Post No.: 0422
Individual preschools and nursery schools vary considerably in what they offer hence it’s tricky to say in general terms whether they’re worth it or not. But from the experimental design studies that exist, they suggest that children who go to preschool will, on average, start with higher reading, writing and maths abilities by the time they enter primary school or elementary school compared to those who don’t go. (Some will argue that preschool and nursery school aren’t interchangeable terms but since there’s so much individual variance and overlap from place to place as to what each place offers, they’ll be considered interchangeable here.)
These advantages do largely disappear as these children and their peers receive the same teaching treatment in primary school but, on average, it doesn’t completely disappear. And these benefits seem to be greater for economically-disadvantaged kids too, perhaps because kids from poorer families may otherwise be just left with siblings or unsupervised at home, whereas kids from richer families will get to interact with their parents who can afford to stay at home or not work and take them to enriching activities like going to the library, parks, museums or taking private lessons with other children? The achievement gap between kids from poor and rich families can be reduced by up to 50%, although in reality it’s only about 5% on average. The bigger issue though is how can poor families afford preschool for their children to take advantage of these benefits?
The caveat is that these benefits only apply if the preschool programme is of a high quality. The key factor is an educational focus rather than just keeping kids busy – as in a preschool where there are frequent and substantive teacher-pupil interactions, where the teacher is skilfully directing pupil learning, and a curriculum is being followed that is focused on teaching them specific skills that’ll carry over to primary school and beyond. This requires a decent teacher-pupil ratio and adequate professional development for the teachers – regular and continuous on-the-job updates to their training is more important than one-off certifications. (You could attend a session at a preschool to research these.)
Beyond preschool age, for most parents, being involved in their child’s education means making sure they get their homework done, keeping track of their grades, attending parent-teacher meetings, and encouraging their involvement in activities and groups. But some go further by deciding to home-school their children i.e. not rely on free public or paid private educational institutions.
Note that the following is not about being temporarily pushed into home-schooling due to something like a pandemic lockdown but about voluntarily choosing the route of home-schooling one’s children. The former is less about academic achievement and more about trying your best to maintain a routine and safety. Nonetheless, lots of parents now have a newfound appreciation for teachers! The vast majority of children did miss school too for missing their friends and being worried about their education.
Regulatory oversight for home-schooling varies from place to place. Whereas public and private schools have thought about and evolved their pedagogy for years, and so have fairly good reasons for their curricula and policies – it’s down to home-schooling parents to invest a lot of time and effort into making well-informed choices for their children. Parents who intentionally choose home-schooling (as opposed to those who might’ve felt pushed into it due to specific circumstances) tend to choose home-schooling because they want control over what their children learn, including materials and methods they believe are not present or implemented in schools, and moral or religious content.
Being home-schooled will give pupils a more one-to-one level of tutoring, and that’s one of the main appeals. However, at the secondary education level (rather than primary education level) – large classes of over 30 in school, where and when possible, can accommodate a greater diversity of pupils and thus expose them to a wider range of views, which will help them to become more rounded people as they grow up; and can work with the right teaching assistants and the appropriate use of technology. Woof.
But of course with control comes the responsibility for their education, on top of all of the other regular parenting responsibilities, and the potential lack of income parents may face for staying at home to teach their kids (although working from home is possible with some types of jobs). Hence some parents opt for partial home-schooling i.e. some school time and some home-schooling per week.
Parents who choose to home-school tend to have the same total income as parents who choose not to; albeit most of this will likely only come from one parent with an usually high income. They tend to be more highly educated, have 3 or more children, and are virtually all married, with generally the father working and the mother staying at home and conducting the home-schooling. These demographic generalities may change over time though.
Politically liberal parents may wish to employ less formal methods of teaching that focus more on creativity and less on repetition and tests, whilst politically conservative parents may wish to reduce the influence of public institutions and teach their children more about their religion, as well as keep their children away from other children who might have different religious or moral values and thus ‘corrupt’ them. But this insulation from alternative views and values exacerbates the echo chamber effect; albeit this criticism can also be squared at a private school education too, where most students come from wealthy backgrounds and thus don’t create a very diverse environment.
