Friday, August 10, 2012

Homeschoolers outperform publicly schooled youth on traditional measures

I've become interested in home education after discovering how amazingly well home educated children are learning. Once I dug a little deeper I began learning about families who were home educating following a philosophy that leans more toward unschooling also known as learning naturally via a life without school. As a result many of the myths I had been lead to believe about learning were quickly shattered.

Why is this important for someone who is passionate about public education and in fact has been a part of the system for more than a decade? Because educators have a lot to learn about learning from home educating families. In fact, if we don't, we are doing young people a disservice and moving further and further toward the irrelevance and disconnection that leads so many young people toward tuning out or worse, dropping out with rates around 50% in cities like those in which I've lived (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York).

One belief educators and parents often come back with is that home education can't possibly be the best for learning because young people deserve highly trained professionals, not just their parents, to best support their learning. Here are some reasons this belief is flawed.

  • First, it is important to note that homeschooling doesn't mean you isolate your children and only one person supports their learning. Home educated young people learn from a variety of experts who are both experienced in teaching and in their profession as well as from peers, others, and from just doing stuff. You'll often hear home educated individuals praise the fact that they get to actually do so much stuff as opposed to school kids who spend a lot of time reading and hearing about other people doing stuff.  
  • Second, the research shows that teacher certification does not correlate to higher student achievement. Additionally, when we go to the numbers, we see that home educated youth are outperforming their publicly educated peers.

Homeschooling author Linda Dobson shared this infographic with me and members of the homeschooling / unschooling / DIY learning group. (See her take here.) It provides an overview of some of those numbers.

Homeschool Domination
Created by: College At Home


  1. Aside from some major issues with the data in this infographic--the sources include and homeschooling sites as opposed to actual research papers (the exception being the cato institute paper)--couldn't the difference between these children's success rates be attributed to caring parents?

    Nearly all academic research suggests that a solid home life is hugely influential in a child's school success, and it seems to me that if a parent wants to homeschool their child they really care about them and thus home life is probably pretty good.

    The statistics we need to see is how homeschooled children do when they return to school or before they leave school compared to how they do on tests at home. Comparing them to national statistics which includes homeless children, children of abusive homes, etc., doesn't really tell us if homeschool performs better than public education.

    I would like to point out that these statistics can be extremely difficult to get, because in my state, homeschoolers are not required to take any tests aside from college entry tests, so we actually have no basis of comparison.

    1. There's also something very classist and sexist about the homeschooling side of that infographic. The top three father's professions are listed and there's no effect of household income on homeschooled kids?

      Your point, anonymous was dead on. Life at home must be pretty good and dad must be taking in a salary that is enough to support both mom and child(ren). And mom's role here is obviously to stay home and watch the kids.

      As someone who comes from a home with two working parents and is married to a woman who has a successful career, I take offense to this, and to the notion that we're somehow depriving our child because we both work very hard to provide him with every opportunity possible.

      The graphic is pretty. But like you said, it doesn't give enough but a bunch of pretty pictures and numbers that are skewed for the purposes of propaganda.

  2. Great points!!

    I currently home school my 6 children and would love to see data that more accurately compares apples to apples as you suggest.

    From where I sit, however, the only comparison that matters to me is the college level one. Unless, of course, you're talking about the kind of REAL evaluating that this blog espouses. How they compare or fit (back) in with public school kids is once again comparing apples to oranges in my opinion.

    1. She won't give you a college one. Or maybe she will. It depends on whether or not she's supporting college this week.

    2. Come on @Anonymous. I've shared many times on this blog how well home educated youth do when it comes to getting into college.

      As far as supporting college or not, I do neither. That is up to what works best for the individual.

  3. My take on this post is that the learning environment of homeschoolers is worth investigating in terms of the freedom it gives learners and teachers. Clark Aldrich's book, Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education, discusses this in detail. His 55 rules are each worthy of further exploration.

  4. I'd have to say Anonymous is right on point. Home schooled students generally have the one most important thing in their favor - a caring, supportive family. It is also why many charter and private school students do so well. Many charters and private schools require lots of family involvement in the student's education. Public schools can't mandate this and even if they could, it is not the same as the self-selected care and support you find in the home schooled, charter and private school settings. This is the ingredient that is missing in the public school debate - the fact that one of the biggest problems public schools face has nothing to do with the school and everything to do with the environments that the kids face when they return home each day. Parenting is the most important factor in a child's education and their future success.

    1. Thank you. And that's not to say that public schools don't try very hard to help students overcome issues at home. In my career, I have worked very closely with a good crop of teachers, counselors, and administrators to help students who have very tough situations at home ranging from stark poverty to abusive parents to absent parents do their best. It is an extremely tough job and with it comes a tremendous amount of frustration and sometimes even hurt. But I don't know anyone I work with who would stop doing it.

      I think that messages like these from homeschool supporters undermine their mission anyway. Why the need to constantly tout how "better" you are? Do you have a complex or something?

    2. Bravo!

      And I agree that false bravado only alienates what could be mutually supportive educational communities. Our family has benefited in many ways from public schools. Hopefully our participation has been a good thing for others too, and not in a way that demeans others.

