Be Careful While Reading Research Results
- Friday, March 01, 2013
Caveat emptor—“Let the buyer beware.” The reader should keep in mind that this applies to receiving and consuming products of research as well as buying a piece of land or a used car.
It appears good on the face of it. Researchers Pennings, Seel, Van Pelt, Sikkink, and Wiens explain in their report that Christian schools “. . . have served a vital role in the educational landscape of North America for over 400 years . . .” and that from about 1600 “. . . until late in the 18th century, the purpose of education in the U.S. was centered on religion . . .” (p. 9). These authors also rightly note the following: “. . . All schools are religious in nature, and therefore parents desire schools in which congruence can exist for their children between home, religious institution, and school (p. 11).1
The researchers then explain why they are undertaking this project: “The Cardus Education Survey has just this purpose—to determine the alignment between the motivations and outcomes of Christian education, setting a benchmark for further study of Christian schooling.” The reader quickly finds out that Christian education, in this study, includes homeschooling by Christian parents but is not focused on home-based education.
Their survey of graduates (i.e., from secondary school, high school)—“. . . which included participants from Catholic, Protestant, non-religious private, public, and homeschool graduates—focused on educational and occupational attainment, civic and political engagement, spiritual formation, marriage and family as well as social psychological outcomes in the young adult years” (p. 44).
So . . . what did they find? They found some things that might negatively surprise advocates of homeschooling. Home-educated graduates are the most likely to get divorced? Most likely to feel helpless in dealing with the problems of life? Most likely to lack any clear goals or sense of direction? Most likely to feel prepared for a vibrant religious and spiritual life?
Homeschool graduates are the least likely to be involved in political campaigns? Least likely to spend much time volunteering or going on mission trips? Protestant Christian school and homeschool graduates hold more strongly to the belief that morality is unchanging and absolute?
But before your columnist provides any more of these researchers’ findings, clouds the research waters, or is quoted out of context, several important points must be made. First, researchers must operationally define important terms in their studies. In this study, “homeschooled” was defined as a participant reporting he was homeschooled in high school. That is, the researchers only reported that the adults were homeschooled, Catholic schooled, public schooled, and so forth for some of their high school years; no information was given on whether they attended that type of schooling for two, eight, or twelve years. Further, the “home educated” were categorized as either “religious” or “nonreligious,” simply depending on whether their mothers attended religious services regularly. That is all that is known about these adults’ educational background.
Second, about two thousand randomly selected Americans, aged 23 to 49, were sampled and studied. This sample appears to have been planned and executed well. However, of those, fewer than ninety were home educated at all. And only some of these fewer-than-ninety had a “religious” homeschool mother during high school. This is a small sample size from which very few dependable conclusions can be drawn.
Finally, this study’s findings directly contradict the findings of several other studies about adults who were home educated. For example, Ray found adults who were home educated to be more engaged in direct civic involvement than the general population of the United States. They were more involved in activities such as working for a candidate/political party/political cause, voting in national/state elections, and participating in a protest or boycott.2 Contrariwise, Pennings et al. state that adults from “religious” homeschooling were noticeably less civically involved on several measures than adults from several other categories of schooling.
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