Mapping Education

Dana Bauer
September 01, 1998

During his daughter's ballet lesson, Vince Youngbauer struck up a conversation with another waiting parent—a woman who happens to educate her child at home. After speaking with her, Youngbauer, who is studying to be a teacher, couldn't imagine home schooling his own three kids.

"I switched roles with my wife for a while and stayed home," he says. "It's not an easy thing. It requires a lot of patience."

two red maps of Pennsylvania

Youngbauer asked his adviser Dan Marshall what he thought about home schooling: Why do people do it? Marshall, a Penn State professor of curriculum and instruction, told Youngbauer that he had questionnaire after questionnaire of survey data from Pennsylvania families who say that they believe, whether for religious of pedagogical reasons, that the best way to educate their children is to do it at home. Youngbauer was skeptical.

"I don't think that's it," he said as they sat across from each other in Marshall's office. "I think it has to do with the options they have. I don't think they understood your questions." Youngbauer, who minors in geography and history, thought that the decision to educate at home had to do with a lack of educational alternatives in the parents' particular geographical area.

"He really has a mind of his own," says Marshall. "We were both sitting there in my office and I thought he was full of baloney and he thought I was full of baloney. But I had the data and he didn't."

Marshall sits back in his chair and smiles. "So Vince went on a mission. He was out to prove me wrong and he knew he had to be good to do it."

Youngbauer's "mission" turned into his honors thesis. He writes: "While much is written concerning the reasons why parents choose to home school, I am more interested in the number of home schoolers and their locations in Pennsylvania. The spatial organization of these students offers a picture for study that existing research seems to have ignored."

Youngbauer set out to draw that picture. Parents pull their kids out of public schools for many reasons, he notes, some religious, some pedagogical. "There tends to be a build up and then an event—a last straw event," says Youngbauer. Then, because of location and economics, home schooling becomes the only alternative.

He pored over county data from the U.S. Census Bureau and from the Pennsylvania Department of Education: number of children educated at home, number of public schools, number of private schools, family income levels. In 1988, when Pennsylvania first made homeschooling legal, Cameron County had zero homeschoolers. In 1995, it had one of the highest percentages in the state. There are no private schools in Cameron County and only one public high school.

Youngbauer then used a geographic information system (GIS) software package called Arcview to map his data. He plotted the percentage of home schooled children per county, assigning each county a color: the lower the percentage of home schoolers, the lighter its color; the higher the percentage, the darker its color. A trend emerged—the areas around Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg were lighter, while the northern tiers of Pennsylvania, the more rural counties, were darker. When Youngbauer looked at the data for New York State, he saw that the dark areas went right across the state borders.

"It's not about rural versus urban though," explains Youngbauer. "It's about alternatives."

Youngbauer mapped the percent of private school students in each county too. "The counties that were high in home schoolers were low in private schoolers," he says.

"So if you don't like the schools and there are no alternatives, are you more likely to home school your kids?," Youngbauer asks. "What I found seems to say yes."

"This kind of research, a geographic trend analysis, hasn' t really been done for home schooling," says Marshall. "This started out as a process, the writing of a thesis. But Vince is on to something. I wanted him to submit it for publication.

"We had this series of badgering discussions," says Marshall. "I said who cares about this stuff, Vince? I made him think about an audience.

"Now, I've been sending copies of his thesis to my colleagues around the country."

Vince Youngbauer graduated in May 1998 with a BS in secondary education, with honors in curriculum and instruction. He received minors in geography and history. Dan Marshall, Ph.D., is professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education, 150 Chambers Building, University Park, PA 16802; 8148652239; Youngbauer also worked with Derek Holsworth in the department of geography.

Last Updated September 01, 1998