      Why not make all educational venues mutually beneficial for all? I'm not sure what that would look like of course...

    3. @TeachJ,

      I share this post in part keeping in mind some of the attacks on home educating parents by members of groups like United Opt Out. Groups like this tell parents that they have no business supporting their children's learning and this can only be done in schools by trained educators.

      The big point of this post is indeed that if school is not working for a child that has caring, involved parents, home education can be an amazing option.

  5. I think we need to be careful in implying (or outright saying) that the reasons homeschool kids do better is that they come from a supportive family - the implication is that public school kids come from unsupportive families.

    As a homeschooling mom, I can tell you that support is only one part of the success. I work full-time, as does my husband, so my children have a myriad of experts (people who received degrees in their field, not in teaching) as well as my husband and I and other families. What public school could do that for its students? Also, when my son struggles with a tricky math concept, we can pause where we are and approach it from different angles. We can put history off until tomorrow and take extra time on this issue. If my daughter saw something on television about the Mars landing, we can put off our science unit on plants and move on to planets.

    Flexibility, individualized attention, and diverse resources (most of which are free or very low-cost) give homeschools an advantage that a public school can never hope to duplicate. Instead of homeschoolers attacking public schoolers or vice versa, let's find ways of working together to help out as many children as possible. Let's discuss best practices, let's have conversations about overcoming hurdles, and let's learn from each other.

    Homeschooling has taught me how very individualized learning and success can be. Judging implies insecurity in choices or defensiveness from being attacked about "being a bad parent." Can we leave all that at the door and come together to fix education for all children instead?

    1. "As a homeschooling mom, I can tell you that support is only one part of the success. I work full-time, as does my husband, so my children have a myriad of [sic] experts (people who received degrees in their field, not in teaching) as well as my husband and I and other families. What public school could do that for its students? "

      ***> Thanks for making me feel like teaching was a worthwhile pursuit. Obviously, I'm an idiot and I could never live up to your standards as a human being.

      I bow to your superiority.

  6. Of course homeschooling parents are supportive parents - that goes without saying. But as Professor Kate points out, lots of school parents are supportive as well. What homeschoolers see is that when we take our kids out of school they discover for themselves how cool it is to learn and grow. They stop needing to compare themselves with other kids (despite the fact that our society can't seem to stop doing this!). They start setting real goals for themselves rather than having goals such as "being able to stay awake long enough to study for my next exam."

    Homeschooling parents are an incredibly diverse bunch. Almost all of us take a huge income hit to homeschool, but we think it's worth it. I know poor families living on one income who homeschool. I know wealthy families who don't suffer much from losing an income. But what we share is that we all decide what's more important and we do what we need to do. If we have to cut out cable, dinners out, and movies in the theater, we do it.

    I agree that the data above is hardly solid. The evidence that drives me personally is the anecdotal evidence I get every single day. Homeschooled kids go to a museum and the teachers are wowed by how interested they are and what great questions they ask. Homeschooled kids go to college and professors who want to hate homeschooling have to admit that they are often among the best prepared students. Homeschooled kids soar in the things that matter to them, and they decide how far to go in the things that don't.

    So yes, when homeschooled kids re-enter traditional school, there are often problems. That's not surprising. But what happens when homeschooled kids enter LIFE? That's the question that really needs to be answered, the data that really needs to be gathered. I have no doubt that my kids would flail to a certain degree in public school. But I am pretty certain that they're going to do OK in life, and that's what I care about.

    1. What I find really interesting in this stream is the fact that the homeschooling parents do not attack the teachers in schools. The teachers themselves are mostly committed, sometimes great people. It is the system itself that is broken. It is also very interesting to read of the childish attacks that are heaped on the homeschooling parents in return... Quite sad.

  7. This is a peer-reviewed study that found homeschoolers had better test scores (for whatever that's worth) compared to schooled peers, and that family income and maternal education weren't statistically significant:

    But it also showed that _unschooled_ kids scored lower in every academic area, sometimes by as much as four grade levels. At the elementary level, that's pretty huge.

    I suspect homeschooling/unschooling parents will take all of this with a grain of salt. This is just one study, and at any rate most families don't homeschool in order to increase their children's test scores; they value other learning outcomes instead.

    That said, it would be nice if there could be a little less backlash against families who do prefer some structure, especially in the elementary grades. If you've traveled in some of the more extreme unschooling circles, you know what I'm talking about. (I'll never forget the parents who told one mother that enrolling her daughter in a weekly gymnastics class was child abuse.)

  8. Is the current school- based model delivering the best educational outcomes for the investment that society makes? That's the big question. Not much has changed in the basic framework. The State mandates that parents send their children to school (in NSW between 6-17). Schools group children according to age and base them in classrooms. The hours and holidays are almost the same as they were in the 19th and 20th century while other services have been deregulated. We're facing a future with an increase in extreme climate events, pandemics, significantly reduced fossil fuel and this will impact how we live. Teleworking is increasing and this gives some families more flexibility. There's a greater range of learning tools, eg. YOUTUBE, live video forums,that can accessed at home and in community spaces like community centres and libraries. Schools could be part of this community space, and these assets used more effectively.