Harvard vs. the Family

This June, pandemic conditions permitting, Harvard University will host a conference—not open to the public—to discuss the purported dangers of homeschooling and strategies for legal reform. The co-organizer, Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, believes that homeschooling should be banned, as it is “a realm of near-absolute parental power. . . . inconsistent with a proper understanding of the human rights of children.” The conference has caused a stir on social media, owing to a profile of Bartholet in Harvard magazine, accompanied by a cartoon of a forlorn-looking girl behind the barred windows of a house made out of books titled, “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Bible.”

City Journal

She presents one study to support her concern about academic outcomes, noting that “methodologically sound studies of the more successful subsets of homeschoolers also reveal problems. One found that while overall the homeschoolers who took standardized tests did slightly better than public schoolers, there was a huge divergence between homeschoolers receiving structured as versus unstructured home education. Those receiving unstructured education, as many homeschoolers do, scored significantly lower than public schoolers.”

Bartholet is distorting the study’s conclusions, to put it politely. The researchers found that the two-thirds of homeschooled students in their sample who received a structured curriculum did dramatically better than public school students. Unstructured homeschool student performance was either slightly below or statistically indistinguishable from that of public school students, depending on the analytic methodology employed. Most policy analysts would see these findings as demonstrating the remarkable success of homeschooling. It would require extraordinary confirmation bias to read these findings as evidence that homeschooling should be banned.

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