Art Carden  

On Homeschoolery: A Bet, Revised

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Thanks, everyone, for suggestions on my proposal below, and I'm especially honored that seasoned bettor Bryan offered a few suggestions (I also got a nice email with suggestions from EconLog friend Fabio Rojas, who noted that the selection biases in evaluations of homeschooling are considerable). What Bryan proposes would, I think, be excellent.

I should've phrased the last post not as an offer of a bet but perhaps rather as a call for bet proposals. As stated, the "bet" doesn't have clear terms because I'm not really sure of the measurable standards critics of homeschooling would cite as evidence against it apart from the obvious ones like ACT/SAT scores. I'm mostly interested in engaging people who are of the view that homeschooling is in some sense a bad idea--the people who ask "don't you worry about whether they'll be too sheltered?"

From my experience with homeschoolers, they bristle at the notion that they and their kids are inadequately socialized or inadequately exposed to diverse opinions because they forsake traditional education. Possible? Yes. Plausible? Perhaps. Probable? I doubt it, which is why I'm willing to bet. Perhaps I'm overestimating public skepticism about homeschooling, but I'm inclined to think not given existing skepticism about charter schools and vouchers.

So here's something a bit more specific, to be settled on April 9, 2033: the consensus in the literature on homeschooling will find that relative to people who attend public and private schools, the homeschooled will have mixes of friends of different races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds that are either statistically indistinguishable (insignificant at conventional levels) or statistically more diverse (significant at conventional levels). Here's one way to find this out: I would suspect that enough data will accumulate over the next two decades that we would be able to construct Herfindahl-Hirschman Indexes measuring the diversity of people's social networks. I suspect it's only a matter of time before people get access to data from Facebook, Google, and other websites that will help us arrive at clear answers to these questions.

Some were less than impressed with the stakes I offered ($100, nominal), so Iet's raise it to $500, real, adjusted for inflation with the CPI (I'm willing to go higher). I would also be interested in finding out whether there is an independent and nonpartisan organization out there that might be willing to commission such a study.


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Alexandre Padilla writes:

Art,

Your bet is to be settled in 20 years. That's too far away. Think about Julian Simon wager with Paul Ehrlich. If Julian Simon has made a bet similar to you with a settlement date 20 years later, he would have been dead before the bet could have been settled.

What happened to the people who accept your bet and pass away for one reason or another? Are you going to pay their heirs the bet?

david writes:

As phrased, your bet fails to allow for adjusting for differences in regional diversity. Rural areas, with less access to numerous public or private schools, also tend to be less diverse in ethnicities, religions, or socioeconomic backgrounds.

There's also the distinct possibility of the next 20 years including explicit legislative carve-outs for religious homeschooling, in which case observed un-adjusted averages will become even worse.

Tim writes:

@David

Given that the trend over the last 20 years has moved away from rural religious homeschooling, and towards sub/urban secular homeschooling, what are you basing this "distinct possibility" of legislation on?

Jim Glass writes:

Perhaps I'm overestimating public skepticism about homeschooling, but I'm inclined to think not given existing skepticism about charter schools and vouchers.

I'm on your side of this bet. You'd probably win right now, but data about homeschooled students is grossly lacking.

And don't be pessimistic about charter schools and vouchers -- the former are exploding and even the NY Times itself recently ran a major story about how voucher school programs are growing rapidly. Major social/institutional changes like this that have to work their way through politics take a lot of time. (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court vouchers case that so many partisans said was going to revolutionarily save/destroy the public schools, was decided a mere 11 years ago, and its effects are beginning to be felt.)

However, home schooling will always remain a relatively small sideline among the options to "regular" schools, ISTM. Going for it is the fact that compared to olden times when the public schools were set up, well-educated parents today much more often are simply *better educated* and better qualified to teach than are public school teachers and organizations. But, OTOH, the opportunity cost is huge, that well-educated parent has to give up so much (work, income, freedom, etc,) to sit at home for hours a day for years to be an unpaid teacher. And frankly, as someone who's raised three kids, no matter how much you love 'em, you want a break - yes schools do serve as nannies and babysitters. The high cost will always sharply limit the numbers who go this route, it seems sure.

