Stop Saying Homeschoolers Are Brilliant!

"When you compare homeschool test scores to public school test scores without controlling for background variables, you aren’t actually measuring the results of being homeschooled, you’re measuring the results of being in a demographic that is, to quote from the ICHER FAQ, “whiter, more religious, more married, better educated, and wealthier than national averages.”

Libby Anne

Growing up, I read HSLDA’s Home School Court Report and various other homeschool newsletters. I attended homechool conferences and listened to my parents praise the virtues of homeschooling to people they met. I came away believing that homeschooling in and of itself causes kids to excel academically—and that studies had proven this. I heard over and over again that homechoolers scored in the 80th percentile, and listened raptly to stories of homeschoolers getting into Harvard or starting college at age 12. So I’m not surprised that as I’ve addressed homeschooling over the past few weeks commenters have been repeating all of this back to me once again. But when it comes down to it, all of this was wrong—propaganda.

Let me start by quoting from the International Center for Home Education Research (ICHER)

How does U.S. homeschoolers’ academic performance compare with other students?

Evidence regarding this question has been fraught with controversy because most of the studies that have received widest attention have been interpreted to say something they do not and cannot. We simply can’t draw any conclusions about the academic performance of the “average homeschooler,” because none of the studies so often cited employ random samples representing the full range of homeschoolers.

For example, two large U.S. studies (Rudner, 1999; Ray, 2009) are frequently cited as definitive evidence that homeschoolers academically outperform public and private school students. But in both cases, the homeschool participants were volunteers responding to an invitation by the nation’s most prominent advocacy organization to contribute test scores (on tests usually administered by parents in the child’s own home). The demographics of these samples were far whiter, more religious, more married, better educated, and wealthier than national averages. And yet these test score results were compared to average public school scores that included children from all income levels and family backgrounds. Not surprisingly, wealthy homeschoolers from stable two-parent families who take tests administered by their parents in the comfort of their own homes outscore the average public school child by large margins.

The simple fact is that no studies of academic achievement exist that draw from a representative, nationwide sample of homeschoolers and control for background variables like socio-economic or marital status. It is thus impossible to say whether or not homeschooling as such has any impact on the sort of academic achievement measured by standardized tests.

International Center for Home Education Research (ICHER), a nonpartisan group of scholars who share a common interest in studying homeschooling.

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Claims of Academic Success Rely on Anecdotes, Flawed Data Analysis ..., Dennis J. Willard and Doug Oplinger, November 15, 2004, Akron Beacon Journal

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It’s not that homeschooling doesn’t or can’t work. The studies HSLDA and other groups tout do show that homeschoolers can succeed academically (though these studies never show that this success is because of homeschooling rather than because of background factors like race, class, and parental involvement). Being homeschooled does not automatically result in academic failure, and parents can successfully teach their children. But being homeschooled doesn’t automatically result in success either.

Joan,

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Now I have some tools to argue about home schooling.

Basically there is nothing inherently wrong with it... but it requires a very serious commitment on the part of the parents. 

Home schooling can be legitimate when you have children that would find it difficult to attend school for physical or mental reasons. In those cases, home school by all means.

The abuse we see in such programs is those that home school because of religious views. I'm not sure how they word it, but this is what they do. Such children will come away from their education being indoctrinated into a different world, and so much so that they might be laughed at. This within itself is child abuse.

Like private schools, some of the motivation for homeschooling comes from those opposed to public schools based on their religious and moral beliefs. I'm not saying that kids from home schools invariably or necessarily end up more poorly educated than their peers in public schools, or suffer from a lack of proper socialization. In my experience as a teacher though, most of the kids I've seen that are removed from public schools to be home schooled have disciplinary problems and/or are performing very poorly academically. I wonder what kind of plan the parents have, if any, for turning all that around; I'm very skeptical. My biggest concern is that some politicians persistently try to divert funds from public schools to private or home schooling in a thinly disguised ploy to insert more religious instruction into curriculum. In my state this is a constant struggle, where so many people are indignant about religion having been removed from schools in the first place. First Rick Perry and now Greg Abbott; there's no end in sight.

Andres, and our classrooms had to include children with disabilities, emotional problems, unresolved conflicts at home, the aggressive child, and on and on. A mother, father, or tutor for a child at home, for whatever reason, reduces the numbers enrolled in the public schools. Funding for education too often takes a back seat to other needs. Having a good principal, well trained counselors makes a big difference. 

It is exciting when a teacher sees a parent who is involved with their children's education and takes the responsibility seriously. 

Sorry, Andrew, I misspelled your name, 

I actually was home schooled from the 5th grade to the 9th grade. This was largely due to extreme bullying. I did pretty well with it, my parents were largely not involved at all. I went once a week to talk with a teacher, they'd give me a week of assignments I'd go home and do it all (usually in a day or two) then bring them back the next week.

I also spent a lot of time in self study reading every book I could possibly get my hands on, even when I had to hide them from my baptist parents.

Occasionally my dad would storm into the makeshift classroom I had on the back patio screaming that I needed to dress nicer even though I wasn't leaving the house (I would wear PJ"s most days).

This jackass would then go sit in his office for 8 hours in his underwear making multi million dollar sales with PhD's over the phone.... Hypocrite much?

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