Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Setting the Record Straight

"Dr. Brian D. Ray founded the NHERI (National Home Education Research Institute) in 1990 as a 501(c)3 non-profit research organization, and is the president of the institute. He holds his Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University, his M.S. in zoology from Ohio University, and his B.S. in biology from the University of Puget Sound. Dr. Ray has been a middle school and high school classroom teacher in both public and private schools, an undergraduate college professor, and a university professor at the graduate level. He is a leading international expert with regard to home education research. Dr. Ray executes and publishes research, speaks to the public, testifies before legislators, and serves as an expert witness in courts." He is also the author of Home-Educated and Now Adults."

Simply put, NHERI and Dr. Ray specialize in homeschool research.

So it is with great interest that I read Dr. Ray's rebuttal to a misleading article about homeschooling that recently appeared in USA Today. Entitled Profound shift in kind of families who are homeschooling their children, it purports to objectively present information regarding trends in home education through analysis of a new U.S. Department of Education report.

But as anyone who has ever taken a course in statistics knows, it is possible to alter how you analyze or present certain numbers in order to suggest or imply whatever you want to.

Don't believe me? Well, as a silly example, note that if one were to analyze the "data" in my household (a small number of homeschoolers relative to the overall number, mind you, but that didn't seem to matter to the U.S. Department of Education), one could conclude that "over the past four years, the average age of homeschooling parents rose sharply, with the vast majority of the parents
(100%!) now in their forties instead of their thirties." One could also find an expert (in my case, perhaps, a liberal, disgruntled neighbor) and quote him as saying that "...this is clearly indicative of a shift in the type of person who is homeschooling her children." (Such an "expert" would certainly choose to use the current trendy, intellectually-elitist practice of referring to the indefinite singular pronoun in the feminine.) One might read (in that fantasy world of statistics-twisting) that, "Clearly, the trendy young thirty-something parents who were dabbling with the homeschool idea in the past have wised up and put their kids back in school. It is now just the old-fashioned crusty forty-somethings who are keeping their kids home and away from the normalizing influence of a peer group. It seems clear from this data that the homeschooling trend is on its way out." ("Experts" can be quoted saying anything they want to, remember.)

So, anyway, back to the real world and the real USDE report and the real article written by USA Today. Dr. Brian Ray has taken the time to accurately analyze the data in the USDE report, and has come to some startlingly different conclusions.

So, are homeschoolers now "profoundly" more white and rich than they were just four years ago, as the article claims? It would seem, actually, that the opposite is true. Accurate analysis of the US government's data and statistics indicates that an "increasing percentage of the homeschool population is ethnic minorities, the income of homeschool families is below the national median of households with school-age children, and homeschool parents are somewhat above average in terms of their formal education attainment."

This conclusion is notably different from that presented by USA Today. I guess the next question we should ask ourselves is "why?"

No comments: