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The Evidence Is So Positive

What Current Research Tells Us About Homeschooling

By Brian D. Ray, PhD

Many people ask, “Are you hiding something?” after hearing a researcher present the research findings to date about homeschooling. Whether an advocate of home-based education or a negative critic, the questioner finds the plethora of positive information a little difficult to accept. It is now about 25 years into the modern homeschool movement in the United States—what does the research tell us?

The stereotypes are getting worn, but they still exist in many folks’ minds. They believe that homeschool parents are either move-to-the-country anarchist goat-herders or right-wing Bible- thumpers, and their children are either mathematically limited, due to Mama’s fear of math, or child prodigies in rocket science who are unthinkably socially hindered. Although one can find statistical deviants in every group, homeschool research tells a different story from the experience-based stereotypes and philosophical biases concerning those involved in home-based education.(This synoptic review of research is based on the author’s in-depth and long-term tracking of research on homeschooling. The reader who would like to access more of the primary sources on which the author relies should consult the following documents that are all listed as references and available online at www.nheri.org: McDowell & Ray (2000) and Ray (2000a, 2005, 2006a, 2006b).)

Brief History and Demographics
Although a millennia-old practice, parent-led home-based education had become almost extinct by the late 1970s in the US. Homeschooling was specially rekindled during the 1980s, promoted by individual parents and educational thinkers with a variety of backgrounds in pedagogical philosophies and religious worldviews. This author’s best estimate is that there were 1,900,000 to 2,400,000 K-12 students home educated during the 2005–2006 institutional school year (Ray, 2006b). Home-based education is now arguably the fastest-growing form of education compared to public and private institutional schooling.

Although measures of central tendency (e.g., mean, median, mode) mask the array of people involved in homeschooling, the following summaries give some idea of the current homeschool population, especially those in the US:

Both parents are actively involved in home-based education, with the mother/homemaker usually as the main academic teacher. Fathers do some of the formal academic teaching of the children and are engaged in many other ways in their lives.

The learning program is flexible and highly individualized, involving both homemade and purchased curriculum materials.

Some families purchase complete curriculum packages for their children, while others approach homeschooling with only a small degree of preplanned structure: this is often called “lifestyle of learning,” “relaxed homeschooling,” or “unschooling.”

As a rule, home-educated students have relatively little interaction with state-run schools or their services. A minority participate in public-school interscholastic activities such as sports and music ensembles, and some occasionally take an academic course in local schools or enroll in state-school controlled distance programs.

Children study a wide range of conventional subjects, with an emphasis on reading, writing, math, science, and integrating faith with living.

Many students take advantage of the flexibility provided by home education to participate in special studies and events, such as volunteer community work, political internships, travel, missionary excursions, animal husbandry, gardening, and national competitions.

Most homeschool children are taught at home for at least four to five years. Most parents intend to home-educate their youths through the high school years, and a high percentage do so.

They have larger-than-average families. On average, these families have about 3 to 3.5 children (over 50% above the US mean), and it is not uncommon for homeschool families to have 4 to 6 children.

Male and female students are equally represented.

A married couple head at least 95% of homeschooling families.

The typical homeschooling parent has attended or graduated from college (or university). About half of home educators have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Significant numbers, however, have only a high school education.

During the early 2000s, the total annual household income was under $25,000 for about 18% of the families; $25,000– 49,000 for about 44%; $50,000–74,000 for about 25%, and $75,000 or more for about 13%. This was close to the median (typical) income for American families.

In terms of philosophical worldview, a wide variety of parents and families homeschool. Over 75% regularly attend religious services. The majority are of the Christian faith and place a strong emphasis on orthodox and conservative biblical doctrine. Those other than Christians have always been a part of the modern homeschool movement. Furthermore, an increasing proportion of agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and New Agers are homeschooling their children.

In terms of racial/ethnic background, about 85% are white/non-Hispanic, but a rapidly increasing portion of minorities are engaging in home-based education.

Academic Performance
Standard thought in many nations for about 100 years has been that only professionally trained and state-certified persons can effectively teach children to read, write, and cipher. Almost all teachers in state-run institutional schools are trained in teaching institutions and certified by the state, while a small minority of homeschool parents are such. The question arises, therefore, “Can and does homeschooling work academically?” Numerous studies by dozens of researchers have been completed during the past 25 years that examine the academic achievement of the home educated (see reviews, e.g., Ray, 2000b; 2005). Examples of these studies range from a multi-year study in Washington State to three nationwide studies across the United States to two nationwide studies in Canada by various researchers. In study after study, the homeschooled have scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests in the US and Canada, compared to the public school average of the 50th percentile.

