Why is this study needed?
In the broad spectrum of history, home education is nothing newparents have been teaching their children for centuries. American history is full of men and women who were taught at home, from colonial patriot Patrick Henry to President John Quincy Adams to inventor Thomas Edison.
However, in todays world of fast-paced technology and government regulation, the rebirth of home education has raised more than a few eyebrows. How can ordinary parents hope to do as well as the educational experts? critics ask. Others wonder, Who are these families? What drives them to choose such an unusual lifestyle? Every year, the experts-know-better-than-parents philosophy finds its way into legislation designed to increase the regulation of home education. Similarly, the lack of knowledge about those who home school finds its way into public perception of the home schooling movement.
Clearly, answers are needed. In 1998, Home School Legal Defense Association commissioned the largest research study to date of home education in America. Conducted by Dr. Lawrence Rudner of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, the study involved seven times as many home schooling families as any previous study of its kind. The data were compiled from the achievement test scores of 20,760 students in 11,930 families, along with background questionnaires submitted by the families.
Unlike any previous study, families chose to participate before they knew their childrens test scores. Thus, the possibility of reporting higher scores while leaving lower scores unreported was considerably diminished. Another factor that sets the Rudner study apart is the fact that all students took the same tests: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) for grades K8, and the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP) for grades 912, both published by the Riverside Publishing Company. Furthermore, this research, conducted by an impartial third party whose own children are enrolled in public school, avoids the criticism of pro-home school bias leveled against previous studies, which were conducted by proponents of home education. (For further information on how the study was conducted, see About the Study, page 11.)
Home schooling thrives on individuality, and the home education movement daily becomes more diverse. These factors make it difficult to determine whether achievement test scores are truly the best demonstration of home school achievement, and whether the families involved in the Rudner study are an exact representation of the movement as a whole. However, both the academic and demographic findings of this study do much to provide us with an informative portrait of modern home education in America.
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