Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Look Beyond the Hype to the Actual Data

How's this for a headline:

"99.6% of homeschoolers studied have had no involvement whatsoever with the child welfare authorities and 97.8% of homeschool graduates are employed or pursuing higher education/training"

Not going to sell very many papers, is it? Nor will it do much to support the governmental push in the U.K. to dramatically increase regulation of homeschooling in that country.

But what's the actual headline found in The Guardian?
"Children educated at home at severe disadvantage, study shows."
I wish that the above were a joke, but unfortunately it's real.

Graham Badman, the former education director of the town of Kent, recently provided a report to the U.K. Parliament committee for children, schools, and families on home education in Britain. The review looked at the status of 1,220 children (out of an estimated 40,000-60,000+ U.K. homeschoolers) from 74 local authorities (no info on how those were chosen).

The report claimed that:
"while 0.2% of children in the UK population were known to social services, the figure was 0.4% among those who were educated at home....The percentage of home-educated children who are not in employment, education or training [NEET] is more than four times the proportion in the national population".
First of all, the Financial Times in August quoted a report from the Department for Children, Schools and Families saying that the "NEET" rate in the U.K. is 16%. That would be almost EIGHT TIMES the rate found for homeschool graduates. I find it incredibly hard to believe that the NEET rate would plummet from 16% down to 0.5% over the past 2 months. The most plausible explanation is that at least one of the two government reports has an incorrect number. If I had to estimate the true rate, I'd say it has got to be closer to the 16% than the 0.5%.

But let's suppose for the moment that the claims made in the Badman report were accurate. Does a 0.4% rate of involvement with CPS (note that it includes the numerous investigations in which the parents are ultimately declared innocent) and a 2.2% NEET rate actually warrant the term "severe"?

To put the numbers into context, the teen pregnancy rate in the U.K. is TEN TIMES higher than the rate given for CPS involvement among homeschoolers. That number is nearly double what it was in 1990 (unlike the U.S. where the rate has declined 45% over the same time frame). Government ministers called the teen pregnancy rate "disappointing".

I would personally argue that the government has its adjectives backwards...


Kirsten said...

Remember that, depending on the definition, Stay-At-Home Mothers are in the "NEET" rate.

I'm wondering if one study excluded married women and the other included them.

Crimson Wife said...

I checked the website of the UK Dept. for Children, Schools, and Families for further information on how the British government calculates the NEET rate. I could not find any information on how the government treats married stay-at-home parents.

However, the data only includes those aged 16-18 so I don't think that it's a major factor one way or the other. As of 2004, 90% of births to teen moms in the UK were out-of-wedlock. Some of those moms may later marry the father of their child, but probably not by age 18.

Stuart Buck said...

Well, that also assumes that any social services contact with homeschoolers was legitimate, whereas I'd bet there's a good chance that many "investigations" of homeschoolers in Britain are spurious and are caused by an ignorant neighbor who complains, "Those kids are always out of school."