Mike Brake | May 4, 2020
New research looks at homeschooling favorability, academic outcomes
With tens of millions of American parents these days suddenly coping with Johnny’s algebra lesson and Susie’s civics quiz, those parents seem to be gaining a new appreciation of the value and rewards of homeschooling and of the level of parental involvement that makes it work.
A survey by EdChoice in partnership with Morning Consult shows that many of those parents have a more positive view of homeschooling.
The survey of American K-12 school parents found that 28 percent of parents now view homeschooling much more favorably than pre-COVID, while an additional 24 percent have a somewhat more positive opinion. Only 26 percent saw homeschooling in a less favorable light, while the rest were unsure.
Meanwhile, a literature review of 38 various studies of the academic benefits of homeschooling shows that those benefits are tangible and, in many cases, decisive.
The review of a wide range of academic studies of homeschooling dating back to the late 1980s was performed by Dr. Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation. The study, titled “Bringing Achievement Home: A Review of the Academic Outcomes of Homeschooling Students in the United States,” was performed on behalf of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Burke reviewed the findings of 26 studies of the academic outcomes of homeschooled students when compared with their peers in public and/or private schools. In addition, she reviewed 12 studies that sought to measure the performance of homeschoolers once they advance to college.
Of the 26 studies of K-12 performance, 15 showed homeschooled students outperforming peers, nine showed mixed or neutral results, and two indicated that the homeschoolers fared less well than peers.
In one of those negative studies, just 110 students were sampled and the study universe focused on families with parents with lower than usual educational levels themselves, indicating that they may have been less well-prepared to instruct students. The second study focused on 1,477 students and found that, on average, non-homeschoolers slightly outperformed homeschoolers by about two out of sixty items on the ACT mathematics test.
Some of the studies with positive outcomes were impressive. One involving almost 21,000 students showed them achieving in the 70th or 80th percentile on standardized tests.
Nine of the 12 studies of higher ed performance showed homeschooled students shining, while three reported neutral results. None of those studies showed homeschoolers to be deficient, and in many of the studies, homeschooled students were shown to have higher grade averages in college than public school peers.
Do these new studies mean that homeschooling is a panacea for all?
Correlation Is Not Causation
“It is, of course, difficult to capture a causal relationship between homeschooling and academic outcomes,” Burke said, “but on balance, these studies taken together suggest that homeschooling has very positive academic outcomes.”
She said one of the more encouraging findings that was not a part of the literature review stems from state education agency data concerning standardized testing, which in almost all cases ranks homeschooled students high when compared with public school peers. In Oklahoma, homeschoolers ranked in the 88th percentile on those statewide tests.
“It is also significant to compare homeschool results to those for students in the public schools,” Burke said, noting that recent annual findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that just 24 percent of eighth-graders were proficient in civics and about one-third of students were proficient in math and reading. Those findings have been consistent for years and indicate weak performance in public education, as do the persistent numbers of high school graduates who must take remedial classes as college freshmen.
So if there is no direct causal effect from homeschooling, the studies and other indicators strongly point to the value of steady, sustained parental involvement as a key ingredient in learning. Such involvement is the hallmark of homeschooling done right, Burke noted.
What impact will the extended cancellation of classes due to the pandemic have?
“We are already seeing anecdotal evidence that there may be long-term and even short-term impact on family perceptions,” Burke said. She said the more parents examine material sent home or provided online for their children to complete the school year, the more many of those parents will begin to view that material and the learning environment it represents with a more critical eye. Some of those parents may well enter the 2020-21 school year as converts to the homeschooling movement, which now educates almost two million American children.
Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.