Posted by jlwile on March 18, 2013
Last week, I spoke at the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, South Carolina. It was very well attended, and other than a fire alarm that interrupted one of my talks, it ran really smoothly. I gave two brand-new talks at this convention, and they were both done with Diana Waring, whose high school history curriculum is truly wonderful.
One of these new talks was on the myths that you find in textbooks. It started off with the myth that ancient people thought the earth was flat. There is simply no truth to such an absurd idea. As early as 200 BC, natural philosophers knew the circumference of the earth, and the earliest Christian writers who mention the shape of the earth (such as Basil of Caesarea – c. 330-379) mention the spherical shape of the earth as an accepted fact. No one thought that Columbus was going to sail off the edge of the earth. His problems getting funding involved people not thinking he could carry enough supplies to make a voyage all the way around the earth. The other talk was based on a study by Dr. Harold McCurdy, which I have already discussed here.
While the talks I gave were enjoyable, as usual, the most interesting thing that happened occurred as a result of someone asking me a question. One of the solo talks I gave was called Why Homeschool Through High School. As a part of that talk, I discuss studies in which homeschool graduates are compared to graduates of traditional schools when it comes to their performance in college. Not surprisingly, the homeschooled students do much better in college than their traditionally-schooled peers.
After the talk, a homeschooling parent who is also a college professor asked me a very interesting question. He asked me if any study had attempted to measure not the performance of homeschool graduates at the college level, but instead the preparation that homeschool graduates have when they arrive at college. After all, he said, a student can perform well at the college level even when he is unprepared, as long as he has the ability to learn on his own. I told him that the studies I had seen focused on performance, but I would take another look at the literature and see what I could find.
Well, it turns out that such a study has been done. It is a PhD dissertation, which is why I hadn’t seen it in the academic literature. It was done by a student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and it at least partially addresses the question that the homeschooling parent asked.
The study examined not only the students’ performance in college, but also the students’ performance on the COMPASS college placement test. This test is used to evaluate a students’ knowledge in a variety of areas such as reading, writing, and mathematics. Since it is typically used to determine which courses a student should take when he or she enters college, it is a reasonable measure of how well a student is prepared for collegiate academics. So the study not only looked at how the students did in college, but it also probed how much they knew when they first came.
Another interesting aspect of this study is that it involves students at a community college that has an open admissions policy. This means the students are not subjected to the rigorous admission evaluation that occurs at many colleges and universities. This tells us that the students in the sample were not pre-selected based on a specific set of criteria. As a result, there is not a lot of bias to the students studied. After all, it is possible that universities are more strict at accepting homeschool graduates. So the homeschooled graduates at a given college might have been pre-selected to be the better homeschool graduates. A college with an open admissions policy will be less likely to have such an inherent bias.
In addition, the author of the study took great pains to make sure that the 273 homeschool graduates he selected for the study were comparable to the 273 traditionally-educated students he selected. He compared race, gender, and whether or not the student came from the three-county area traditionally serviced by the community college. While he was able to match the latter two between the groups, he was not able to match the former. This is not surprising, as homeschooled students are significantly more likely to be white than the population at large. Nevertheless, given the realities of who is homeschooled, it really does seem that the author was able to make the two groups as similar as possible when it came to their general characteristics.
When he compared the two groups, he found that the homeschool graduates had significantly better grade point averages (GPAs) than the traditionally-schooled students (2.99 versus 2.67). This, of course, is not surprising, as other studies have found that as well. The more important finding is that in every subject area except college algebra, the COMPASS scores of the homeschool graduates were greater than that of the traditionally-schooled students. For example, in writing, the homeschool graduates averaged 78.9, while the graduates of traditional schools averaged 63.9.
What about college algebra? The homeschool graduates averaged 53.6, while the graduates of traditional school scored 62.8. However, there only a few students who took that COMPASS test in both groups. Because of this, the result was determined to be not statistically significant. This means that the statistical error associated with the measurement was greater than the difference between the two averages. Thus, it’s not clear that you can draw any conclusions from that particular test in this particular study.
Interestingly enough, there was a second part of the study. It involved only 8 students (4 homeschool graduates and 4 graduates of traditional schools), so it’s not clear what one can conclude from it. However, the author interviewed these 8 students, asking for their perceptions of how well they were prepared for college. All 8 students agreed that overall, their educations had prepared them for college. However, all 8 also agreed that their weakest area of preparation was in mathematics.
In the end, the study seems to indicate that homeschool graduates not only excel in terms of their performance at the college level (something that is already well known), but they are also more prepared than their peers when they arrive. This doesn’t surprise me at all, but I suspect it will surprise others.