High marks for home-schooling
A conversation with Sandra MARTIN-CHANG and Wendi HADD
Children who receive structured home-schooling significantly outperform public school children across a range of subjects. “In some instances, home-schooled children were five grade levels higher than those kids being taught in the public school,” says Sandra Martin-Chang.
The assistant professor in the Department of Education captured headlines with her study comparing test scores for children who learned at home with those who attended public school.
The catalyst for Martin-Chang’s research was listening to strong opinions voiced by friends and family about her sister-in-law’s decision to home-school her children. When she went searching for facts, she found very little research on learning outcomes. This led her to conduct a study to compare 37 home-schooled children with 37 children in the public system.
The home-schooling families who participated in the study reflected a variety of motivations and experiences. Some parents wanted to ensure their children were not exposed to political, social or religious ideas they did not agree with, while other parents rejected the structure of traditional schooling.
Among the families who opted for home-schooling, some followed existing curricula or designed lesson plans for their children. In other homes, children established their own learning routines and priorities.
Home-schooled children score higher
Martin-Chang’s research evaluated learning outcomes of primary-aged, home-schooled and public school students of comparable backgrounds. Children who received structured home-schooling, under the direction of their parents, scored significantly higher on standardized tests in seven different subjects.
“I think parents working with a smaller number of kids at home have a better idea of exactly where their children stand,” says Martin-Chang of the dramatic difference in test scores. She believes parents motivate their children by establishing realistic challenges.
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In conversation — Beyond the headlines
Sandra Martin-Chang and Wendi Hadd are both parents and educators: Martin-Chang works at Concordia’s Department of Education while Hadd is at John Abbott College. In fact, Hadd assigns Martin-Chang’s study on
home-schooling to students in her sociology of education class.
The two women participated in a wide-ranging discussion on the motivations and challenges for parents in determining the best educational approach for their children.
During the exchange, Martin-Chang shared her observations on the families she met while researching home-schooling in the Maritime provinces and Hadd spoke about her own experience home-schooling her six children in Quebec.
Martin-Chang feels direction and structure are important for learning while Hadd lets her children guide their education. Despite their different approaches to teaching and learning, both recognized there are commonalities in how adults can help kids to thrive.
The decision to home-school
HADD: I chose to homeschool my children because I wanted to spend more time with them. So I really approached it from that perspective – that we were going to be together.
MARTIN-CHANG: That is one of the main reasons ... Some are dissatisfied with, or a little bit frightened of, what could be happening in the school system. For example, I’ve heard bullying come up often as a reason not to necessarily send your children to school.
Debunking the myth about isolation
Many people mistakenly believe that home-schooled children are isolated, interacting primarily, if not exclusively, with other family members. Turns out, there are numerous associations, networks and programs for home-schooling families to organize field trips, science fairs and joint lessons.
MARTIN-CHANG: The kids that we worked with belonged to a lot of groups … It seemed like their days were longer, they had more time to take violin, and go to skiing lessons. There was not this huge chunk of the day that was busy at school.
HADD: I think because [home-schooled children] don’t spend all of their time with one age group, they tend to develop skills in dealing with people who are older than them, and also in dealing with children who are smaller than them.
Individualized attention advances learning
Hadd’s children direct their own learning; however, she follows their interests and progress, identifying where they might need help.
HADD: I really believe that children have to read, and read well in order to accomplish anything at all … We read a lot. We had games where you would use letters. So, you know, as much as we’re unstructured, we did things that lead to learning. [My daughter’s] pattern with language was very different from her elder brothers, and so I knew, when she was six, something wasn’t going to work out for her without some very intense reinforcement.
Ultimately, Martin-Chang believes that kind of individual attention leads to stronger learning outcomes. She hopes the educators she is teaching will develop ways to bring that approach into the classroom.
MARTIN-CHANG: So that’s another thing we encourage in our Concordia-trained teachers, to get a really good sense of how each child in their class is doing, so that you can teach just above it, just beyond what he or she can do alone.
Sandra Martin-Chang joined Concordia’s education department in 2007. Her ongoing research, aimed at better understanding how children learn to read, has helped her to transition into her current role training the teachers of tomorrow.
In 2005, she earned a PhD in psychology from McMaster University studying how context, environment and neuropsychology affect learning. She spent three years at Mount Allison University, in New Brunswick, where she conducted her research on home-schooling. She also received a Margaret and Wallace McCain Postdoctoral Fellowship from the university.
With grants from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture, Martin-Chang is pursuing her research on reading.
She is also affiliated with the Centre for Research in Human Development, an initiative spearheaded by Concordia, involving five other Quebec universities, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to examining key issues and transitions from infancy to old age.
Two decades ago, Wendi Hadd began teaching sociology at John Abbott College after earning a PhD in medical sociology from the Université de Montréal. At about the same time, she decided to home-school her children to maximize the time she spent with them.
As a home-schooler, she decided not to use formal lesson plans. Instead, her children were free to pursue their own interests. She did connect with other home-schooling families, especially when her children were younger.
Six kids later, Hadd has no regrets about her decision to let her children set their own pace for learning. Her older children are now confidently transitioning into the traditional school system to pursue higher education.