This paper investigates the success rates of homeschooling as compared to public schooling. Many aspects are looked at such as academics, social and emotional skills, as well as adult outcomes in these and other areas. It then draws on the assumption that parent involvement is different in the two systems and looks at beliefs (e.g. motivation, knowledge, empowerment, and confidence) that would nurture or dissuade that involvement. By comparing public and home schooling, the paper attempts to demonstrate how parents within the public school system may become confused as to their responsibility and role. Conversely, the paper asserts that homeschooling, taken on for the right reasons, empowers parents with an awareness of their role and confidence within it. The paper then argues that if any parent takes the first step of accepting primary responsibility and explores their resources and options, they will then be empowered to work confidently within any educational system.
Keywords: Home school, homeschooling, public school, parental involvement, adult outcomes
Homeschooling Results: A View of Parental Involvement
It may seem strange to begin a paper on Homeschooling results with a statement about computers; but computer software is much like public schooling, homeschooling, and any other schooling choice. When purchasing a new computer, most consumers use the software immediately available, or the default software, with little or no thought as to the appropriateness of that application to their needs. And, while for the most part it works, there can be moments of frustration when the software doesn't provide the frame work for the needed task. In this country the educational default is the public school system. Anything outside of this framework is often viewed with suspicion or hostility. However, in order to understand if it is working well, the outputs must be compared to the outputs of other systems, and then examined again through differences to discover the "whys" behind those results.
In comparing the outputs of different educational options, I found that there were two extremes: public schooling and homeschooling. Private schooling outputs most frequently fell in between public and home schooling when included in a study. In this paper, I will discuss only the two extremes, leaving out the other options because comparing two extremes can demonstrate what is needed to succeed within any framework. Just as with software, if you understand the capabilities of the system and are aware of how it works, work within the one that is available with greater success simply or choose one that better fits your desired outputs.
While most people are acquainted with public school outputs as the "National Averages" most are unaware of what homeschooling outputs and averages are. Therefore, I will go into some detail as to the origins of homeschooling, how the students themselves are performing both in K-12 and afterward as they enter the "real world" as compared to their public schooled counter parts. Working under the assumption that parental involvement is the number one factor predicting schooling success, I will then look at beliefs (e.g. motivation, knowledge, empowerment, confidence) that would nurture or dissuade parental involvement within public and homeschooling. Last I will look at how this information can support the parent in making educated choices about their child's education and be involved at appropriate levels with the system chosen.
A Brief History
Although brief histories of homeschooling are given in most studies on the topic, Ed Collom (2005) gives the most succinct account in his paper "The Ins and Outs of Homeschooling." The following information is shown in Figure 1 (Ray, 2009). Collom points out, by the 1960s public school not only dominated the education scene but was also mandatory. In the late 1960s a small fringe movement began by a political left who believed in a different pedagogy than the traditional schooling system. In the 1980s an unprecedented boom shifted the demographics of this group to the right as Christians began spontaneously homeschooling in large numbers. As popularity grew and peer pressure subsided in the 1990s and 2000s, the movement went from fringe to main stream, growing from 300,000 families in 1990 to well over one million by 2005 (pp. 308-309). Current estimates put the number at almost two million (Ray, 2009).
Growth of Homeschooling in United States Over the Past 5 Decades
Figure 1. Homeschooling went from fringe movement to nearing two million in a little less than three decades. (Ray, 2009, p. 2)
No longer far left or far right the demographics of homeschooling are continuing to diversify including growing populations of minorities and religious groups across the board (Ray, 2009). In figure 2, we can see that the ethnic demographic are becoming more similar in proportion to the general student population.
Ethnicity of Homeschooled vs. All Students
Figure 2: The chart on the left represents the composition of the homeschooling community while the chart on the right represents all U.S. Students per Department of Education 2007 (Ray, 2009).
Along with growing numbers of homeschoolers came an increasing number of studies to determine effectiveness and reasoning for homeschooling. However, because homeschooling isn't institutionalized, it is very difficult to conduct generalizable studies. As Richard Medlin (2000) points out, there are many studies that are well planned, however a good number run into problems, like low response rates, which make it hard to generalize results of just one study. The one redeeming aspect is the sheer number of studies that have been conducted, each looking at different populations at similar questions and coming to similar conclusions. So while they can't be individually generalized as more studies present similar findings with different strengths it becomes more plausible. In the following section I will address several areas of homeschooling outcomes that have been more thoroughly covered.