Further investigation has found that children in homeschool families with low income and in which the parents have little education are scoring, on average, above state institutional school averages (Ray, 2000b, 2005, ch. 4), and whether the parents have ever been certified teachers has little to no relationship to their children’s academic achievement. Furthermore, those promoting state control of all children and their education claim that state control will cause homeschool students to learn more. In fact, however, research does not even show a correlation between the degree of state control of homeschooling and academic achievement, let alone a cause-and-effect relationship (Ray, 2005).

Homeschool Students’ Social, Emotional, and Psychological Development
The question has not yet faded into the past: What about socialization? Homeschool parents call it the “S question.” This question arises mainly in societies in which the institutionalization of children is the norm for children during the ages of 6 to 18. The first part of the “S question” usually asks whether the child will experience healthy social, emotional, and psychological development. Numerous studies, employing various psychological constructs and measures, show the home-educated are developing at least as well as, and often better than, those who attend institutional schools (Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2005, ch. 4). This is the research conclusion as of now.

For example, regarding the aspect of self-concept in the psychological development of children, several studies have revealed that the self-concept of homeschooled students is significantly higher than that of public school students. As another example, Dr. Larry Shyers of Florida found that the only significant childhood social-interaction difference between the institutionally schooled and homeschoolers was that the institutionally schooled had higher problem behavior scores. The second question related to socialization is how the homeschooled child will do in the “real world.”

The “Real World of Adulthood”?
Many define the “real world” as the world of adulthood in which one is responsible for obtaining one’s own food, shelter, and clothing. For some college students, the “real world” is still four years away. Others are already in the “real world,” because, in addition to taking classes, they work to provide their own food and shelter. An operational definition of the “real world” could be debated a long time; to simplify the matter for this article, the “real world” is defined as life after the secondary-school years.

Dr. Linda Montgomery, a principal of a private high school in Washington State, was one of the first to examine the future and adulthood of the home educated. She investigated the extent to which homeschooled students were experiencing conditions that foster leadership in children and adolescents who attend institutional schools. Her findings on 10- to 21-year-olds showed that the home-educated were certainly not isolated from social and group activities with other youth and adults. They were quite involved in youth group and other church activities, jobs, sports, summer camps, music lessons, and recitals. She concluded that homeschooling nurtured leadership at least as well as does the conventional system.

Susannah Sheffer executed her exploration by talking with homeschooled adolescent girls moving into adulthood. Sheffer began her report by citing the work of Carol Gilligan and her colleagues in the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development who, lamenting, “have written about girls’ ‘loss of voice’ and increasing distrust of their own perceptions.” Sheffer suggested that the great difference in structure and function—the way things work, the relationships people have, expected behaviors, and the roles people play—between homeschooling and conventional schooling may have explained why she found so many of these home-educated adolescents to have not lost their voice and sense of identity. Meredith, a 14-year-old in Sheffer’s study, said, “I was worried that I would become a typical teenager if I went to school” and, “I think some people would have seen [school] as my opportunity to ‘be like everybody else.’ But I didn’t want to be like everybody else.” Sheffer concluded, “Throughout this book the homeschooled girls I’ve interviewed have echoed these statements. They have talked about trusting themselves, pursuing their own goals, maintaining friendships even when their friends differ from them or disagree with them.” Finally, these home-educated girls maintain their self-confidence as they pass into womanhood.

Drs. Galloway and Sutton found that homeschooled students demonstrated similar academic preparedness for college and similar academic achievement in college English courses as students who had attended conventional schools. Likewise, Drs. Oliveira, Watson, and Sutton found that home-educated college students had a slightly higher overall mean critical thinking score than did students from public schools, Christian schools, and ACE [private] schools, but the differences were not statistically significant.

Similarly, Jones and Gloeckner (2004) cited three studies as showing the home educated to be performing as well as or better than institutional-school graduates at the college level. Jones and Gloeckner, in their own study, concluded: “The academic performance analyses indicate that home school graduates are as ready for college as traditional high school graduates and that they perform as well on national college assessment tests as traditional high school graduates” (p. 20).

The ACT and SAT are the best-known tests used as predictors of success in university or college in America. Both the SAT and ACT publishers have descriptively reported for several years that the scores of the homeschooled are higher, on average, than those from public schools. For example, for the 1999–2000 school year, the home-educated scored an average of 568 in verbal on the SAT, while the state-school (i.e., public-school) average was 501, and 532 in math, while the state school average was 510 (Barber, 2001).

Drs. Sutton and Galloway also compared homeschool, public-school, and private- school graduates who were then in college in terms of success (i.e., academic achievement, leadership, professional aptitude, social behavior, and physical activity). There were no significant differences among the three groups in most of the studied variables. Results from multivariate analysis of variance showed, however, that college graduates from homeschooling held significantly more leadership posts for significantly greater periods of time than did the private school group, while there was no significant difference on these variables between the homeschooled and public-schooled.