Hadur writes:

How do the current terms of your bet account for the critique that homeschooled kids are inadequately socialized, just in general? That they won't have enough friends, won't learn how to interact with people appropriately, etc. Most of your terms seem to be specific to the diversity argument.

Art Carden writes:

Thanks again for excellent comments and suggestions. Alex, I want a 20-year horizon to make sure there's a clear answer. Part of the exercise in figuring out the terms of the bet is seeing just how complicated this gets, and quickly: if anything, we should all update in the direction of agnosticism or skepticism about confidently-claimed causal effects. Over the next two decades, I expect causal issues and likely confounders to be ironed out.

Regarding my earlier post on the burden of proof, this is one reason I think it falls on the shoulders of those who seek to restrict liberty: before we start telling people what they cannot or must not do, we should be as close to certain as we can get that the restriction makes us better off by agreeable measures.

@Hadur: Interesting question. Presumably someone with a diverse social network is reasonably socialized. Perhaps we could arrange for this to be evaluated with Turing tests.

Brian Clendinen writes:

I homeschooled and think Homeschooling is the only social movement in America that will make major long-term impacts on culture for the conservative, Christian, and Libertarian side. So I will not take your bet.

However, if I were to take the bet I would demand all results be normalized for parental status. I really would like to see home school studies that compare public school children from two parent families (as 98% of all homeschoolers are ) not the whole population,.

Especially considering there are no performance difference for race, parental education, or income when parental status is taken into consideration. The only reason a parents education shows a child has better results is because they are more likely to be married and have long-term stable marriages than parents with low education.

Mark V Anderson writes:

I am not interested in the bet, but I am interested in the pros and cons of home-schooling. I've heard quite often that home-schooled kids have just as much socialization as those who go to school with a bunch of other kids, but I am skeptical. I'm not interested in the bet because I want to know now whether this is true, not in 20 years from now. I don't understand the point of this bet.

I have also been skeptical of the practicalities of home schooling for most parents. How do those with regular jobs find the time? And I suspect it often causes a lot of strife between kids and their parents, who are always their teachers. In your last posting you had a link that pooh poohed all my objections, but it was too pollyannish to be credible. In fact everything I've read about home schooling is so overwhelmingly favorable that I simply don't believe them. Nothing in life is that perfect.

honeyoak writes:
"the consensus in the literature"
This is unclear. You should have an explicit list of publications and weight them by future citation rankings to get an overall impact.
Matt C writes:

Yeah, this is way too vague to be a bet yet. No way would I take a bet to be settled by something like "the consensus in the literature", nor one relying on presently non-existent social graph info.

> From my experience with homeschoolers, they bristle at the notion that they and their kids are inadequately socialized or inadequately exposed to diverse opinions because they forsake traditional education.

Well, I don't doubt that parents of any stripe are going to bristle at the word "inadequate" applied to their parenting or their kids, regardless of the specifics.

I am curious, do you know a lot of of religious homeschoolers--by which I mean hsers who are homeschooling substantially for religious reasons? There are a lot of them out there, but you might not rub shoulders with them. Here in Kansas they're probably a majority of homeschoolers. Some of them are pretty insular--there's a lot of homeschooling groups in our area which require a signed statement of faith before they'll let you join.

gjx writes:
I've heard quite often that home-schooled kids have just as much socialization as those who go to school with a bunch of other kids, but I am skeptical.
I agree. HSers of my acquaintance (literally several thousand) are not stuck with 20 kids exactly their age for 6 hours/day x 270 days/year. They meet many ages & far more adults; they engage in real world interactions. Qualitatively speaking this is an entirely different experience than "socialization". Because their experiences are usually grounded in their families, I prefer to call it "familiarizing with society".

Bet?: In 20 years, 20% of today's US school districts will be bankrupt and shuttered.

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