Comparison of Home and Public Schooling
K-12. One of the first areas of concern is the effects of homeschooling on academic achievement. At the grade-school level many tests have been performed in order to assess whether or not these students are getting the basics in academics. Although many doubt the ability of a non-trained mother or father to teach her children, there seems to be no connection between mother's who have been trained as teachers and the child's academic performance (Collom, 2005). Michael Apple (2007) suggests the reason for untrained parents' success is the widening range of resources available both on and off the internet. However, some difference has been found between the mother's and especially the father's educational level and the academic outcome (Collum, 2005) Even with higher achievement associated with parental education levels, homeschoolers as an entire group seem to be doing better academically. According to one study done by The National Center for Home Education Press, cited by Klicka (2006)
Nearly 80% of homeschooled children achieved individual scores above the national average and 54.7% of the 16,000 homeschoolers achieved individual scores in the top quarter of the population, more than double the number of conventional school students who score in the top quarter (p. 1).
Others studies have produced the range of results from 15 to 30 percentiles higher than public schools as shown in figure 2.(Ray, 2009). Even the study producing the lowest scores places homeschooled students about fifteen percentiles above the national average, making it clear that homeschoolers are having a greater level of academic success.
High reports place homeschooling averages at 80th percentile; low reports place them at the 65th percentile; public school sets the average and is thus the 50th percentile. (Ray, 2009, p. 2)
Perhaps even more significant than the level of academic achievement is the lack of racial and monetary bias in the academic success of homeschoolers. As shown earlier, the number of various ethnic groups choosing to home school is growing more proportionally equivalent to the national ratios. As shown by Collom (2005), within the homeschooling world the two major academic predictors (race and economic status) do not have a statistical impact (p. 329), showing that race and socioeconomic status are not factors in homeschooling achievement.
College Level. Another place to test academic achievement is in the college setting. Many ask how homeschooled students perform when outside of their home environment. Several different records show that homeschooled students scored higher than their counter parts on their college entrance exams (Klicka, 2006, p. 4). In a paper written to make suggestions about college admissions policies, Molly Duggan (2009) found that, at her University, students who had been previously homeschooled performed at one or two grade levels higher than their private and public schooled peers and were much more likely to have "A" averages than either their public or private schooled peers. Klicka (2006) cites studies and comments from several different colleges and Universities who have done studies on their own students stating that homeschoolers perform at or above the level of their peers. Thus indicating that the earlier academic success continues into the higher education levels.
Social and Emotional Skills
Social Skills. Besides academic skills, homeschoolers' social and emotional skills often come under scrutiny. Although many believe that public school can offer better socialization opportunities than homeschooling can (Medlin, 2000), research has found no evidence for such claims. Two results are typical for studies involving the social and emotional skills of homeschooled children as compared to public schooled children. As Medlin (2000) shows in his review of the literature covering homeschooled children's social skills, there are two typical results. One of the typical results finds no difference in social skills of homeschooled children. The other typical result finds that homeschoolers are likely to have better social skills than their peers. L.E. Shyers conducted one of the best designed studies on the social behaviors of homeschooled children in 1992. She concluded that homeschooled children compared to their public schooled peers of identical demographics showed similar self-confidence and assertiveness but were less likely to have behavioral problems, (as cited in Medlin, 2000 & Ray, 2004b). These results seem to indicate that homeschooling at the very least does not harm a child's socialization and at best gives them a social advantage.
Emotional Traits. Perhaps even more important than social skills, emotional skills are an essential part of growing up that many believe can best be developed through traditional schooling as children learn to cope with adverse situations. Although there are many aspects to emotional skills, I will only look at those that have been tested more frequently. Self-concept is one measure of emotional maturity that has been examined in several studies. According to Brian Ray (2004b) many of these studies have found that homeschoolers have a much better self-concept than do students from other systems. Other areas like self-esteem and confidence in their individuality are at least as good, and in some studies, higher than their peers' (Ray 2004b; Medilin 2000).
