purpose to explain where the reflexive defensiveness that occasionally burbles to the surface comes from. It was, after all, a response to the comment of someone saying they don't get the defensiveness. I don't believe an admission of an emotional attachment to a subject makes one unworthy of joining the conversation with the adults.

Obviously, I'm trying to engage you intellectually here, suppressing my emotional irritation at what I perceive as your kind of insulting reply to my comment rather than just trying to flame you -- which would, of course, be the emotional response.

Anonymous said...


"so sometimes I just take the lazy way out and feed him enough information to complete the assignment and get on with our evening"

This is not unique to homeschooling. It happens all the time in schools too. One mother told me that her son was struggling with reading, so he was put into one-on-one tutoring at his school. One day, this mother asked her son what his tutor tells him to do when he comes across a word he doesn't know. He said that she tells him the word and has him move on. This teacher actually was a full-time tutor to kids who were struggling readers. Imagine how many kids she was not helping.

Another parent told me that his son was struggling with math. Again the school put him into one-on-one tutoring. Instead of helping him understand the things he was struggling with the tutor would simply tell him what to do. They had to shell out for a tutoring center to get him the help he needed.

Allison said...

But that's just a straw man. Lgm didn't put up a statement that schools are better. He put up a statement about what's wrong with lacking content knowledge.

Look, we've got a zillion threads devoted to the lack of content knowledge in school teachers. Can't we have one that admits a lack of content knowledge in plenty of homeschool teachers?

But okay, I'll take the bait.
I'm offering MSMI institutes in an attempt to address the lack of knowledge elementary school teachers have in the very mathematics they teach. I'm not talking about lacking calculus or graph theory, but how they lack understanding of what elements of arithmetic are predicated on what.

I've not yet offered the institutes to homeschoolers. I'll make this a post, and follow up there.

Anonymous said...

"Very few children have parents who really know math beyond arithmetic symbol manipulation."

If you believe LiPing Ma of "Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics", this statement is equally true of most elementary school teachers.

What, again, is the dissent in this thread? That most/all homeschooling parents could be doing a better job? Of course they could. That most/all K-8 teachers could be doing a better job? Sure. Very few people in either category do a perfect job every schooling day.

So ... ?

Allison has mentioned one very concrete example of an area in which homeschooling parents can fail to do a good job. She is correct. This is a failure mode. I doubt that *ALL* parents (and Allison doesn't claim that it is) homeschooling make this mistake.

Some K-8 teachers probably make this mistake, too. Probably not all.

Those in both camps that are making this mistake would do well to stop.


-Mark Roulo

lgm said...

I wouldn't call it a logical's the worldview I was brought up with -- if your're going to do something, contribute positively if possible. Tossing hot emotion and taking statements personally in a discussion where people are trying to tease out conclusions from facts can be helpful, but it can also detract mightily as the discussion is derailed. The point of boards like this is NOT to flame each other, but to interchange observations and ideas that can lead to greater understanding and a better experience for our children.

Allison, I believe Liping Ma's observations would be valid for homeschoolers and afterschoolers too. The demand for the HIG for Singapore Primary Math is evidence, as is the demand for Kumon, JHU, Stanford's EPGY and the like. People simply don't have the knowledge needed to take their children to an honors level of math. Websites such as Khan Academy are attesting to the deplorable condition of transferring academic knowledge in our schools.

TerriW said...

Addressing the main thrust of the conversation rather than a side shoot, I agree this is an issue and it actually came up in our family not long ago.

My husband wanted our kids to learn Spanish and I said, basically, well, yeah, we could make a stab at that, and there are a lot of good materials on the market. (And there are a lot of classes around town, as well.) Ultimately, though, it would fail.

Why? Because I don't know Spanish, and I'm of That Age where learning a new language is pretty hard -- the kids would learn it much faster than I would. And even if I had them in an immersion class, what good would it be to speak Spanish to native speakers for 3 hours a week?

On the other hand, I took years of French and even lived in France with a family for awhile. The particulars are long gone but but the foundation is there. When I hear Spanish, I hear a mass of undifferentiated sounds, when I hear French, I can hear all of the distinct words, even if I don't remember yet what they all mean.

So, we learn French in our home instead of Spanish. (By "in our home," I mean take a weekly immersion class, work through Rosetta Stone and fumble through childhood readers together.)

Of course, not every subject has that easy of an out. I can't very well say something like, "Well, I don't really get fractions, so I guess we'll just study decimals instead." On the other hand, that's why I'm here at KTM in the first place.

K9Sasha said...

As a tutor, the first place I look for materials to use with students is on homeschool curricula review sites. As a broad generalization, homeschooling parents tend to choose traditional curricula that directly teach skills in a (relatively) efficient way. Homeschooling sites are where I found Singapore Math, Phonics Pathways, Megawords, and Institute for Excellence in Writing.

