Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lies, D*** Lies, and Statistics

My college statistics professor loved the quote generally attributed to Mark Twain that there are 3 kinds of lies: "lies, d*** lies, and statistics." He had us do a very interesting exercise in opinion poll manipulation where we learned how we could dramatically influence the results simply by changing the way we phrased the poll question. It's an exercise I'm definitely going to have my kids do when they get a bit older so that learn to look at the results of opinion polls with a more critical eye.

I was reminded of this today when I read an opinion piece from The American Spectator entitled "No Parent Left Behind." The author is trying to make the argument that American parents are not concerned enough with academic rigor in their children's education. I tend to agree with him that this is a big problem in today's society. However, one paragraph of his absolutely made me see red:

Academics are not necessarily the main concern even within the homeschooling movement, one of the few areas of school reform that's arguably been a success. Despite breathless stories about homeschooled children winning the National Spelling Bee, just 16.5 percent of parents surveyed by the Education Department cited academic dissatisfaction as a reason for keeping their kids out of traditional schools. Most parents home-school out of concerns about school environment and to provide religious instruction.

Mr. Biddle does not provide a reference to where he got this figure, but I suspect it's from the 2003 report of the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES study asked parents what was their most important reason for homeschooling. 31.5% said concern about the environment of the school, 29.8% said to provide religious or moral instruction, and 16.5% said dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools. However, when the researchers asked whether or not a particular reason was applicable to their situation, nearly 70% stated that academics was a factor in their decision to homeschool.

Most home educators I know have multiple reasons for homeschooling. I'd be hard pressed to answer which is the most important factor for me. Academics is certainly a big concern, but so are religion, values (related to but not exactly the same as religion), family togetherness, finances, not wanting to deal with the whole insanity of private school admissions, etc.

1 comment:

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent said...

This is a great post! As a marketing geek I have done many surveys...I agree you can influence the results. You also can influence the "spin" by quoting or interpreting different parts of the survey!

This looks like a spin job.