Recently, the Tennessee State Board of Education ruled diplomas issued to home-schooled students from religious based schools were invalid as proof of the successful completion of High School should it be presented for employment purposes for a job for which state law requires a diploma. You read that right. According to the State Board of Education, all diplomas are equal but some diplomas are more equal than others.

According to Tennessee ConserVOLiance blogger Red Hat Rob,

… anyone from a public school (or a private accredited school) who presents a diploma in order to be hired as a daycare worker, police officer, fireman (or any other position which state law requires a high school diploma for) will be automatically accepted. Anyone who presents a homeschool diploma will be automatically rejected.

The Board of Education’s rationale is since they had no input over the curricula which resulted in the diploma, they won’t recognize the diploma since they don’t know what it represents. For instance, the diploma could mean only that the student had 12 years of school yet cannot read well enough to complete an employment application and will need remedial classes for his first year of college.

But there’s a problem. It’s nicely pointed out by Red Hat Rob.

I have some news for the Department of Education officials. When a public school graduate presents a diploma, no one has any way to tell what it represents either. Did the ertswhile young graduate have an A average or a D- average? There is no minimum GPA requirement for graduation from a public high school in Tennessee.

Education has always been a prime subject for measurement. I’m not particularly opposed to that since I’m a big believer in rewarding individual effort if it’s successful and working to improve performance if it isn’t. To do that it is vital we know how well a particular person is doing in the skill we’re measuring. The Tennessee Board of Education and Red Hat Rob are both right on one thing. The presentation of a diploma is no measure of a student’s learning or ability. It only means the student has completed 12 grades. For that reason, Big Education has always touted certain metrics as being indicative of the success or failure of educators in providing a quality education. High on the list of metrics is ACT scores. They are useful for group comparisons as opposed to individual successes or failures.

Red Hat Rob refers us to the ACT itself, which reports in ACT News, that in 2007, the national average score on the ACT was 21.2. The average score for High Scool grads in Tennessee was 20.7. That makes Tennessee students just a little less than average as a group. While that figure is a composite of home educated, privately educated and governmentally educated students who took the test, it generally may be taken to mean that Tennessee’s Board of Education is willing to accept as satisfactory a diploma that represents a slightly less than average education.

What would be really interesting is examining data that broke down the different groups based on performance. How do government schools compare to home schools, for example? Fortunately we have just such a comparison available. Red Hat Rob refers us to a report from the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), an official site of the United States Department of Education, which has such numbers from 1998.

An ERIC digest titled ‘The Scholastic Achievement of Home Schooled Students’ from September of 1999 found the following:

Almost 25% of home school students were enrolled one or more grades above their age-level peers in public and private schools.

Home school student achievement test scores were exceptionally high. The median scores for every subtest at every grade (typically in the 70th to 80th percentile) were well above those of public and Catholic/Private school students.

On average, home school students in grades 1 to 4 performed one grade level above their age-level public/private school peers on achievement tests.

Students who had been home schooled their entire academic life had higher scholastic achievement test scores than students who had also attended other educational programs.

It further found,

Even with a conservative analysis of the data, the achievement levels of the home school students in the study were exceptional. Within each grade level and each skill area, the median scores for home school students fell between the 70th and 80th percentile of students nationwide and between the 60th and 70th percentile of Catholic/Private school students. For younger students, this is a one year lead. By the time home school students are in 8th grade, they are four years ahead of their public/private school counterparts.

The results are consistent with previous studies of the achievement of home school students.

Addressing our question of ACT scores, a long standing metric for determining academic success, the digest reports,

Home school students did quite well in 1998 on the ACT college entrance examination. They had an average ACT composite score of 22.8 which is .38 standard deviations above the national ACT average of 21.0 (ACT,1998).This places the average home school student in the 65th percentile of all ACT test takers.

What was the ACT composite score for Tennessee students for 1998? In the year homeschoolers averaged 22.8 and the national average was 21.0, Tennessee’s students scored just 19.8, a full 3 points below home schoolers. This put Tennessee ahead of only North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Washington DC. The composite home school score places them FIRST among the 51 jurisdictions represented in the study.

Unfortunately, the digest attempts to downplay the astounding statistics noting,

The superior performance of home school students on achievement tests can easily be misinterpreted. This study does not demonstrate that home schooling is superior to public or private schools. It should not be cited as evidence that our public schools are failing. It does not indicate that children will perform better academically if they are home schooled. The design of this study and the data do not warrant such claims. All the comparisons of home school students with the general population and with the private school population in this report fail to consider a myriad of differences between home school and public school students. We have no information as to what the achievement levels of home school students would be had they been enrolled in public or private schools. This study only shows that a large group of parents choosing to make a commitment to home schooling were able to provide a very successful academic environment.

In essence, it says the digest reports home school students outperform government school students by significant margins. They do so throughout their academic careers. They do so measured any way you choose, including standardized tests. They do so consistently as reported in studies covering a variety of samples, locations and times. But ERIC concludes home schools are not superior to government schools. It only demonstrates ” … home schooling [provides] a very successful academic environment.” I only attended government schools but even I can read between those lines and discern the truth.

Tennessee’s Board of Education is going with the government line “Home schooling must be automatically rejected since we don’t know what they’ve learned” and “Government schools must be accepted since we know what they’ve learned.” Unfortunately, State educators missed the widely available and easily located studies and reports that prove them wrong. They didn’t do their homework. Or perhaps they missed the lesson on how to do a research paper. We shouldn’t hold it against them, though. They probably went to government schools, too.

Blue Collar Muse