Although over the past two decades some college and university personnel have shown animosity toward the homeschooling process, it appears that most are now interested in welcoming the home educated. One survey asked many questions of 34 college admission officers in Ohio, who averaged 10 years of experience in college admission work and of whom 88% had personal experience working with homeschooled students (Ray, 2001b). For example, they were asked how homeschooled students at their institution compared to their general student population in terms of academic success. About 9% said “far more academically successful,” 22% reported “somewhat more academically successful,” 38% said “academically about average,” 0% reported “somewhat less academically successful,” 0% said “far less academically successful,” and 31% said “don’t know.” Likewise, Dr. Irene Prue’s nationwide study of college admission personnel revealed that homeschoolers were academically, emotionally, and socially prepared to succeed in college.

Several colleges think so well of homeeducated students that they have been actively recruiting them for several years (e.g., Biola University, Boston University, Nyack College). Christopher Klicka’s survey (1998, p. 3) of college admission officers found a Dartmouth College admission officer saying, “The applications [from homeschoolers] I’ve come across are outstanding. Homeschoolers have a distinct advantage because of the individualized instruction they have received.”

A few researchers have examined adults who were home educated without necessarily linking them to the college scene. Dr. Gary Knowles and his colleagues were among the first to focus research on adults who were home educated, collecting extensive data from a group who were home educated an average of about six years before they were 17 years old. He found that they tended to be involved in entrepreneurial and professional occupations, were fiercely independent, and strongly emphasized the importance of family. Furthermore, they were glad they had been home educated, would recommend homeschooling to others, and had no grossly negative perceptions of living in a pluralistic society.

Dr. Ray (2004) has conducted the largest nationwide study of home-educated adults. The target population was all homeschooled adults in the US. Most of his findings were consistent with what Dr. Knowles and his colleagues found. Of the 7,306 participating adults who had been homeschooled, 5,254 had been homeschooled for seven or more years during K-12. This subset of participants had several things in common:

Regarding the primary method of instruction used during their homeschool years (of nine listed in the survey), 34% selected “more than one of the above,” 25% chose “traditional textbooks and assignments,” and 22% responded “eclectic, directed by parent.”

A higher percent of them had taken some college courses than the general US population of similar age, and a higher percent of the home educated already had a baccalaureate.

More of the home educated (98%) read a book in the past six months than did the general population (69%).

More of the homeschooled (100%) read one or more magazines on a regular basis than the general population (89%).

Seventy-one percent of the homeschooled “… participate in any ongoing community service activity …” compared to 37% of the general population.

For those age 18 to 24, 76% of the homeschooled voted in the past five years while 29% of the same-age general population in the US voted.

Of those ages 18 to 24, 14% of the home educated participated in a protest or boycott during the past 12 months while 7% of the general population did so.

In essence and on average, the home educated were very positive about their homeschool experiences, actively involved in their local communities, keeping abreast of current affairs, highly civically engaged, going on to college at a higher rate than the national average, tolerant of others’ expressing their viewpoints, religiously active, but wide-ranging in their worldview beliefs, holding worldview beliefs similar to those of their parents, and largely home-educating their own children.

The data on the degree of community involvement and civic engagement of adults who were homeschooled are not shocking. After all, Drs. Christian Smith and David Sikkink and Dr. Brian Ray (2001a, 2001b), in separate studies, found that homeschool parents, the main models for their children, were highly civically engaged.

More of the homeschooled (100%) read one or more magazines on a regular basis than the general population (89%).

Seventy-one percent of the homeschooled “… participate in any ongoing community service activity …” compared to 37% of the general population.

For those age 18 to 24, 76% of the homeschooled voted in the past five years while 29% of the same-age general population in the US voted.

Of those ages 18 to 24, 14% of the home educated participated in a protest or boycott during the past 12 months while 7% of the general population did so.

In essence and on average, the home educated were very positive about their homeschool experiences, actively involved in their local communities, keeping abreast of current affairs, highly civically engaged, going on to college at a higher rate than the national average, tolerant of others’ expressing their viewpoints, religiously active, but wide-ranging in their worldview beliefs, holding worldview beliefs similar to those of their parents, and largely home-educating their own children.

The data on the degree of community involvement and civic engagement of adults who were homeschooled are not shocking. After all, Drs. Christian Smith and David Sikkink and Dr. Brian Ray (2001a, 2001b), in separate studies, found that homeschool parents, the main models for their children, were highly civically engaged.

