Looking at me you might never know I am abnormal. A casual, and possibly even an in-depth conversation might not clue you in either, but the truth is I am a member of a highly controversial club. You see, I was homeschooled. And not just a my-parents-tried-it-for-a-year-because-I-didn’t-have-friends sort of a homeschooler. I mean, I never set foot in a public school.
As the years have gone by I have gotten used to the pointed questions and skepticism that seem to surround home schooling. People have tried to convert me to their views time and time again, and while I respectfully listen, my support of homeschooling has never waned. That being said, I’ve decided it’s my turn to talk. This article is half my opinion on the benefits of homeschooling and half outright indisputable facts, between which I will do my best to clearly distinguish the difference.
While it is definitely open for discussion, I doubt that most people would argue the educational benefits of homeschooling. A state school consists of a room full of children each at a different level of understanding or ability, a teacher who barely knows them or their interests following an iron clad curriculum designed to comply with the mean intellect in said classroom. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there are better alternatives. For the sake of argument, however, we’ll suppose that the defects of the program are not so visible and allow the following statistics to speak for themselves.
In 1990, the National Home Education Research Institute issued a report entitled "A Nationwide Study of Home Education: Family Characteristics, Legal Matters, and Student Achievement." This was a study of over 2,163 homeschooling families which found that the average scores of the homeschool students were at or above the 80th percentile in all categories. The homeschoolers’ national percentile mean was 84th for reading, 80th for language, 81st for math, 84th for science and 83rd for social studies.1
In 1991, a survey of standardized test scores was performed by the Home School Legal Defense Association in cooperation with the Psychological Corporation, which publishes the Stanford Achievement Test. Students represented all 50 states and their grades ranged from K-12. These 5,124 homeschoolers’ composite scores on the basic battery of tests in reading, math, and language arts ranked 18 to 28 percentile points above public school averages. For instance, 692 homeschooled 4th graders averaged in the 77th percentile in reading, the 63rd percentile in math, and the 70th percentile in language arts. Sixth-grade homeschoolers, of 505 tested, scored in the 76th percentile in reading, the 65th percentile in math, and the 72nd percentile in language arts.
The homeschooled high schoolers did even better, which goes against the trend in public schools where studies show the longer a child is in the public schools, the lower he scores on standardized tests. The 118 tenth-grade homeschool students, as a group, made an average score of the 82nd percentile in reading, the 70th percentile in math, and the 81st percentile in language arts.2
In 1997, a study of 5,402 homeschool students from 1,657 families was released entitled, "Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America." The study demonstrated that homeschoolers, on the average, out-performed their counterparts in the public schools by 30 to 37 percentile points in all subjects.3
In study after study children educated at home have, on average, scored higher than students in conventional state-run schools.
Truth be told, academics are not the most frequent argument I hear from my dubious friends. In fact, the most common topic they have issues with is the social aspect of home education. It’s not unusual to think that homeschoolers are socially inept. It is definitely the stereotype and I’ll admit I’ve known my fair share of odd kids, however, my response is always the same. Homeschooling, when done correctly, cannot be surpassed in the benefits it has to offer. Homeschooling does not just mean, keeping your children home for their schooling. In public or private schools, socialization takes little to no involvement from the parents whatsoever. Does socializing your children take more effort when you’re homeschooling them? Absolutely, but it’s a small sacrifice for those parents who understand what they’re getting in return. These days, socialization is becoming significantly easier what with club sports, homeschool groups, special programs, etc. My nephews are part of the newest generation of homeschoolers and as I see the options they have it solidifies in my mind more and more the opportunity they have been given. They take part in gymnastics, group art classes, music classes, acting groups and so much more. They are far from "unsocialized" and are not lacking in the extra-curricular activities my public/private schooled comrades remember so fondly.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute:4
- Homeschool students are regularly engaged in field trips, scouting, 4-H, and community volunteer work, and their parents (i.e., their main role models) are significantly more civically involved than are public school parents.
- The home schooled are well adjusted socially and emotionally like their private school comparison group. The home educated, however, are less peer dependent than the private school students (Delahooke, 1986).
- Dr. Montgomery (1989) found that home schooled students are just as involved in out-of-school and extracurricular activities that predict leadership in adulthood as are those in the comparison private school (that was comprised of students more involved than those in public schools).
- A study of adults who were home educated found that none were unemployed and none were on welfare, 94% said home education prepared them to be independent persons, 79% said it helped them interact with individuals from different levels of society, and they strongly supported the home education method.
So Why Homeschool?
There are many reasons to homeschool and on a person to person basis probably the occasional good reason not to, but below are some of the major benefits that came to mind for choosing to teach your children at home.
