Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Harris Poll: Homeschoolig Bad, Public Schooling Worse. And a bit of Whining.

The 2008 Harris Poll gauging public opinion of various forms of education is out. 2000 people were asked about the general and particular educational quality of regular public schools, public charter schools, private schools (secular and religious), and homeschooling. Oddly, public schools and public charters came in last, even behind homeschooling; but if you look at the breakdowns, homeschooling trails by a big margin when respondents were questioned about any of the particulars.

Now of course this is an opinion poll, and there's obvious absurdity in people thinking they have any sort of handle on the overall or particular academic success of homeschooling. I don't have a good idea of how well most of my friends' kids are doing in their home education. So it's tempting to dismiss it.

But I think it's a bad sign that we're regarded as so horribly backward in subject areas and socialization. Because public perception drives legislation, and lately we're seeing a spate of anti-homeschooling commentary.

We know that our kids have good educations and play well with others. Homeschooling has been around for decades, and in the last decade has soared in visibility. Why are we seen as so educationally ineffective? And what can we do about it?

Our parish bulletin announces the names of the parochial school children who win or place at PSIA (like UIL, but for private schools, which in Texas includes homeschoolers). But not the homeschooled parishioners. One year Offspring #1 placed first in mathematics for her grade at State, beating out hundreds of kids from the toniest private schools in Dallas and Houston. Every year she's gone to state and done extremely well in core subjects. But only the parish school results may go in the bulletin (yes, I asked). I do know something about the achievement of the homeschooling families in my parish, and they're impressive: scholarships, awards for virtuoso musical performances, admission to top-tier universities. But I didn't find out about them from the newspaper or the parish bulletin.

I'm not mentioning this just to whine. We don't need the parish to validate our kids. (Though considering that the Diocese seems very concerned that our children are properly Socialized as Part of their Parish Community, you'd think some recognition might contribute to that.) But the comboxes and opinion polls continue to show that most non-homeschoolers think our kids are sitting in the basement reading the Bible. Changing the public perception has to start in communities, including (especially) parishes.

But would it even matter if we had more publicity? For years, homeschooled kids have been dominating the Howard Scripps Spelling Bee, the National Geographic Bee, and lesser-known events (looked into chess lately? why do you suppose the US Chess Federation has effectively banned homeschool teams at the national level?). What has it gotten us? The confirmation bias entrenched in perceptions of homeschooling means that reports of individual achievement are seen as outliers, not disturbing the ugly stereotypes in the public mind. As Dana at Principled Discovery points out, public opinion of homeschooling is actually slipping.

In a country where the party beholden to the NEA is about to control the White House and Congress, where the courts don't seem to be on our side, and where the current administration has effectively federalized education, this could mean real trouble.


Blogger Sophia said...

Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but I believe that the obvious success of homeschoolers will eventually have to be acknowledged on a national level.

It is important that parishes and congregations acknowledge the successes of homeschoolers not so that it will help anyone's self-esteem, but so that homeschooling could be seen as a viable, successful option for children.
Sometimes, I think that we homeschoolers need to do more to support organizations like the NHEN so that they can help us get more good PR out there. However, maybe grass roots, word-of-mouth is just as effective?

11:27 AM  

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