You Can Write a Letter to the Editor!

The best research and data on homeschooling won’t affect much change if no one knows about it. That’s why we wrote tips for contacting your legislators and writing letters to the editor, so you or anyone you know can start spreading the word. We know, however, that taking that first step on your own and putting your voice out there can be intimidating–so we are happy to share our own example!

This week we sent the following letter to the editor of Business Insider, an online news provider that focuses on business and technology. As you will notice, the letter itself is brief, compared to our more extensive reaction below. Keeping this short required us to strictly prioritize; Business Insider published three different articles we felt worthy of our response, and we had a lot of evidence to dispute some of their claims. Our interaction with them is an example of how an LTE can be meaningful even if it’s not published. Editorial staff replied with a promise to update the articles with information we shared.

It is disappointing to watch Business Insider routinely publish imbalanced, inaccurate articles on homeschooling. In the February 3rd article, “One of the most pervasive stereotypes in education is no longer true,” senior innovation writer Chris Weller uncritically quotes homeschool advocate Dr. Brian Ray’s unsourced claim that homeschooled students are “doing just as well or better” than their peers. Weller also cites Richard G. Medlin’s 2013 review of the research on homeschooling and socialization despite critique by Dr. Milton Gaither, one of the most prominent names in homeschooling research, which throws into question the article’s conclusion.

In the January 23rd article, “Americans are rejecting the ‘homeschool myth,’” Weller uses Dr. Ray’s unsourced claim that homeschooling grows at a rate of 8% per year and an unsourced claim that the U.S. Census found that 2 million children were homeschooled in 2010 to justify his estimate that as many as 3.5 million children are currently homeschooled. The U.S. Census has never collected homeschooling data. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) does, but they did not release an estimate in 2010, and their 2012 estimate is both lower—1.77 million—and points to a smaller growth rate. Weller follows with an unsourced claim that homeschooled children score better than their peers, but does not address testing data that finds homeschooled students less proficient than their peers in math.

This is not the first time we have felt compelled to correct misleading claims about homeschooling made by Weller in Business Insider. Last summer we published a thorough critique of his August 20th article, “Why Homeschooling Is the Smartest Way to Teach Kids in the 21st Century.” That article, like these, was rife with misinformation. As we noted then, irresponsible reporting on homeschooling benefits no one. Parents need accurate information to make informed choices for their children.

Rachel Coleman
Executive Director
Coalition for Responsible Home Education

As is common when writing letters to the editor, space did not permit us to flesh out our concerns as fully as we might have liked. If you are trying to formulate your own LTE, you might note the difference between all the information we had available, the bulk of which we outline below, and what we chose to include in our letter above.

We noted in our LTE that Dr. Milton Gaither has critiqued Richard G. Medlin’s review of the research on socialization; Weller did not mention that Medlin’s review had been questioned by other scholars. We did not have room, however, to include quotes from Gaither’s review, in which he wrote that Medlin left out “a lot of important work,” was not explicit enough about which of the studies he cited “were using shoddy methodology,” and failed to include “one of the most important studies ever of homeschooling,” the 2011 Cardus Education Survey. Because we did not have space to outline Gaither’s specific concerns with Medlin’s review, we simply stated Gaither’s credentials and included a link to his critique.

We also did not have room to provide specific details regarding the homeschool growth rate. The estimates the NCES released for 2007 and 2012 would suggest an average growth rate of 3.3% per year during this period. (The NCES conducted its surveys again in 2016, but that data has yet to be released.) Had we had more room, we could also have noted that there is some indication homeschooling may be on the decline in certain states. The International Center for Home Education Research reported in fall 2016 that of 9 states that release data on homeschool enrollments, 6 reported an increase and 3 reported a decrease. When Business Insider responded to our LTE expressing interest in amending their articles, they asked for this additional information on the homeschool growth rate. This may happen to you as well, so it is a good idea to make sure you have data and links on hand to provide if asked.

In addition to arguing that homeschooled students do better academically than their peers, Weller also claimed that homeschool graduates perform better in college than graduates of other educational methods. We did not have space to address this. If we had, we could have pointed out that Weller cited a 2009 study of a private research university but did not mention that only 1% of students at this university were homeschooled, compared with 3% of students overall. This creates an effect calling “creaming”, where only the best and the brightest of a given group are representing the group, giving the impression that all members of the group do as well as these non-randomly-selected members do.

Weller also did not mention that the 2011 Cardus Education Survey found that formerly homeschooled adults were less likely to attend college and reported lower SAT scores than their peers, or evidence that homeschooled students may under-attend college. He similarly did not mention research which suggests that homeschooled students who attend college are less likely to major in STEM fields, likely the result of a well-documented homeschool math gap that leaves many students with a deficient grounding in math and related fields.

Your LTE does not need to be as data-driven as ours was. You may find it more natural to speak from your experiences, and those of your friends. Regardless of exactly what you say or how you say it, it’s important that you use your voice and have your message heard. Your opinion, your experiences, and your view matter. Whether you plan to center experiences or research, we have resources with guidance and talking points to help you get you started. If you can’t find particular data you’re looking for, get a letter published, or receive a response from your paper that you’d like to share, please feel free to contact us!

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