Adult Social Activity. Most of the aforementioned studies were done on children K-12 and leave the question of "How do these students integrate into society after leaving home?" In the few studies which have been conducted post-secondary, homeschoolers are found not only moving on with their lives in positive manners (e.g. careers, schooling etc.), but, as seen in table 1, more of them see themselves as happy in their lives than the general population of the same age group (Ray, 2004a).
Happy with Life Scale
Home Educated n=5250
U.S. * n=522
Not too Happy
Answers for two studies (one for home school graduates and the other for the general US population) compared indicating that homeschooled adults are happier with their life in general than the average population. (Ray, 2004a, p. 56)
Perhaps part of this "happiness" comes from the emotional stability discussed earlier and their social needs being met. Christopher J. Klicka (2006) cites several college administrators who report that homeschoolers are very active in their college community. Galloway conducted a study comparing home, private, and public schooled students at her college in 1998. She found that the homeschoolers were the leaders of the campus scoring substantially higher in four of her five chosen categories (academic, social, spiritual, psychomotor, and cognitive) except psychomotor (team sports) (as cited in Medlin, 2000).
Tolerance Attitudes. While it has been shown that homeschoolers function well within a given setting, there is still a concern that prejudice will result from receiving only skewed parental input. However, studies conducted at the college level, e.i. Marzluf (2009), have found that home school students are not only lacking in prejudice but also open to other ideas and people of different backgrounds, ideas, and opinions. Other studies agree with these findings (Ray, 2004b). Medlin (2000) suggests that perhaps this is the case because, in home schooling, the extracurricular activities are more varied than those of public school. While students going to school mostly have interactions with their peers, homeschooled students have interactions with every age group and many different ethnicities (Duggan, 2009; Medlin, 2000).
Community Service and Involvement. Most studies on social development looked at what activities these children were participating in, in order to determine their type and quality. They found that not only were these students getting in more extracurricular activities but these activities were also more varied (Medlin, 2000, pp. 111-112). The variation and scope of these activities results in the child's being exposed to a variety of ways to be involved with the community at a young age. It also exposes them to a variety of people. For example, Medlin (1998) conducted a study in which the homeschoolers kept track of the type of people they had contact with and closeness of those relationships. He found that they had moderately close relationships with people of differing age levels (the very elderly to the very young), ethnicities, and socioeconomic status (As cited in Medlin, 2000, p. 112).
As homeschoolers grow up they continue this involvement with the community. In figure 3 we can see two different measures of community involvement, ongoing community service and organization membership. When compared to the general population, home school graduates are substantially more involved (Ray,2009).
Community Service and Activity
Figure 4. Percent of involvment of homeschooled versus general adult population of simular age group. (Ray, 2009, p.6)
Political Involvement. Perhaps the most surprising part of community involvement is homeschoolers' involvement in the political process. Because the homeschooling movement has been forced into the political arena by its controversial nature, homeschooling families tend to be very politically active. Cooper and Sureau (2007) go so far as to compare the grassroots homeschooling movement to movements such as civil rights and trade Unions (p. 112) As shown in Figure 4, the children of these families continue to be active in the political process as adults, not only voting more consistently than the general population of the same age but also participating in various other ways and having a positive view of the political process (Ray, 2009 & Ray, 2004a). These findings support the idea that homeschooling does a better job at overcoming political apathy than traditional schooling.
Political Activity of Homeschooled vs. General Population
Figure 5. Left grouping shows activities such as writing, telephoning representatives, and other political actives. The right grouping shows voting. (Ray, 2009, p. 6)
Percentages Advancing to Higher Education. Although we have looked at how homeschooled students perform in different areas in postsecondary schooling, we will now look at how many are actually taking advantage of it. In his state of the Union address, President Obama (2011) stated that almost half of the upcoming job in the next ten years will require some level of higher education. Therefore, the ability for an educational system to prepare and send its students on to post-secondary schooling is an important aspect of the nation's competitive edge, not to mention the individuals' ability to support themselves in a changing economy. In Table 2, Ray (2004a) shows that homeschooled students, ages 18-24, are more likely to have moved onto higher education than the general population of the same age. It should be noted here that 49% of the respondents of this study were currently full time students. If these students complete the degrees they are currently working on the percentage of degreed students would actually be higher.
Educational Attainment of Homeschooled and General Population ages 18-24.
