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No one needs research evidence to convince him that murder is bad for people. And why does anyone need research to show her that loving parental involvement in a child’s life is good for his education?
Most Christian parents homeschool because they know that parent-led home-based discipleship is biblically normative. It is good for children, by God’s design. It is good thing, a right thing. But many find it comforting to know what the research shows. So, what does research tell us?
Parent-led home-based education was the norm around the world for six millennia. Then in many “advanced nations” it became nearly extinct by 1900. However, it regenerated in the late 1970s and has now grown to roughly 2.2 million K-12 homeschool students (and their parents and siblings) in the United States. This is astounding.
Home educating parents are from all social and racial/ethnic backgrounds: parents with a 10th-grade education, others with Ph.D.s; the wealthy and the less well-off; agnostics, Christians, humanists, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and New Age devotees; families with eight children and those with one; married couples and single parents; those in the inner city and those in the wilderness of Alaska; sales clerks, public schoolteachers, doctors, and plumbers; and, parents who never stopped being the main and daily educators of their son from his birth, as well as parents who removed their daughter during the seventh grade from an institutional school setting.
Public opinion about homeschooling has greatly improved. One reason for this is the empirical evidence on how the homeschooled are doing academically, socially, and in life in the world of adulthood.
How Are Homeschoolers Doing Academically? How Do They Score? Major nationwide studies such as those by myself and Dr. Lawrence Rudner, and multiple smaller-scale studies, are consistent in their findings. In repeated studies, home-educated students typically score at the 65th to 80th percentile on nationally normed standardized achievement tests(1). This is 15 to 30 points higher, on average, than public-school students, whose average is the 50th percentile. In addition, state-collected data also show the home-educated to be performing well above average(2).
Repeated studies show that home-educated students generally score above average regardless of whether either parent has ever held a state-issued teaching certificate. Home-educated students whose parents are high school graduates (with no additional formal education) are scoring well above the national average on achievement tests. On the other hand, public-school students with similarly educated parents score below the national average.
There is no correlation between the degree of state regulation or control of homeschooling and homeschool students’ achievement. Home-educated children in states with low regulation score just as well as those in high-regulation states.
For public-school students, household income is correlated strongly with student achievement. That is, public-school students from low-income homes score well below average. Homeschool students, on the other hand, are scoring well above average regardless of their families’ income.
What about Socialization?
What about children’s socialization? Multiple researchers and their studies find, however, the home-educated to be developing as well or better socially, emotionally, and psychologically than institutionally schooled children and youth. Dr. Medlin offered a full review of research finding there is a positive connection between homeschooling and children’s social, emotional, and psychological development(3).
And a new nationwide study finds “… that homeschooled adolescents were significantly more likely to strongly disapprove of their peers drinking … and trying … and routinely using … marijuana. Homeschooled adolescents were significantly less likely toreport using tobacco …, alcohol …, cannabis … and other illicit drugs and to be diagnosed with an alcohol … or marijuana … use disorder. Finally, homeschooled adolescents were also less likely to report easier access to illicit drugs and to be approached by someone trying to sell drugs compared to non-homeschooled peers."(4)
Home-educated students and their parents are very engaged in their communities, including activities such as sports teams, co-operative classes, church activities, and community service. Further, homeschool children typically interact with a broader range of ages (of children and adults) than do most institutional school children.
How Will They Do in the “Real World” of Adulthood? Dr. Ray studied over 7,000 adults in the United States who had been home-educated.(5) In some ways, those who were home-educated are like other adults who further their education in college or otherwise, develop careers, marry, and have children. But they are different in other ways. The homeschooled are more civically engaged than other adults, shown by the fact that they vote, attend public meetings, write or telephone editors and public officials, participate in protests and boycotts, contribute money to political candidates, parties, and causes, and work for political candidates, parties, and causes at a higher rate than do their American adult peers.
Another study of over 9,000 adults who were churched growing up compared those from different schooling backgrounds.(6) Those who were home-educated were 2.2 times as likely to be a Christian believer as those who attended Christian schools, and 2.5 times as likely to be a believer as those who were churched and attended public schools. Also, 9% of the homeschooled had engaged in cohabitation/ fornication while 22% of the Christian schooled had done so and 34% of the public-schooled had done so.
Research findings by others are consistent with these findings. For example, Dr. Gary Knowles and Dr. James Muchmore found the following: “Respect for individual differences and a concern for others, for instance, were values shared by all of them. . . . Moreover, these adults did not appear to exhibit characteristics that imply that they were disadvantaged as a result of their home education experiences, as critics of home education suggest.”(7) And scholar Cheng found that greater exposure to homeschooling (versus public schooling) is associated with more political tolerance in adulthood. (8)
But Why Are the Home-Educated Doing So Well?
There are several reasonable explanations for the positive performance and development of the home-educated.
First, the one-on-one tutorial method of instruction has been recognized throughout history as very effective and research supports this belief.9 The advantages of personal, in-depth teacher-student interaction is hard to beat, whether the field is blacksmithing, mathematics, electronics, or theology.
