by J. Michael Smith
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) estimates there are more than 1.5 million children being taught at home. Furthermore, the DOE estimates that homeschooling has been growing at 7 percent a year for the last 10 years.
Two related questions many people ask are, “Why has homeschooling become so popular?” and “What is motivating parents to take on this daunting responsibility?” In the most recent report by the DOE, parents gave three basic reasons for choosing home education: to provide religious or moral instruction, concerns about the school environment, and dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.
Regarding the third reason, there is new research showing that the average homeschooler who takes standardized achievement tests is doing very well. The study, commissioned by the Home School Legal Defense Association and conducted by Brian Ray, an internationally recognized scholar and president of the nonprofit National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), is called “Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics.”
The study included almost 12,000 homeschool students from all 50 states who took three well-known standardized achievements tests—the California Achievement Test, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford Achievement Test—for the 2007–08 academic year. The students were drawn from 15 independent testing services, making it the most comprehensive homeschool academic study to date.
The results reinforced previous homeschool studies conducted over a period of 25 years.
Five areas of academic pursuit were measured. In reading, the average homeschooler scored at the 89th percentile; language, 84th percentile; math, 84th percentile; science, 86th percentile; and social studies, 84th percentile. In the core studies (reading, language and math), the average homeschooler scored at the 88th percentile.
The average public school student taking these standardized tests scored at the 50th percentile in each subject area.
Beyond academics, there were significant results regarding achievement gaps. It is common knowledge that gender, as well as parents’ income and education levels will greatly affect a public school student’s academic results. Public schools have invested greatly to try to close these achievement gaps. The study, however, shows the achievement gaps found in public school were greatly diminished for the home educated.
For example, homeschooled boys scored at the 87th percentile and girls at the 88th. Household income had little impact on the results of homeschool students: Children of parents with an income between $35,000 and $49,000 scored at the 86th percentile, whereas children of parents with an income over $70,000 scored at the 89th percentile.
As one would expect, the education level of parents did affect the results. For example, homeschool students of parents without college degrees scored, on average, at the 83rd percentile for the core subjects. When one parent had a college degree, those students scored at the 86th percentile, and when both parents had a college degree, those students scored at the 90th percentile. There was virtually no difference, however, between the scores of students whose parents were certified teachers and those who were not.
In summary, the results were slightly better than the most recent large academic study regarding homeschoolers (the 1998 Rudner study), and the average homeschool test results continue to be 30-plus percentile points higher than their public school counterparts.
In my opinion, there are two main factors for these outstanding results: the educational environment where learning takes place, and the individualized, one-on-one instruction. Most homeschool students are directly taught by their parents, who love their children enough to make the sacrifice to stay at home to make sure their child is taught in a safe and loving learning environment. Second, one-on-one instruction emphasizes the best interests of the child rather than the best interests of the group.
In a sentence, homeschooling is a recipe for academic success.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.