Home Schooled (%) n=4129
U.S. General (%)** n=27,312,000
Some college but no degree
Graduate or professional but no degree
Doctorate degree (e.g., PhD, EdD)
Professional degree (e.g., M.D., JD)
Table 2. More previously homeschooled students were continuing on to higher education.
* 49% of these respondents were currently full time students.
**Source: United States Census Bureau, 2003a.
*** Other = That is, less than high school, high school graduate, voc/tech program but no degree, and voc/tech diploma after high school. (Ray, 2009, p. 37).
Attitudes and Policies of College Admissions. Because homeschoolers are now applying for colleges in sufficient number to catch the attention of administrators they are actively affecting the admissions policies (Duggan, 2009; Klicka, 2006; Ray, 2004b). Duggan (2009) found that homeschooled students had "higher levels of intent to persist, or had expressed intentions to return and continue, than either public or private schooled community college students, making them more attractive in retention rates as well as in overall performance. They are also more likely to have a bachelor's degree at a younger age than their peers and advance in their chosen fields more swiftly (Ray, 2004a; Ray, 2004b). Over the past decade many administrators and professors have changed their attitudes from highly negative to highly complimentary toward homeschoolers as they have come into contact with them, such as Marzluf (2009, see also Klicka, 2006). These attitudes reflect a growing awareness of students who are doing better at some level than mainstream students.
Although these are obviously not homeschooled super students, these children on average are doing better than their counter parts; so the question becomes, not "is homeschooling succeeding" but, as Medlin (2000) put it, "Why?" (p. 119). While the answer to this question is probably too complex to be treated in one paper, I will look at the one factor identified as the greatest predictor of schooling success across the board: parental involvement (Oyserman, Brickman, & Rhodes, 2007). Although the effects of parental involvement is generally understood, school systems have had little or no success in raising the amount of parental involvement (Oyserman et al., 2007, p. 480).
Green and Hoover-Dempsey (2007) compared public school parents who were considered to have high beliefs in parental involvement to homeschooling parents. She found the public school group to have much lower parental involvement beliefs than the home school group. Showing that not only are less parents likely to be involved in public school but those who are involved are likely to believe that less involvement is necessary than homeschooling parents. Thus, it would appear that there are under lying beliefs that affect the level of parental involvement. In the next section we will compare how the two options might affect parental involvement.
Responsible Parties. While it is generally accepted that parents should be involved in their child's education, parents can receive conflicting messages as to who has which responsibility and how they, the parent, should help. One reading tutor with 25 year of experience stated that the biggest problem she had with getting parents involved was the perception that it wasn't their responsibility and thus "never had time" (personal communication, 2011, April 9) In many different areas the government and the school's responsibility for children's education is placed before the parent's. One area where the schools' and government's responsibility is projected over the parent's role is political policy. While comparing Individuals with Disabilities Act and No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Ramanathan (2008) demonstrates how programs and laws created to benefit children in public schools frequently become a debate over authority and control. This debate implies that the quality and the success of children's education is the responsibility of either the federal or state governments. The NCLB act also gives power of enforcement to several levels of government agencies but none to the parent (Ramanathan, 2008, p. 300). There are also teachers and administrators who come into blame if a school system is not doing well. As homeschooling results remain statistically equal throughout the states in spite of differing levels of government oversight and regulation (Ray, 2009, p. 4), it becomes apparent that the government does not have the effect on education that a parent would, and yet it is often the government that is depicted as making the decisions that count (Obamah, 2011; Bush, 2007; Clinton, 1997). This atmosphere seems to communicate to parents that someone other than themselves is responsible for the child's relative success or failure in various areas. When parents loose that sense of responsibility, they may never find the motivation to become involved.
Parental Responsibility. It could be said that parents who choose to homeschool are taking their responsibilities to the highest degree. However, Green and Hoover-Dempsey (2007) found there were two beliefs that motivated homeschooling: parent based, those who believe they are the best teachers for their children and capable of doing so; and partner based, those who are homeschooling because of a negative experience with public school but do not feel they are capable of being the best teachers and thus seek out help from other sources. In their comparison they found that parent based homeschoolers have more positive experiences with homeschooling than partner based homeschoolers. Those who believe they are responsible and capable of teaching their child are empowered and take the requirements with a better attitude, showing that parents who understand and embrace their responsibility are more likely to be involved at higher, more positive levels. This contrast, of parent versus partner based education, shows that when partner based attitudes prevail the parental involvement suffers, whether through inaction or through negative attitudes. Unfortunately, anything other than homeschooling is necessarily partner based and requires extra effort from the parent to maintain a parent based attitude.
