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Alaska Association of Agricultural & Natural Resource Educators
"Sharing knowledge and promoting literacy in Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources with Alaska's K-12 teachers"
Homeschool + Agricultural Education
The Perfect Practical and Academic Opportunity
for Alaska Homeschool Educators and their Students
The Alaska Data and Homeschool Academics
Homeschool advocates often champion studies they claim show that homeschooled students score thirty percentile points above average as proof of the superiority of homeschooling. Unfortunately, these studies have some serious flaws—they do not use random samples and they do not correct for background factors. For an overview of what we do and do not know about homeschooling and academics, see our introduction here. Given the flaws that characterize most studies of homeschooling, I was fascinated when I stumbled upon some data from Alaska.
There is a lot more here than what I will examine in this post. I am not formally trained in statistics and I will not even touch on what the data says about race or gender. There are also limits to this data. We only have testing data from those Alaskan homeschoolers who participated in Alaska’s popular and innovative correspondence school programs. While this covers the majority of homeschoolers in Alaska, it means we don’t have data on the performance of the remainder of Alaska’s homeschoolers. Still, this data avoids some of the flaws of other studies of homeschooling and academics and is vastly more interesting than anything else I have seen.
Alaska’s Correspondence Schools
Alaskan parents can homeschool under the state’s homeschool law, which is probably the most minimalist in the entire country—no notification, no parent qualifications, no required days of teaching, no required subjects, no assessments. However, the majority of homeschool parents in Alaska choose to homeschool under one of Alaska’s many correspondence programs.
These correspondence programs do not use videos or mail-in workbooks, and they do not replicate the public school curriculum at home. They are designed with conventional homeschoolers in mind and allow parents to choose their own curriculum and plan out their own school years. They require a yearly education plan for each student, quarterly progress reports, and annual testing. In exchange, each parent receives around $2000 per child per year for use on things like textbooks, classes, and tutors.
In the 2012-2013 school year, almost 11,000 homeschooled students participated in 28 different correspondence programs across the state. Because these programs technically operate as public schools or charter schools under state law, they are required to put together an annual report at the end of each school year. These reports include testing data for each grade where testing is required—grades 3 through 10—broken down by things like age, gender, and poverty level, and are released to the public.
The Basic Scores
Throughout the remainder of this article, I will compare the scores of students homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools with Alaska’s public school average. Students’ scores for reading, writing, and math are broken down into “advanced,” “proficient,” “below,” and “far below.”
Students homeschooled through Alaska’s popular correspondence schools do better in reading than the state average but worse in math. This difference in performance further confirms studies that have found a homeschool advantage in reading and a homeschool disadvantage in math.
Very few studies of homeschooled students’ academic performance have accounted for background factors. We know that public school students whose parents have college degrees tend to do better academically than those whose parents do not have college degrees. When looking at the academic scores of homeschooled students, we need to ask how background factors like parental education affect children’s performance. Otherwise, we cannot locate the effect of homeschooling from the effect of various background factors.
By breaking student test scores down by whether they are “economically disadvantaged” or “not economically disadvantaged,” we can examine how parental income affects homeschooled students’ test scores. Roughly one-third of the students were economically disadvantaged and roughly two-thirds were not economically disadvantaged.
There is a clear academic difference between economically students homeschooled through Alaska’s correspondence schools who are and are not economically disadvantaged. The difference between these two groups in each subject is smaller than the difference between public school students who are and are not economically disadvantaged (you can view that difference here). Unlike for public schooled students, however, the difference in scores varies by subject—it is most significant in math and least significant in reading.