by David Shipley

Poorly-educated parents who home school their kids produce better academic results than the public education system, a new report argues.

The Fraser Institute report, Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream 2nd edition, states an increasing amount of American and Canadian studies show home-schooled students outperforming their peers in both the public system and in private institutions.

One study reviewed and cited by the authors of the Fraser report found that students taught by mothers who never finished high school scored 55 percentage points higher on tests than public school students from families with similar education levels.

“Although we expect the public school system to solve all of society’s problems for us, it’s not necessarily the best engine, the best tool for doing that,” said Claudia Hepburn, co-author of the home schooling report and director of education policy research for the Fraser Institute.

Hepburn said Thursday while she didn’t have any data explaining why home schooled students from families with low levels of education did better than their publicly schooled peers, she did offer a few theories.

“One of them might be the one-on-one attention that the child is getting at home,” she said. “It may be the quality of the effort that’s being put into it, the dedication.”

Hepburn said it may also be a case of expectations.

“It may be a case of (negative) preconceived notions of what that child is capable of in a larger institutional setting,” she said. “Someone may know the background of the child and have assumptions about the where that child is going and how much effort is worth being put into that child.”

The Fraser report is an update to the first study done on home-schooling by the institution in 2001.

It builds on the first report with new research and data and explores the history, regulation and growth of home-schooling in Canada and the U.S.

The report cites dozens of U.S., Canadian and International studies and reports to back up its conclusions.

It also tackles concerns that home-schooled children do not develop the same social skills as their public school peers.

“The best Canadian study to date looked at that issue a few years ago. It found the average home-schooled child in Canada is involved in eight social activities outside the home at any given time and they actually watch less TV than other students do,” she said.

Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute on Market Studies, said the Fraser Institute report shows the need for parents to be given a wide range of choices when it comes to the education of their children.

“The key thing to recognize in the conversation about choice is that no one is in the position to say what education is best one for every child,” he said. “This isn’t the kind of thing you can do in a cookie-cutter exercise.”

Cirtwill said choice involves a range of options from home schooling to public and private schooling.

“Home schooling may be the perfect way to educate some children but at the same time our standard public sector school system may be a great environment for other kids to learn.”

Cirtwill said one thing the Fraser report does is it shines the light on the issue of whether children from low income or low educational-background families start out with a disadvantage.

“It tells me that standard line that you hear, that socio-economic status dictates results, is bogus,” he said. “You can account for and teach a child with the worst possible starting situation and all that requires is a little sensitivity and a little willingness to go the extra mile.”

Jason Humphrey, spokesman for the provincial Department of Education, said the government has not yet received the Fraser report and would not be able to comment on the study until it had a chance to review it.

Humphrey said in the 2006-2007 school year, about 471 children were either educated at home or privately. Meanwhile another 112,000 children attended the public school system.

“Basically 42 per cent of the total enrolment is either home or independent school.”

Though New Brunswick law requires all children to attend school, parents can apply to the Minister of Education for permission to be home schooled or enrolled in a private institution, he said.

“Parents or guardians have to sign a document that would exempt (the child) from being in the public school system. Part of that says that they recognize they will no longer be receiving services through the public educational system.”

As well, parents or guardians assume responsibility for the “full and effective” education of their children.

Brent Shaw, president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association, the union representing public school teachers in the province, said Thursday the best place for New Brunswick’s children is in the public system.

“We believe in public education. It works,” he said. “You can come up with just about anything you want, depending on how you’re surveying.”