Requirements on Parents. Once parents understand their responsibility they must still understand how to fulfill those obligations. Without understanding what is required of them, parents cannot act. According to Walker, Shenker, and Hoover- Dempsey (2010), parents in the public school system are most likely to participate after being invited by either a child or teacher, showing that even a parent who wants to act will not until they know exactly how. However, school systems can only ask and not require parents to act. One area this becomes evident is the research now being conducted to understand how parents have such a profoundly good effect so that the schools may provide that support for those who do not receive it at home (Walker, 2008; Oyserman et al., 2007). The school system, in an effort to take care of the children who need help, provides help for all the children. Or rather, because they cannot expect any support from some parents they cannot require it from any parent. And although these programs will likely help those who would not receive this help otherwise, there is a middle group who seeing the program will assume that it is the schools responsibility to provide that support and fail to understand their part. When teachers do send out requests for help, it often entails volunteering at school events. This may confuse the parents' obligation to child and obligation to the school until the parent believes that all that is required to be involved is to volunteer within the school community and make sure their child's home work is turned in on time. And while passive involvement is better than no involvement, it is not the best (Walker et al. 2010); however, it is often the clearest means of involvement.
Personal Investment. In contrast, within the homeschooling world requirements on all levels become clear as a parent must inform themselves and choose programs, activities, etc. As previously mentioned there are now many different materials available to homeschoolers (Apple, 2007), as well as many different types of homeschooling methods to choose from (Kjerstin, 2011). As one homeschooler put it, "The first two years were a huge learning curb." (personal communication, April 1, 2011). These parents often invest many hours researching and most understand that more is required of them than the typical parent (e.g. time, career advancement, extra income, etc. (Apple, 2007; Green and Hoover-Dempsey, 2007, p 266)). However, most do not see these requirements as sacrifices. For example, in discussing the difficulty of creating social opportunities for their children, Medlin (2000) points to several sources where parents have shown they don't find the exertion a burden (p. 4). Perhaps because they understand what is required they are able to fulfill with greater levels of confidence.
Parental Effort Efficacy
Before participating in any activity most people need confidence that there is a point and that they can accomplish what they set out to do. Parents are less likely to become involved when they lack confidence in their efficacy (Green and Hoover-Dempsey, 2007, p. 266). One area parents are lead to lack confidence in their abilities is in the discussion of teacher certification. Apple (2007) gives voice to the fear of the untrained parent teaching their children. However, as stated earlier, homeschooling success shows no statistical difference for those who have teacher training and those who have none (Ray, 2009). And, although there has been shown a difference in homeschooling academic achievement for those children whose parents have lower educational levels (i.e. 88th percentile with both parents having college degree down to 66th percentile without either having degrees) those children are still performing better than the average school child (Ray, 2009, p. 3; Collom, 2005), and thus probably much better than children in the school system of similar demographics. Still, parents who believe that they would be less than helpful to their child have less confidence and thus fail to act simply because they feel there would be no point. This is perhaps most clear in the drop off of parent involvement in the teen years as subjects become less basic (as cited in Oyerserman et al, 2007, p. 480) showing that the more complex the issue the fewer parents, or children, believe in the parent's usefulness.
Empowerment through Choice In contrast to the parent who feels helpless to assist their child, the parent who chooses to home school does so because they believe in the system and, more importantly, themselves (Green and Hoover-Dempsey, 2007). This belief empowers the parent. One of the areas we discussed earlier is the homeschooling graduates' lack of apathy. This is may come from the culture which homeschooling creates. Instead of feeling relatively powerless in a convoluted system, homeschooling families impact legislation (Cooper and Sureau, 2007) and make choices within their familial circle without any red tape. Apple (2007) points out how mothers of homeschoolers feel empowered by this practice and their primary role in it. This feeling of empowerment is then communicated to the child who takes it into his or her life and helps them feel less apathetic and more confident in both his training and his ability to influence the world around them.