- Nearly one-on-one attention. School classrooms are stuffed to overflowing often having 20+ students to every teacher (the national average is 17:1).5 Homeschooling allows a child to get nearly one-on-one instruction (depending on the number of siblings) from a teacher who knows them and their abilities.
- There is no mean to accommodate. Today’s lesson plans, which teachers are required to follow to the letter, are not made to accommodate the different intelligence levels of each child. Children with either higher or lower levels of ability and understanding suffer. It not only causes educational delays but often comes hand-in-hand with behavioral problems. The children with a greater understanding get bored with material they already know and the children with a lower understanding get frustrated with the material that they just can’t seem to grasp. With homeschooling the pace and the material are set according to the ability of the child. Things can be taken more slowly or more quickly as needed.
- You are in control of what they learn. One of the great things about homeschooling is that you dictate what your children will learn and how they will learn it. You decide if you want them to learn about foreign countries by reading about them or going to one. You decide which textbooks they will use. The resources available for home education are amazing. You don’t have to worry about teaching the subjects that are unfamiliar to you. The textbooks for homeschoolers are exponentially more enlightening than those typically used in schools. Regular textbooks are made to be used as a supplement and are often ambiguous with few examples. Homeschool textbooks are made to be the only reference a student will have. My mom never got through algebra and yet her children have gone through at least one level of calculus as homeschoolers.
- Freedom to roam. This may not be the incentive for some families that it was for mine but in my mind it is a definite factor. Neither of my parents grew up in the U.S. although Mom is American. Both travel extensively and believe much can be learned in so doing. In addition, growing up Dad was gone frequently due to the demands of his job. If we had been enrolled in regular classes we would have seen very little of him but as the case was . . . Dad going to Mexico for three weeks? No problem. We packed up our books and went too! Many of my favorite memories were made on the road with my family. Homeschooling enabled me to experience the kind of things you just can’t learn in a classroom.
- Earlier entrance into college. This is a big bonus for many of my homeschooled comrades. So many public/private school students get to college with very little to show for the last four years, except possibly some advanced placement classes. They’re basically starting from scratch. There are at least ten homeschoolers that I grew up with who started college while their friends were still in high school. I became a full-time college student just after my 14th birthday. I received my Associates Degree in Telecommunications when most of my friends were getting their high school diplomas. That might sound frighteningly early or as though I was a high level prodigy but I have no doubt whatsoever that most homeschoolers are in a position to do exactly the same thing. I had an opportunity, but it was not unique to me; it’s unique to homeschooling.
- Better preparation for college. "Homeschooling is teaching your children to teach themselves." It’s something I once heard my mom tell her friends and I think it is the perfect description. High school is made up of teachers and counselors who very often end up being task masters. There are some students who thrive on learning in whatever setting, but a majority of the people in my acquaintance were in schools where you went to class solely to avoid getting in trouble. You did your homework because otherwise you were punished. Everything was enforced. For the most part, colleges aren’t run that way. Professors don’t care if you come to class. In an audience of 200, no one knows if you turn in your math homework! The study skills necessary for college are essentially the same as those needed in homeschool. Self motivation. Focus. Personal drive. It’s hard-wired into homeschoolers and when college comes, very little adjustment is required.
Encouraging statistics on homeschooling can be found all over the web. I’ve read the documented studies and heard countless testimonials on the positive effects of homeschooling but nothing assures me of the benefits more than my own experience. The trips I went on with my parents and siblings, the variety of our lesson plans, the push to do nothing but our best, because admit it, there’s no fooling Mom. All the small details combine with and supplement the educational aspect making my years of learning at home the most wonderful experience of my life.
The point of all this? Homeschooling is not the scary or fanatical approach to education that it has been construed to be. It’s not just a resource for extremist parents and does not relegate its participants to lives of being anti-social outcasts. It is a powerful tool that can be used to help children learn and grow… all in the best atmosphere that can be provided for them.
1 Dr. Brian Ray, A Nationwide Study of Home Education: Family Characteristics, Legal Matters, and Student Achievement, National Home Education Research Institute, Seattle, WA, 1990, p. 53-54.
2 Christopher J. Klicka, Esq., Home Schooling in the United States: A Legal Analysis, Home School Legal Defense Association, NYC, New York, 2002, Appendix I. Excerpts available online at http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000010/200410250.asp
3 Dr. Brian Ray, Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America, National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, OR, 1997.
4 "NHERI Research" available online at ___http://www.nheri.org/modules.php?name=NHERI_Research___. The National Home Education Research Institute at NHERI.org. URL accessed on September 20, 2005.
5 "Education Issues" available online at ___http://www.nasbe.org/Educational_Issues/State_Stats/usa.html___. The National Association of State Boards of Education at NASBE.org. URL accessed on September 20, 2005.
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