Fun With Alternative Hypotheses
By Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.
Some people think that homeschooling causes students to score better on academic
achievement tests than their public school peers; causes the homeschooled to experience
healthier social, emotional, and psychological development; and causes them to be more
successful in adulthood. On the other hand, some critics of homeschooling and research on
homeschooling believe the evidence is not yet ample enough to make solid cause-and-effect
Then there are those who think that perhaps homeschooling in general does cause positive
effects amongst the home-educated but that same would be true for those in institutional
schools if only certain things were changed therein. One example might be stated this way:
If only state-school students spent as much academic engaged time on reading, writing,
and math as do the home-educated, then the state-school children would do just as well.
Another example might be this: If only there were as much social capital—e.g., trust, love,
and functional relationships—amongst public school parents and their children, in general,
as amongst homeschooling families, then the public school students would do just as well.
And a third is example is like this: If only government-school parents were as involved in
their children’s academic lives as are homeschool parents, then they would do just as well
academically as homeschool students. This third example is a sub-focus of this article. With
it in mind, note what researchers Patall, Cooper, and Robinson wrote about parental
In the past decade, the importance of getting parents involved in their children’s
education has received considerable attention from policy makers, educators,
parents, and the mass media. Central to this heightened awareness is the No Child
Left Behind Act of 2001, in which parent involvement was identified as one of six
areas requiring reform.
Researchers and other educators have become so hungry for parents to be involved in
children’s lives that they have made strong and widespread petitions to parents. Consider
Other national initiatives that have advocated partnerships between parents and
schools include Project Appleseed, a nonprofit group that asks parents to sign a
promise to be involved in their children’s schooling . . . .
Although not all teachers and all schools want genuine, in-depth involvement in children’s
lives from their parents, most everyone knows that parental involvement is good for
children’s educational success and their lives in general.
Patall, Cooper, and Robinson conducted a meta-analysis of research about parent
involvement in only homework. A meta-analysis combines and considers the results of
several studies that all address related research hypotheses. Typically, researchers analyze
and report on what they call effect sizes. They reported that in their study they
― . . . meta-analyzed research examining the relationship between parent involvement in
homework and achievement across three discreet study designs . . . .‖
To the chagrin of
some, their first conclusion was that ―. . . the overall effect of parent involvement in
homework was small and often not significant.‖
More specifically, however, they found that the achievement effect of parental involvement
varied with student age. That is, parental involvement had the most positive association
with achievement for elementary students. Parental involvement seemed to often have no
relationship or a negative relationship with achievement for older students. Also, the
positive effect of parental involvement may have an effect on achievement-related
outcomes such as homework completion rates and the frequency of homework problems,
which may lead to gains in achievement in the long run.
Interestingly, although many relationships between parental involvement in homework and
achievement were weak, some effects were notable. For example, they found the following:
―Setting rules about when and where homework should be done had the strongest positive
relationship with achievement.‖
This might cause one to think about social capital and the
relationships between parent and child and the transmission of values and training them in
The above findings about parental involvement in homework and students’ academic
achievement are probably disappointing to many and probably unbelievable to others.
Perhaps, however, the findings should not surprise anyone.
If the relationship between public school parental involvement in their public school
students’ lives and academic achievement is ―complex,‖ as Patall, Cooper, and Robinson
reported, then maybe it is not unexpected to not find a simple and positive relationship
between parental involvement in homework and achievement.
What if state-school parents were as involved in their children’s education as are
homeschooling parents? Would their children then do as well academically as homeschooled
students? What if state-school parents did not have to help with homework at night when
their children were already physically tired, or tired of ―school,‖ ready to run and jump and
play and practice guitar or just enjoy their families? What if public school parents were just
as involved in their children’s lives as are homeschooling parents? This begs the question,
How could they be? They could never be as involved if they were to continue to send their
children away to a place and building called ―school‖ for six to eight hours per day, five days
per week. If parents did not send them away all these hours per se, they would not be
public school students.
If state-run schoolchildren spent as much academic engaged time on reading, writing, and
math, as do the home-educated, would they not do as well academically as homeschooled
students? This begs the question, Is this possible? If public school students did not have the
all-day distractions of twenty-six other students’ antics, did not have to wait for minute
after minute after minute—or all day—for one-on-one help from a teacher, or did not spend
endless minutes in waiting lines, then they would not be in public school. Systemically, that
is what it is like in general in public schools.
Back to the third topic at the opening of this article for the third alternate hypothesis: If
there were just as much social capital, e.g., trust, love, and functional relationships, in
public school students’ lives, would they not do just as well academically as the home-
educated? In response, one must say, if there were as much trust, as much love, as much
in-depth functional relationship, and as much value consistency between public school
students and their teachers, then they would not be public school students. They would be
homeschooled students (or perhaps they would be students in a very small private school).
In other words, if public school students had as much parental involvement, as much
academic engaged time at school, and as much social capital as do home-educated
students, the public school students would not be public school students; they would be
something like homeschooled students.
Perhaps the observers who think there are solid philosophical and theoretical reasons that
research about homeschooling continues to find positive things associated with
homeschooling are not far off the mark.
1. Patall, Erika A.; Cooper, Harris; & Robinson, Jorgianne Civey, (2008, December). ―Parent
Involvement in Homework: A Research Synthesis.‖ Review of Educational Research, 78(4),
2. Ibid., page 1039.
3. Ibid., page 1087.
5. Ibid., page 1090.
6. For research on homeschooling, visit www.nheri.org.
Author’s Note: Please feel free to send your questions about research related to home-
based education and raising children to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., is president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a
nonprofit research and education organization. Dr. Ray often serves as an expert witness in
courts, testifies to legislatures, and is interviewed by the media. Brian is married to Betsy
and they have eight children and four grandchildren.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in
the July 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine.
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