Most cite specific reasons such as an unfavourable opinion of their local schools and believing that one can do a better job than them (parents are more likely to home-school when they live in poorer areas with weaker schools), or using home-schooling as a way to exactly match instruction to the needs, preferences and pace of their own children. In one study, families who were rated as highly religious were more likely to home-school their kids despite home-schoolers seemingly being less religious than the general population on average in other surveys. But this peculiarity in the data might be due to a ‘self-selection bias’ i.e. the home-schooled families who elect to partake in scientific research tend to be non-religious, whilst many religious families elect not to partake in such research at all, thus biasing the data? (A self-selecting group may be different to other groups in many ways other than just the variable we wish to analyse i.e. they’re not random to cancel out any sampling errors. It means that the data won’t be representative of the target population as a whole. Study Post No.: 0308 to learn more about sampling errors.)
Parents who were at least college graduates themselves tend to have children who score higher in standardised tests than children from parents who weren’t, although this effect is small. Neither social class nor ethnicity makes a difference. SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) are not compulsory for home-schooled children (in the UK or US at least), but those who choose to nonetheless take them (maybe because they’re confident they’ll score well in them and they hope to earn acceptance at a top college) tend to score higher than the general population. But this definitely demonstrates a self-selection bias i.e. those who are home-schooled and choose not to take SATs would probably bring the home-schooling average score down if they took them too, like every child must take these tests if they attend a public or private school.
This is a common problem in the social sciences. Unlike a national census, we cannot force people’s participation in a scientific study (unless we do so unethically, such as technology firms collecting as much of their customers’ (and sometimes even non-customers’) data as possible and hiding the extent of what they might do with that data in opaque end user license agreements). Families who home-school need to volunteer to participate in any research or test on its effectiveness, thus potentially biasing the data and making any generalisations that would apply to all or most home-schoolers difficult to be confident about. Basically, if a survey is voluntary then there might be a bias in the type of people who’ll choose to volunteer or not volunteer? Finally, the very decision to home-school is an example of self-selection – maybe people who decide to home-school are on average more likely to excel regardless of what method of education they receive, thus we cannot know from observation studies whether it’s the home-school teaching or the self-selected children and parents themselves that make the (bigger) difference if home-schooled children do indeed perform better on standardised tests than the general population?
Self-selection, along with the usual caveats regarding correlational data, and potential conflicts of interests from researchers in this area (who tend to already advocate home-schooling i.e. the incentive to promote home-schooling may possibly create a bias in their research) means that it’s incredibly hard to know whether home-schooling is absolutely advantageous or not. Yet perhaps standardised tests miss the point of creating a customised or tailor-made curriculum for one’s child?! But without a standardised test of some sort – measuring how well home-schoolers achieve their own stated goals is obviously difficult to do objectively.
Anyway, the major concern is that home-schooled children might miss out on opportunities to develop their social skills and to engage in their communities because they’re missing out on the jungle of the schoolyard. However, although home-schooled children tend to have smaller social networks, the quality of these networks tend to be higher, and home-schooled pupils engage with others through sports, religion and community services at least as much as externally-schooled pupils. Self-esteem is at least on a par too.
So bearing in mind all of the above caveats concerning the data, it seems to be the case that home-schooling itself, on average, doesn’t hold children back educationally or socially. Stronger evidence comes from when home-schooled pupils enter a college – they tend to perform at least as well in college English classes as their other classmates, and their participation in communities extends beyond their home education. And as adults, they’re more likely to vote, partake in community services and engage in political activities. So as far as we can tell, home-schooling is not as great as some advocates may claim, and not as bad as some fierce detractors may claim – there seems to be no systemic drawbacks to home-schooling and some potential benefits for those who are able to do it.
There are less ideal reasons for opting for home-schooling though. For example, some children who are bullied in school desire to become home-schooled. Some parents find that the facilities in their local school do not adequately cater for their disabled child. In other cases, children are excluded or ‘off-rolled’ from a school, then cannot find another school that’ll accept them, and so are effectively forced to become home-schooled. These are often children who have special needs too. Perhaps immorally, the school doesn’t want to deal with them and doesn’t want them to drag their school average down? Whatever the case, from a governmental perspective, it’s probably judicious to have a register of all children who are being home-schooled (apart from when every child in an area is being temporarily forced to do so because of wider events) so that their well-being can be periodically checked in case they’re being neglected.
Woof. If you are a parent who planned and chooses to home-school or a person who is or was voluntarily home-schooled, please weigh in with your experiences and advice for other parents who might be considering doing the same, via the Twitter comment button below. Lots of parents have already experienced a little bit of what it’s like through no choice of their own, but new families might not have had any opportunity.