Allison said...

But who is reviewing the reviewers?

Those sites can be helpful, just as excellent Amazon book reviews can be very helpful. But when the bad has become normal, you have to know enough to evaluate the curriculum or the evaluator.

Saxon Math is well liked by all sorts of homeschoolers. Saxon Math for grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 is riddled with major mathematical errors, from the fact that they predicate certain lessons on material they never named let alone taught, to lack of definitions, misuse of laws, etc. And despite all of the lauding about how it does distributed practice, its constant shifting from one subject to the next teaches children that math is not sequential but is random. It is anxiety producing to never be able to predict what will come next everywhere else in one's life--it isn't suddenly healthy to do this in an academic setting.

No one would ever think of teaching history by randomly picking a new decade to teach, and asking distributed practice questions about a set of ten prior decades. Yet this is what Saxon does in their middle school curriculum.

Saxon *isn't* a good curriculum for a parent or teacher that can't make up for its deficiencies. It can get you part of the way to where you want--through brute force alone, it can remediate someone is who crawling and get them to walk. But it will teach them to walk with a limp, in a way that prevents many of them from ever running.

Fundamentally, homeschooling parents are parents who homeschool, not teachers who happen to be parents. I think reaching them as parents may really be the only common ground.

K9Sasha said...

I used Saxon Math a couple years ago as a classroom teacher. I was excited to be using it because I had heard such good things about it. I was surprised by what I found. Before using it, I didn't know how much it skips around, nor that it teaches things out of order.

As you said in a previous post, there is no perfect curriculum, but there are better ones. I don't know that I'd put Saxon in the category of better, but I sure wouldn't put Investigations in there, or CMP. Is Singapore better? How about Jump Math by John Mighton? Math Mammoth by Maria Miller? None of those programs are perfect.

Anonymous said...

"Saxon *isn't* a good curriculum for a parent or teacher that can't make up for its deficiencies. It can get you part of the way to where you want--through brute force alone, it can remediate someone is who crawling and get them to walk."

I think we need to be careful about making the perfect the enemy of the good.

If we consider the universe of math curricula up to, but not including Algebra, we get a list that starts off looking something like this:

*) Everyday Math
*) MathLand (gone, I think)
*) Saxon
*) Singapore

In some respect, I'd suggest that they all fail by providing algorithms, but not underlying principles. Some are worse than others, but they all seem to eventually focus on procedure and not on principle.

But ... for 98+% of the folks out there, this will turn out to be fine! Not ideal, but fine. Even the majority of people who end up taking calculus will wind up with a procedural, but not principled understanding.

It appears that you, Allison, are aiming for a principled approach to K-8 math, which would be nice to have :-) But it is easy to set the bar so high as to consider *all* currently existing curricula bad (in some sense, if this *isn't* the case, you would probably just be pushing that already existing curriculum). But claiming that all are bad (a) isn't super useful, and (b) hides the fact that there is still a relative ranking of bad.

My personal stacking puts Singapore Math on top, followed by Saxon. But, if I had to recommend a text to someone who wasn't comfortable with math I'd probably recommend Saxon.

With luck, you'll come up with something even better than what we have, but you also might come up with something that 98+% just don't care about. Because it goes way beyond their very concrete needs. They might be *wrong* about this, but still ...

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

Actually, no, I no longer believe that this will turn out fine. The more I talk to schools, high school students, teachers of algebra and beyond, the more I see that math ed is really in a crisis beyond anything we complain about here. Their visible concrete needs aren't getting kids capable of doing college work. The 98% cannot do the math required for a non-STEM major in college. THAT'S A PROBLEM.

Claiming all US textbooks are bad is necessary if it's true. If it doesn't feel super useful, that's because of our over reliance on textbooks. That is, our math knowledge is too weak to recognize the difference between curricula and textbook, and is too weak to fix issues in the textbooks when teaching our kids. A teacher is supposed to do more than provide a textbook.

The reason I brought up Saxon is to point out that most homeschoolers are deeply unable to provide a math program that will allow their children to succeed in high school math or do well on the SAT. Yes, most teachers have this problem too. But an experienced math teacher CAN make up for the deficiencies of Saxon. Home schoolers get the message over and over again that there are no deficiencies. That needs correcting.

Allison said...

Oh, and on the relative scale of math textbooks: the Singapore Math series is so much better than Saxon for K-6 that everyone should be asking their schools and their homeschoolers why they aren't using them, period. No more "Saxon and Singapore" in the same sentence, the way CK does. One is PROFOUNDLY better for children.

Anonymous said...

Allison--You may want to take a look at the Well Trained Mind Forums. Homeschoolers who spend time there are acutely aware that Saxon has multiple deficiencies.