 
What Does All This Tell Us?
Researchers are consistently unearthing evidence that home-based discipleship (a.k.a. homeschooling) is associated with positive or good measurable things (e.g., high academic achievement, positive selfconcept, high frequency of voting). Some of these scholars have also, rightfully, pointed out the limitations of their studies. For example, Dr. Ray (2000b) wrote: “… this is not a causal-comparative study … background variables in this ex post facto study are not controlled in such a way as to make possible conclusions about the causes of academic achievement test scores being higher or lower than those of students in conventional schools” and “… one should keep in mind the limitations of representativeness and generalizability” in this study (p. 81). In other words, subjects in most studies are not randomly selected, then randomly assigned to “treatment groups,” as one might do in a laboratory test of a new anti-fungal remedy for rats.

The design of most research to date does not allow for the conclusion that homeschooling necessarily causes higher academic achievement or better social and emotional development than does public (or private) institutional schooling. On the other hand, research to date does not refute the hypothesis that homeschooling causes more positive effects than does institutional public (or private) schooling. Along these lines, Dr. Ray (2000b), after reviewing many studies on homeschooling and conducting several himself, delicately wrote: “Assuming, for the sake of discussion and based on a multitude of studies, that home schooling is associated with high academic achievement (and possibly causes it), one could ask whether there is any link between the preceding list of positive factors and the nature of the educational ‘treatment’ known as home schooling” (p. 92).

Despite the fact that scholars who have conducted the studies have not claimed that research shows homeschooling causes higher achievement (or healthier social and emotional development), others have attempted to use research to obliquely attack both researchers of and advocates of homeschooling. Typically, the attacks are verbal and not published in writing.(The author can substantiate this claim only by his experience listening to and reading radio, television, and print-media interviews and not being able to locate many published attacks during his approximately 22 years of following discussions and debates about homeschooling.) Most interestingly, however, the negative critics of home-based education have not produced empirical researchbased findings that institutional schooling causes better, or even equal, positive outcomes in individuals and society than does homeschooling.

A Fleeting Fad?
Parent-led home-based education is growing and will continue to grow in the US and around the world (Ray, 2005). Researchers and educators find that homeschooling lends itself, systemically, to several practices found to be desirable in the education of children, youth, and adults. Many philosophers, sociologists, and historians find homeschooling to have beneficial influences on children, families, and societies. To date, the body of empirical research repeatedly reveals, typically and on average, positive things associated with biblically prescribed parent- led home-based discipleship.

Editor’s note: Much more information than what is presented here is available in Dr. Ray’s newest book, Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling: Facts and Stats on the Benefits of Home School. We encourage you to obtain it for your own research studies and to consider supporting NHERI. Please take a look at Dr. Ray’s website, www.nheri.org.

References

Barber, Geoff. (2001, February 20). Personal communication via fax with Geoff Barber, Educational Testing Service.

Jones, Paul, & Gloeckner, Gene. (2004, Spring). A study of homeschool graduates and traditional school graduates. The Journal of College Admission, 183, 17-20.

Klicka, Christopher J. (1998). Homeschool students excel in college (special report). Purcellville, VA: Home School Legal Defense Association.

McDowell, Susan A., & Ray, Brian D. (Eds.). (2000). The home education movement in context, practice, and theory [Special issue]. Peabody Journal of Education, 75 (1 & 2), 300 pp.

Medlin, Richard G. (2000). Home schooling and the question of socialization. Peabody Journal of Education, 75 (1 & 2), 107-123.

Ray, Brian D. (2000a). Home schooling for individuals’ gain and society’s common good. Peabody Journal of Education, 75 (1 & 2), 272-293.

——. (2000b). Home schooling: The ameliorator of negative influences on learning? Peabody Journal of Education, 75 (1 & 2), 71-106.

——. (2001a). Home education in New Mexico: Family characteristics, academic achievement, and social and civic activities. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute, www.nheri.org.

——. (2001b). Home Education in Ohio: Family characteristics, academic achievement, social and civic activities, and college admissions officers’ thoughts. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute, www.nheri.org.

——. (2004). Home educated and now adults: Their community and civic involvement, views about homeschooling, and other traits. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute, www.nheri.org.

——. (2005). Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling, 2005-2006. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.

——. (2006a). Home centered learning annotated bibliography. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute, www.nheri.org.

——. (2006b, July 10). Research facts on homeschooling. Retrieved 10/11/06 online http://www.nheri.org/content/ view/199/.

Brian D. Ray, PhD, is president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization. Brian and Betsy have eight children, in their 20s and younger, all of whom they home educated. The Ray family lives on a small farm in western Oregon.

Copyright 2007.
Originally appeared in Winter 2006/7. Used with permission.
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.
www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com


 

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