Belief in Public School System. In the US, not only are individual parent's teaching efficacy brought into doubt but confidence in the public school system itself is in doubt across the nation. In spite of reports such as The National Center for Education Statistics "Outcomes of Learning" which demonstrated that the United States is at least average in comparison to other countries (2001), most of the media and political rubric insinuates or blatantly calls the public school system a failure (Obama, 2011; Rice, 2011; Bush, 2007; Clinton, 1997). As Ramanathan (2008) points out, this rubric also creates a political climate that stifles the effects of the programs themselves; instead of communicating progress, they foster the feeling that nothing is working. It then becomes difficult to work in system that neither the parent, nor the child, nor even the teacher believes in. It also becomes difficult for the student to have confidence in themselves when the means by which they were educated are reported to be substandard.
Two-Way Involvement. As opposed to confidence in a large system, homeschoolers need only have confidence in the child and the parents. A certain amount of confidence is gained as the parent involves themselves in the most recognized form of effective teaching, the one-on-one model. When admitting to the success of homeschooling, many point to fact that homeschooled students get one-on-one attention (Klicka, 2006). In most homeschooled families this effect is doubled as both parents become involved (Ray, 2004a). Although proper teaching is important and increases the parent's confidence, it is not the most important part of parental involvement. According to Walker, et al. (2010) the parent's most effective role isn't in the teaching it is in the example. Thus, parental involvement takes on many shapes, not because the parent is helping with the homework in more effective ways, but because the child sees priorities, skills, and education in action through their parents. Homeschooling provides more consistent opportunities for that modeling to take place. Hence parents who are politically involved produce children who are politically involved because the children are involved in the parent's life as well. This two-way involvement creates belief and confidence in each other.
The Choice of Education
As stated before, this paper is not intended to prove that homeschooling is the only way to have successful children. However, homeschooling does show that parental involvement can have improved efficacy. Every parent must make the choice as to the right educational option for their child. Most make this choice simply by default, setting themselves up for less active participation even before their child's education beings. Home schooled parents have shown that with proper motivation parents can gain the necessary knowledge to empower themselves. As they become empowered with this knowledge they will gain confidence leading to greater and more effective involvement in their child's education. Homeschooling is a choice that clears away the blurred line of who has what responsibility in educating the child, thus making research and gaining knowledge necessary to the parent. As this knowledge is gained the parent is then enabled to give the intricate support that the child needs to be successful in all areas of life. However, there are those who cannot make this decision for various reasons. These parents must look at other options. This is the first step to better involvement. As the parent actually looks at what is involved both on their part and the school's, they can better work within the system to give their child needed support. Because they made a conscious choice, their confidence in their power to make a difference will increase. Because they have done the research they will know what is required of them and if there are ways for them to go above and beyond that. Finally because their motives are based n their own responsibility, they will be the best teachers the child has no matter the system.
Now that homeschooling has been around long enough and in great enough numbers there is a growing set of data to look at concerning the outcomes of that system. Many of these studies have found that positive results come from this practice that are not being achieved to the same degree in our public schools. In areas such as academics, social skills, and community involvement, homeschooled children seem to have an advantage. Using the assumption that parental involvement is the best indicator of educational success, it becomes apparent that how to be involved as a parent is clearer in one system than the other. By looking at the rhetoric surrounding the public school system, I showed how parents can easily become confused as to their role or lose confidence in their ability to be involved in their child's education. On the other hand, homeschooling parents motivated by their sense of responsibility toward their child take the necessary first step by choosing to inform themselves. This then empowers the parents from the moment the choice is taken under consideration and gives them confidence as they discover what their role entails and how they can fulfill it. Therefore, just as a program is more useful to someone who knows how to use it, an educational system is more useful to those who know how to interact with it. Simply going with the default is not an option for the parent who wishes to provide their child with the best possible opportunities for success. Every parent needs to make a choice that will allow them the greatest amount of involvement and then continue to give it. As one mother said, "'It is my responsibility to see that they grow up to be conscientious, responsible and intelligent people. This is too important a job to be given to someone I don't even know' (Mayberry et al., 1995, p. 39)."(as cited in Medlin, 2000)
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