Our public education systems can’t be all things to all children as the latest Canadian study, comparing children in public schools versus those in homeschooling situations, proves.
Specifically, the media is reporting that the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences has just published a study about 74 children, ranging in ages from 5 to 10 years, who were given standardized tests in reading, writing and math. Half attended a regular public school and half were homeschooled.
Of the half being homeschooled, an equal number were in either a structured or unstructured context (also referred as “unschooling,” representing an environment where there is no schedule, no textbooks or tests and where children study and read what interests them).
While the students in public schools did well on the tests, it was the “structured” homeschooled kids who excelled with a half-grade advantage in math and a 2.2 grade advantage in reading. However, the children in unstructured environments performed worse than the public school subjects with a one to four grade disadvantage — which is huge when kids are in that age range.
Here is what the abstract from the Journal says about their study:
“Although homeschooling is growing in prevalence, its educational outcomes remain unclear. The present study compared the academic achievements of homeschooled children with children attending traditional public school. When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers), the data showed that structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest that the unstructured homeschoolers are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved)”
The crux of the matter is, then, that whether in a public school or a homeschooling context, focusing on the 3Rs and structure appears to be the key to success.
So, to all those proponents of public schools trying to be progressive, as well as supporters of “laissez-faire unschooling,” this study proves the importance of a structured focus on the core subjects. For example, those who are pushing the language experience approach now used in the public system to teach reading and writing are missing some important ingredients — the integration of both phonics and word identification strategies, even if not discrete programs — which most structured homeschoolers include in their reading and writing curriculum.