The “S” Word – A Deeper Look
By Craig Butz
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Homeschooling is one of the fastest growing trends in American education, with approximately two percent of school-aged children in the United States being taught at home. The number of students taught at home is growing at a rate of 15 to 40 percent per year and is expected to double in the next five years (Lyman, 1998).
Homeschooling is defined as a learning/teaching situation in which students spend the majority of the school day at their home rather than in a traditional school with their peers, and parents or guardians are the prime teachers of their children (Martin, 1997). Because, home-schooled children are not in a traditional classroom, one of the most common criticisms of home-based education is that students do not have similar opportunities that are available in the traditional educational setting for socializing with peers and therefore do not advance socially at a rate similar to students from a traditional school (Martin, 1997; Lyman, 1998).
Chatham-Carpenter (1994) found that although homeschooled children had similarly sized social networks, they did not have as many social interactions on a weekly basis as students in traditional school settings. Socialization is believed to be a very important aspect of traditional school experiences. Students in traditional school attend classes together, eat lunch together, play at recess together, and learn about individual differences together. According to Lyman (1998), some critics state that students who are schooled at home will grow into adults who are incapable of coping with a world built upon diverse ideas, cultures, morals, and values. These critics believe that homeschooling will perpetuate insular thought, racism, intolerance, and societal ignorance.
On the other hand, parents who teach their children at home cite safety, academics, moral and ethical issues, and a desire to build strong family bonds as the top four reasons for their decision to educate their children at home (Lyman, 1998). Many parents who home-school their children state that their children actually have more opportunities for social activities than if they were in traditional school because of the flexibility and time that their daily schedules allow (Lyman, 1998). Sports, scouts, family activities, playing with friends, traveling, and church activities are typical of the activities that parents feel they have more time for when students are not in school all day and coming home with homework at night. Parents say that socialization is preparation for adulthood, and children need to learn social skills and norms in a secure setting like the home with the parent as the guide (Tillman, 1995).
The type of socialization students may encounter in public schools is a major concern for many parents who choose homeschooling. In fact, 98% of parents surveyed in a study done in Kentucky stated that they disliked the social influence of peer groups in public schools (Grubb, 1998). According to Lyman (1998), children who are home-schooled often have fewer behavior problems than those schooled in traditional settings. Positive sociability includes qualities like cooperation, helpfulness, and supportiveness and it is strongly correlated to peer acceptance (Hanna, 1998).
One alternative that some families who have homeschooled in the past are now choosing is home-based public charter schools. In this type of school, children spend the bulk of their day at home working on their educational program. Licensed teachers who interact with the student either by phone, email, or in person direct the education. When the teacher is not available, the parent or guardian will supervise the day-to-day studying by the student. Students who attend this type of school may have the opportunity to participate in group activities organized by the school to further their social opportunities. In fact, Yarnell, (1998) writes that with the emerging role of the Internet, homeschoolers have more opportunity for collaboration and socialization with others. There are no studies at this time that examine the sociability of students who attend an organized home-based public charter school. This study investigates whether students who have attended a home-based public charter school since the 1999-2000 school year will score as well in sociability ratings as students who have been in a traditional school for that same time period. This study also examines whether there are any gender differences in sociability in students attending the home-based charter school
Participants and Setting
One hundred and two parents of students currently enrolled in a home-based public charter school in a large western urban city have volunteered to take part in this study. Students who attend this school do the bulk of their schoolwork at home under the supervision of their parents. Teachers from the school visit each of their students once per week in the student’s home to check previous work, assign new work, and give direct instruction in areas of need for the student. The students also have the opportunity to interact with other students in twice-monthly group classes, instructional field trips, and social activities such as skate nights and holiday parties.
Parents of students who have been enrolled in the home-based public charter school since its first year of operation in 1999 comprised one of the two groups, and parents of students who have just started with the charter school for the 2001-2002 school year and have attended traditional school settings for at least the past two years were included in the second group. There were 28 students who have been in the school since its opening. Of those 28, 18 were male and 10 were female. They ranged in age from eight to fourteen. There were 74 students who were in there first year in the school and had not been previously homeschooled. All of the 74 students in this group had been in traditional school settings for at least the previous two years. Of those 74, 41 were male and 33 were female. They also ranged in age from eight to fourteen.
Scores for sociability were derived from a sociability index questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of 35 items from the Personality Inventory for Children (PIC) (Lachar, Gdowski, & Snyder, 1982). The questionnaire was modified from the true/false format of the PIC to a five-point Likert scale with the answers ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. A high score indicates high sociability. The PIC is an extensively researched 600-item instrument that assesses behavior, affect, cognitive status, psychopathology, and family functioning of children 3-16 years old by having parents respond to brief statements about the child. The scales were normed on a sample of 2,582 children who had no previous mental health contact and have had excellent validity and reliability results in testing (Rohr, 1996). The PIC has been demonstrated to be an effective tool for differentiating between children with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (Jensen & Larrieu, 1997). The items for the sociability index scale were selected because they reflect the social/emotional abilities of the individual.
Before data collection, the assigned teacher delivered a consent form to each participant. The form described the purpose of the study and asked the parents to participate in the study. Data collection for this study took place in the participants’ homes during the weekly instructional visit with the home-based charter school’s teacher assigned to each individual. The 29 teachers who work for the home-based charter school distributed the questionnaire to the parents as a part of the weekly session. The investigator entered the data as the questionnaires were returned to the school’s resource center.
Results and Discussion
The sociability questionnaire was scored by averaging the 35 items to give a total possible score ranging between one and five. Independent t-test was conducted to compare the group means. Equality of variance was tested using Levene’s test. The equality of variance assumption was met, F (100) = 3.14, p > .05. The students who have been in the home-based charter school since its opening obtained statistically significantly higher sociability scores (n = 28, M = 4.18, SD = .46) than the students who were new to the school and previously attended traditional schools (n = 74, M = 3.91, SD = .62), t (100) = 2.09, p < .05. There was no statistically significant difference between the group means of the male students’ sociability (n = 59, M = 3.97, SD = .60) and that of the female students (n = 43, M = 4.00, SD = .57), t (100) = -.324, p > .50.
The results of this study indicate that students who are educated in the home-based charter school are not adversely affected in their socialization ability. The fact that students who have been in the charter school since it opened scored higher than those who have been in traditional schools shows that not attending traditional school does not automatically mean students will be less socialized. As with the students in the literature, (Chatham-Carpenter, 1994, Tillman, 1995, & Lyman, 1998), the students in the charter school have other opportunities to interact with other children and with adults other than just at school.
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Although it was the original hypothesis of the study that the two groups would have similar sociability scores, the students who were new to the school had significantly lower scores. This may have been a result of the type of student whose parents opt out of traditional schools. It may be that these students were having social difficulties in traditional schools, which lead their parents to choose an alternative educational setting. It is possible that these students would have remained in the traditional school setting had they been in a comfortable social situation.
Future research may examine the long-term effect of being in a home-based program. A longitudinal study that measures the initial sociability of students who are home-schooled and the sociability of the same students after many years could determine if there was any change in sociability in the students. Comparing students in the home-based charter school with students still in the traditional school setting may be a better comparison because the two groups would both be likely to be comfortable in their settings.
Other future research could examine whether there are gender differences in sociability of students who attend home-based school programs, and whether there is any difference in the sociability of students who spend the majority of their time with their mother as compared with those who spend the majority of their time with their father.
Proponents of home-based charter schools may want to continue the research into sociability of students educated outside of the traditional school setting. If data show students are not adversely affected in their socialization by learning at home, one of the most common criticisms of this program delivery model will be weakened.
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