What does testing test? schooling, homeschooling and unschooling

I include this article mainly to keep bringing forward this topic of schooling in a climate where testing seems to be all that counts and curricula are becoming more and more rigid. Seems to me we need to have a real debate as to what authentic human learning actually consists of. Should so-called education be canalized into manageable, easily delimited and defined blocks of already pre-figured (so-called) “information,” a lock-step approach that morphs people’s brains (and hearts?) into nuts and bolts of pseudo-machines? Or should we recognize learning as a biological, evolutionary process, often messy and seemingly incoherent, driven by real, internal needs to explore yet uncharted realms.

One of my sons didn’t learn to read until he was ten. I wasn’t worried; I figured he’d learn to read when it would serve a useful purpose in his life, like reading the instructions to build a new bike.

When asked to write about a philosophical problem that interested them, I’d tell my undergraduate students: “Remember, in grading your papers, I much prefer fertile confusion to any sterile clarity.”

Thanks to care2.com

Public Schooled, Homeschooled or Unschooled: Who Makes the Grade?


September 20, 2011

Public Schooled, Homeschooled or Unschooled: Who Makes the Grade?
Last week, the Atlantic reported on a new Canadian study that compared the test results of children in different educational environments. The conclusion: homeschooled children score higher on tests. For most people, this is probably not a surprise. But what does it mean?

The Study

Sandra Martin-Chang, Odette N. Gould and Reanne E. Meuse published their study on the impact of schooling on academic achievement in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. The study involved 74 Canadian children between the ages of five and ten years old, half of whom were attending public schools and half of whom were homeschooled. Among the homeschooled students, 25 were following a structured home schooling program while 12 were in an unstructured (unschooling) environment. Using standardized tests focusing on reading, writing, math and other subjects, the children were evaluated across seven academic measures.

The results showed that children in a structured homeschooling environment had the highest scores, with a half-grade advantage in math and two grade level advantage in reading over their public school counterparts. Children from an unstructured homeschooling environment had the lowest scores across all seven academic measures. The authors of the study concluded that “children taught in a structured home environment may have an academic edge over their peers in traditional schools” (source: The Atlantic).

The Critique

What was this study really testing? According to critics of the study, it wasn’t really testing intelligence or knowledge or potential. It was simply testing children’s test-taking ability. In a post entitled Homeschooling Research: Fish Climbing Trees, author and publisher Wendy Priesnitz wrote:

The twelve unstructured homeschoolers did poorly on those standardized tests. Of course! Those fish in a tree-climbing competition were bound to lose the race. The question for me is: Why were they involved in the first place? The whole premise of “unschooling” is that learning happens as a result of the learner’s interest, rather than somebody else’s agenda or timeline, and doesn’t rely on testing or accountability to anyone but the learner. The researchers do give a nod to that, wondering if “the children receiving unstructured homeschooling” might eventually “catch up or surpass their peers given ample time.” But they don’t say if they want to study that. (Nor do they say if the unschooled kids were coached in testing writing techniques, which is important, since testing tests test-taking skill as much as anything.)

Academic achievement, standardized tests and grade levels are ultimately an arbitrary and artificial measure of intelligence developed by people who design curriculum and testing instruments. They are biased in favor of students who are following a curriculum that closely patterns the things that are being measured on the test.

Additionally, the study did not include any children in private schools, so there is no information on how they fared compared with the other three groups that were tested.

No Easy Answers

While this study reads like an endorsement of structured homeschooling as the best way to educate children, proponents of public schools, private schools and unschooling can all likely cite reasons why their preferred approaches provide an advantage to students and their families.

What do you think? Which educational environment have you chosen for your children and why?

Related stories:

Classmates’ Parents Demand Home Schooling for Girl with Peanut Allergy

Tea Party Plans to Dismantle the Department of Education

Four Reasons Finland’s Schools are Better Than Ours

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Photo credit: Andrew Stawarz on flickr

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