Homeschooling: Opting for an Academically Superior Education

From an historical perspective, homeschooling one’s child is nothing either new or even particularly exotic.  For indeed, history is filled with people who have been taught primarily by their parents in the context of their own home.  In spite of this, many in today’s contemporary Western society are baffled by the re-emergence and steady growth of this this trend.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were approximately 850,000 homeschooled students in 1999.[1]  By 2008, the homeschooled population had climbed to somewhere between 2 to 2.5 million students across America.[2]  Assuming the more conservative figure of 2 million students, this suggests a decade-long trend in which homeschooling has grown by an annual rate of 10 to 12 percent each year.  In that same span of time, the general population of the United States has grown at a rate of 1.3% per year.

So what is causing this disproportionate and dramatic rise in home education?

Perhaps some of the answers can be found in the largest related research study to date.[3] In 1998, the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation gathered data from over 20,000 homeschooled students.  These students were asked to take one of two standardized tests that are widely used to measure the success of public education.[4]  The data was than analyzed by an impartial third party, whose own children attended public schools, thus ensuring that the results did not exhibit a bias towards home education.

What this study revealed was actually rather shocking.

On average, the typical home schooled student in grades 1-4 performs at one grade level higher than their public and private school counterparts.  It is particularly interesting to note the comparison to private school students, for that negates the argument the homeschool students are being measured against the broader cross-section of society that includes many economically, socially, and intellectually disadvantaged kids.  By comparing homeschooled students to private schools, the economic and social disadvantages are almost completely eliminated, as are the intellectual disadvantages.[5]

Even more interesting is what happens over the course of the next four years of the student’s life.  Beginning in the fifth grade, the performance gap begins to widen.  By the time the typical homeschool student reaches the eighth grade, he or she is now performing four grade levels above the national average.   This superior academic performance also seems to carry over to the standardized tests often taken by high school students.  In 2002, homeschooled students scored an average of 22.5 on the ACT, while the national average was just 20.8.[6]

Perhaps most intriguing for those that question the homeschooling movement were the findings related to teaching credentials.  The study found no statistically significant difference in the performance of homeschooled students whose parent possessed a teaching certificate versus those whose parent did not possess such certification.  In other words, within the home environment, there appears to be no correlation between teacher certification and student performance. 

So the question is: why do we, as a society, tend to fear the homeschooling movement?  What is it about educating a child at home that seems to threaten and concern so many?

[1] This data was culled from the National Center for Education Statistics study published in 2006 covering the year 2003.

[2] This data was taken from the National Home Education Research Institute lead by Dr. Brian Ray.

[4] If a student was in grades K-8, he or she took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).  If a student was in grades 9-12, he or she took the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP).

[5] Most private schools in the United States do not accept students with pronounced intellectual handicaps.

[6] This data was obtained through the Homeschooled Legal Defense Association.

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9 Responses to Homeschooling: Opting for an Academically Superior Education

  1. Bill Radford says:

    I don’t disagree with your positive comments regarding home schooling. I do wonder about statistics. I think it is safe to say that children who are taught at home have an advantage, and it is not necessarily that they are taught at home. I think their advantage is that they have very involved, interested and concerned parents who are paying at least as much attention to their children and their education and over all well being, as they are to their own careers or pass times. Obviously someone who doesn’t have the same level of concern is not going to take the time and effort to teach their children at home and therefore those kids are sent to public schools. Now there are many parents who have the same level of concern and interest and care as homeschooling parents who, for many reasons, choose to send their kids to school – some to private schools and some to public schools. As a result, the national average is skewed because it takes everyone into the statistical pool, but leaves out some (home and private school children) of the kids who are most likely to achieve higher academic success because of parental involvement. I think that high parental involvement and interest is most likely the most telling factor in a child’s academic success no matter how they are schooled.

    • I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here (minus the concern regarding the statistics). Parental involvement is critical. But every once in a while, you get a piece of legislation rearing its ugly head, trying to curtail homeschooling on the grounds that it has no standards. But based upon everything I have read, it appears to be a superior form on learning in that it involves individualized tutoring that is tailored to the student.

  2. I agree with what you said, Bill, about parents. Homeschool families, in most cases, have moms who stay at home so their primary focus on the week days is their kids education.

    Also, the difference between public and homeschool/private is the amount of students in each class. In my freshman class, there are 8 students so I find it less distracting, where as when I was at Barrington the classes averaged around 25 students. It was pretty hard for me to concentrate to be honest. But it really depends on the person. Alot of people are able to concentrate perfectly fine in a larger setting! I feel there are advantages to both homeschooling and public schooling, and having a smaller group setting is one of the advantages of homeschooling.

    As I was picking up my little sister from school, I encountered my 5th grade teacher and we started to chat. He was telling me that the class sizes are increasing every year and that it’s really hard to give each student the right amount of attention. Mainly because of the time limit of each subject taught and how fast the pace is going. He needs to get through so much in little time so it’s hard to be able to answer each persons questions. At CC, we can actually email the teachers our questions throughout the week, where as only the parents of the kids have access to their email.

    So being “homeschooled” (CC isn’t 100% homeschooling) is definitely an advantage because i’m getting a good amount of attention from teachers and parents both educationally AND personally. Because of this, I’ve found my knowledge in general has grown tremendously! This is my experience. It truly comes down to: is the student getting enough attention from their teachers? And is the child capable of learning in a larger setting? Both sides have their advantages and disadvantages. 🙂

  3. Ryan M. Mahoney says:

    Local teacher’s unions, NEA, and DNC.

  4. My two cents: I believe home-school is a thumbs up especially if parents pay attention to their children’s educational needs and just don’t leave them be or just focus on what achievements they have. What hurts most is when a child doesn’t get what he needs from his parents and that’s what matters.

  5. Bob Bryant says:

    The impact of the industrial revolution can not be ignored in this conversation. For this resulted in a larger problem here that being the separation of the adults from youth and the creation of age-graded school systems, which we now know and accept as the norm in our western society. However, as you pointed out Scott, the idea and principles of homeschooling is not all that foreign. I am not against the ideas of homeschooling, but rather struggle to see how this can be a viable option for many families today, like my own for example, that need the income of 2 salaries to support the cost of living? Sorry for the late comment, just hadn’t had a moment to sit down at a laptop and type.

    • Bob … I have often said that homeschooling is a privilege of the rich in this country. By that, I mean that homeschooling requires a family to be able to sustain itself on one income, something that not every family can pull off. At the same time, I know a number of families that choose to adopt a counter-cultural lifestyle that forgoes MANY of the luxuries that MANY of us believe to be necessities. And they do this for the sake of their children.

  6. Leah says:

    Many multigenerational families are making homeschooling happen on two incomes. If you still live with your parents you don’t need to quit your job…you don’t have to be rich to home school. You just need to be willing to give up a few bedrooms 🙂

    • Good morning Leah,

      Welcome to the site. You raise an interesting point about multi-generational families and homeschooling. But here is my honest queston. Have you ever really seen this played out? I have not. And I’m fairly embedded in the homeschooling community, so I honestly don’t think it happens as frequently as the people tend to make this point. Would you agree?

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