Second, individualization, customizing curriculum and instruction to each student’s strengths, limitations, learning style, and interests, is a proven way to maximize educational progress in general, and especially for special needs students.(10)
Third, providing a safe and challenging learning environment is a goal of every effective teacher, and naturally occurs in a homeschool setting. The children and youth are not distracted by off-based comments by 27 other students (but possibly by only 1 to 10) or distracted by so many other things.
Fourth, sociologists consider another example of why the homeschooled are doing so well. Research shows that social capital (that is generated by relationships, trust, and social norms) and a consistency of values, beliefs, and worldview between teacher and student has a positive effect on student learning.
Fifth, home education offers consistently parent-guided social interaction for children and youth. Children in institutional schools become more peer-oriented, and suffer the negative effects of this (e.g., undermining of family cohesion, interference with healthy development, causing aggression and anxiety in children and youth, and fostering a hostile and sexualized youth culture),(11) than do children who are home-educated. Adult/parent-orientation is Biblical, and research supports the fact it is also good for children as measured according to many variables.(12)
Finally, children and adults who are and were home-educated do well, on average, because their parents have engaged them in Biblical education and discipleship. One should expect them to do well. Home-based education uniquely offers an opportunity to benefit the practices, relationships, and environment that lead to academic and personal moral and social success.(13) And, the reasons are many.
Dr. Brian Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI.org). His Ph.D. is in science education and he has published numerous articles and books, been repeatedly interviewed by major media, served as an expert witness in court cases, and testified to legislatures regarding educational issues. Dr. Ray is a leading international expert in research on homeschooling. He holds a Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University. Brian and Betsy have been married 37 years and have eight children, all of whom have been homeschooled, and they have eight grandchildren.
1. Several research studies are cited in this review, but the references are far from exhaustive.
More complete reviews and bibliographies of research on home education can be found in sources such as the following: (a) Ray, Brian D. (2005). A homeschool research story. In Bruce S. Cooper (Ed.), Home schooling in full view: A reader, p. 1-19. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing. (b) Ray, Brian D. (2008, September 24). Bibliography of research on homeschooling: International. Retrieved July 30, 2012 from http://www.nheri.org/research/bibliography-references-studies-international.html. (c) Ray, Brian D., & Eagleson, Bruce K. (2008, August 14). State regulation of homeschooling and homeschoolers’ SAT scores. Journal of Academic Leadership, 6(3). Retrieved January 23, 2009 from http://www.academicleadership.org/emprical_research/State_Regulation_of_Homeschooling_and_Homeschoolers_SAT_Scores.shtml. (d) Ray, Brian D. (2010, February 3). Academic achievement and demographic traits of homeschool students: A nationwide study. Academic Leadership Journal, 8(1). Retrieved February 10, 2010 from http://www.academicleadership.org/emprical_research/Academic_Achievement_and_Demographic_Traits_of_Homeschool_Students_A_Nationwide_Study.shtml.
2. Oregon Department of Education. (2014). Home schooling–data. Retrieved March 28, 2014 from http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=2081.
3. (a) Medlin, Richard G. (2000). Home schooling and the question of socialization. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 107-123. (b) Shyers, Larry E. (1992). A comparison of social adjustment between home and traditionally schooled students. Home School Researcher, 8(3), 1-8.
4. Vaughn, Michael G., Salas-Wright, Christopher P., Kremer, Kristen P., Maynard, Brandy R., Roberts, Greg, Vaughn, & Sharon. Are homeschooled adolescents less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs? Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.08.010.
5. Ray, Brian D. (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.
6. Brian D. (2015, January 30). Gen2 Survey: A spiritual and educational survey on Christian millennials. Retrieved March 12, 2015 from http://www.nheri.org/research/gen2-survey-a-spiritual-and-educational-survey-on-christian-millennials.html.
7. Knowles, J. Gary, & Muchmore, James A. (1995). Yep! We're grown-up home-school kids--and we’re doing just fine, thank you. Journal of Research on Christian Education, 4(1), 35-56; quotes from p. 48-49, 52.
8. Cheng, Albert. (2014). Does homeschooling or private schooling promote political Intolerance? Evidence from a Christian university. Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 8(1), 49-68.
9. (a) Bloom, Benjamin S. (1984, May). The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Leadership, 41(8), 4-17. (b) Gordon, Edward E., & Gordon, Elaine H. (1990). Centuries of tutoring: A history of alternative education in America and Western Europe. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
10. Ray, Brian D. (2002). Customization through homeschooling. Educational Leadership, 59(7), 50-54.
11. Neufeld, Gordon, & Maté, Gabor. (2004). Hold on to your kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
12. To keep informed of new research on homeschooling, sign up for Dr. Ray’s free newsletters at http://www.nheri.org/connect.html.
13. Ray, Brian D. (2000). Home schooling: The ameliorator of negative influences on learning? Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 71-106.
Copyright 2016 The Old Schoolhouse® used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print 2016 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine.