Research on homeschool versus public school

Homeschooling is an alternative education to public and private school that is increasing each year in the United States (Bielick, 2008). In 2007, 1.5 million students were homeschooled according to the National Center for Education Stastics -- a 74% relative increase from 1999 to 2007 (Bielick, 2008). In 2007, parents cited various reasons for choosing to homeschool:  Desires for religious or moral instruction (36%), concerns over school environment such as drugs, safety, or peer pressure (21%), discontent with school academics (17%), other reasons including family-time, finances, and travel (14%), desires for a nontraditional learning environment (7%), and because of a child’s health or special needs (6%) (Bielick, 2008). Educators, parents, and lawmakers take an interest in this segment of learning, often times disagreeing over the methods, results and rights. States are the governing arm that determines how parents can homeschool, and governments must work with educators and citizens to protect parental rights and the goals of educating it’s youth at the same time as meeting the state’s needs. This is a balance that requires an analysis of the research, including the positive aspects of homeschooling and not just the negative opinions and outlying cases of failure that reach the news media.
One educational researcher evaluated the academic achievements and demographic traits of homeschool students in a 2010 nationwide study, in hopes of providing more current information (Ray, 2010). Ray addressed an educational issue using qualitative and quantitative measures (Creswell, 2012). The study included  a large, nationwide sample of homeschooling students. The researcher conducted a review of literature noting the increase in homeschooling since 1970, when it was almost nonexistent to where it has reached almost two million in grades K through 12 (Ray, 2010). Ray (2010) identified various groups that have a concern in parent’s homeschooling – policymakers, educators, school administrators, and judges. The researcher used standardized test scores of academic achievement in various subjects; a total of 11,739 students responded across a broad target population (Ray, 2010). Statistical software was used for data analysis. The level of parental education (college and post-graduate) had an influence on the performance levels of the homeschooled students, with students of college graduates scoring higher, which is consistent with public school students (Ray, 2010). However, the scores for homeschooled students with parents who did not attend college were higher than their respective public school students and parents without college education. Major findings in achievement found that homeschooled student achievement test scores were notably higher than public school students in subtests and mean scores (which were at least 80th percentile) (Ray, 2010). Ray noted the limitations of the study were the cross section of homeschooled families, which may not be a cross section of all families in the United States (Ray, 2010).
Rothermel conducted a study in 2011 that provided insights into homeschooling by interviewing 100 United Kingdom-based homeschooling families (P. Rothermel, 2011). Interviews were conducted instead of questionnaires to gather more information that may not have come to light otherwise (P. Rothermel, 2011).  A review of the literature found a body of research, but none that included a large and extensive study size within the United Kingdom (P. Rothermel, 2011). The researcher was able to address previous research that identified “types” of parents who homeschool their children – “rebels, compensators, and competitors” – but found that due to the increase in the number of homeschoolers, these categories were no longer valid (P. Rothermel, 2011). The most recent UK study categorized homeschooling parents as “‘natural’, ‘social’, and ‘last resort’”(P. Rothermel, 2011). But the researcher of this study determined from her large sample that this was not valid either -- “Perhaps there is now, in the UK, too diverse a population pursuing home-education to be neatly categorized.” (P. Rothermel, 2011).
            Subjects were chosen using a broadly random approach from a previous questionnaire study of 1000 respondents (P. Rothermel, 2011). Parents came from a diverse socio-economic background, dispelling stereotypes (P. Rothermel, 2011).  Some of the topics discussed and addressed by the researcher included formal versus informal learning, tight structure versus disorganization, socialization and social effects,  and adaptation to children’s needs and the perceived moved from curriculum-centered to child-centered (P. Rothermel, 2011). Rothermel concluded that despite the UK government’s opinion “that home educated children were more likely to be receiving an unsuitable education and more likely to be at risk than children nationally” her research found otherwise (P. Rothermel, 2011).  This study noted other researchers who addressed government concerns, thinking that if they could determine the reasons parents homeschool, and address those needs, they would get homeschooled kids back where they should be – in government schools (P. Rothermel, 2011). This researcher felt a need to dispel the popularist thought that parents only homeschool because of school dissatisfaction. In this way, home education can be valued for other positives such as innovative approaches to learning (P. Rothermel, 2011).
            Rothermel conducted another study after the previous qualitative research of 1000 homeschooling families (P. J. Rothermel, 2012). In this study, the researcher addressed the assertion that homeschooled children are at risk of having psychological problems.  Using two different tests, the Revised Rutter Scale (RRS) and the Goodman Strengths & Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), Rothermel (2012) studied 83 homeschooled children between the ages of 4 and 11. In the ‘total difficulties score’ both tests were consistent in finding that the homeschooler did not exhibit behavior problems. However there was a discrepancy on the prosocial scale between the two tests. The RSS test determined the children to be psychosocially healthy, but the other test, the SDQ found them experiencing problems. The researcher, in analyzing the data noted that the RSS has 50 questions and the SDQ only 25 questions, and that this may limit the quality of the SDQ for homeschooled children (P. J. Rothermel, 2012). The children identified as having a problem did not match the results of the previous interview results. Rothermel (2012) identified problems within the SDQ test with wording that may not apply to homeschooled children and thus interfere with valid results. Homeschooled children have been found to identify friends among a wide range of ages – even calling adults their friends (P. J. Rothermel, 2012). This may impact the wording of questions bout sharing with other children versus sharing with friends. While mature adults share with friends, they are not expected to share their belongings with strangers or acquaintances (P. J. Rothermel, 2012).  Other questions that created problems, according to Rothermel (2012) were the SDQ questions about the child ‘being nervous or clingy in new situations’. The word ‘obedient’ was to be correctly paired to ‘good’ for a perfect score (P. J. Rothermel, 2012). One student asked, “were the Nazis good?” (P. J. Rothermel, 2012). In conclusion, Rothermel (2012) suggested that educators and professionals should be cautioned in using the rating scales for homeschooled children. These standard scales are more likely standardized for public school children where a different type of behavior is expected (P. J. Rothermel, 2012).
            An exploratory quantitative study examined the college outcomes of homeschooled students compared to traditional students at a Midwest doctoral college of the United States (Cogan, 2010). A regression analysis revealed that homeschooled students at this college, earned  higher GPAs in the first and fourth year, when controlling for demographics, pre-college, engagement and first term academic factors (Cogan, 2010). A binary logistic regression analysis revealed that there was no difference between homeschooled students and traditional students in fall-to-fall retention rates and four-year gradation rates, controlling for the same factors (Cogan, 2010). Homeschooled students had higher ACT scores, GPAs and graduation rates in a descriptive analysis (Cogan, 2010). Two of the limiting factors of this study were the sample size of the homeschooled student (N=76) and only one institution (Cogan, 2010). Cogan (2010) recommended further research over a broader range of college institutions and a larger sample group.
            Homeschooling does not receive the support of all educators or policy makers. In fact, Robin West writes about her opinions in the harms of homeschooling (2009). It is an emotional subject for many, and in her opening paragraph, her emotional bias is evident in claiming that homeschooling has been used by “parents of special needs children, parents in isolated parts of the country who live far from any public schoolhouse, as well as a smattering of parents of circus performers…” (West, 2009). This is the beginning of her unprofessional slant on unregulated homeschooling. West recounts that research shows homeschooled students often outperform traditional students in academics, but alludes to the “lack of socialization, diversity, training for citizenship and so on” of homeschooled students (West, 2009). West did not conduct any research in this article, and did not cite any references, though she included sources at the end of her paper. She merely stated her opinion that homeschooling should be regulated by the states to include home visits to check on the quality of life, immunization requirements, testing requirements, and if not met, state intervention to enroll students in a certified public school (West, 2009). West advised that states mandate testing to give “the state a way to ensure that the children who should be college bound are being prepared for that path…”            (West, 2009). She did not explain how the state would determine who should be college bound or how states would finance such a venture.
            In contrast to the last article by West (2009), a group of researchers reported on the evidence for homeschooling in light of social science research and constitutional rights (Dumas, Gates, & Schwarzer, 2010).  Dumas, et al., referenced the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on how states should handle homeschooling cases – that regulation must not impact the fundamental constitutional rights of parents to direct their children’s education unless it is ‘reasonable’ (Dumas, Gates, & Schwarzer, 2010). Of concern to those against homeschooling is that homeschooling does not advance the interests of the state (Dumas, Gates, & Schwarzer, 2010). These researchers were able to show through empirical results, homeschoolers successfully advance the state goals of a productive, engaged and educated citizenry (Dumas, Gates, & Schwarzer, 2010).  “Therefore, if the regulations do not serve the state interest, they are unreasonable.”(Dumas, Gates, & Schwarzer, 2010). The researchers examined a California case where the state was considering that homeschool parents must have a teaching credential. They cited references that included the strata of homeschooling parents to include a wide range across an entire spectrum of incomes, race, religion, and political affiliation (Dumas, Gates, & Schwarzer, 2010).  The reasons for homeschooling were diverse, as well as the methods, and materials used for teaching (Dumas, et al., 2010).  Studies supporting the success of homeschool students were cited, supporting the stance that these groups of educated at-home citizens contribute to the states needs (Dumas, et al., 2010).  The researchers included studies and data that showed that homeschooled students’ achievement scores were not related to the level of state regulation (Dumas, et al., 2010).  More regulation in states did not improve test scores (Dumas, et al., 2010). In fact, parent credentialing did not have any impact on the quality of education or the outcome of the students’ achievement tests (Dumas, et al., 2010). 
            In continuing to look at the academic achievements of homeschooled students, Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse (2011) studied the outcomes of traditionally schooled students versus homeschooled students. Since parents often choose their own curriculum and methods of teaching, academic achievement scores will vary. Students in public schools are prepared for standardized tests each year, with teachers prepping their students with practice tests and learning methods (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). The researchers presented previous results from studies conducted and in light of the lack of empirical investigations, proposed to compare the academic achievements of homeschooled children with public school children (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011).  Methods included using standardized tests administered by researchers to the two groups of students and conducted by an independent entity with no affiliations with homeschool organizations (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). The researchers were careful to select their students for the two pools of subjects – 37 public school students and 37 homeschooled students between the ages of 5 and 10 years (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). While the researchers made efforts to match the two groups from similar backgrounds, with parents of equal education, notable differences may have influenced their results. For example, 65% of the mothers of homeschooled children had college degrees versus 54% for public school educated children (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). Mothers with postgraduate training differed as well – 11% of homeschooled children versus 30% of public school educated children (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). The median income for the two groups was also significantly different. The researchers divided the homeschooled group into two subgroups of 1) structured learning and 2) unstructured learning. These two groups were not equal in size, 25 in the first group and 12 in the second. A questionnaire was used to determine demographics. The researchers were aware of the limitations in the study, the size of the sample, for example, but they continued to report on their results. They wanted to know if the two main groups differed in scores on standardized tests. Their results found that children homeschooled in a structured environment scored higher than the children enrolled in public school. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was performed, including all subtests as dependent variables and with the kind of school group as the independent variable (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). Family income and education of the mother was accounted for in the MANOVA and found not to be an influence in the final results (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). The researchers used exploratory analyses to understand the differences in educational achievement between the structured homeschoolers and the unstructured (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011).  Because of the sample size of this group of unstructured homeschoolers, the results were not statistically significant, even though it showed that they scored below their equivalent public schooled students (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). Of course this is to be expected, and does not rule out the abilities of these students ability to perform at the same level as public school students given the opportunity to learn the information and how to test. However, this information could prove important to homeschooling parents when selecting a curriculum and method of teaching. Structured homeschoolers outperformed the public school students and showed to be rated at higher-grade levels than their public school comparisons (Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011).
            Homeschooling continues to increase in numbers each year, and it is expected to draw attention from educators, colleges, and policy makers at the national and state level. While it is important to provide research about homeschooled students, results are often skewed by policy makers that seem to have a preconceived opinion of the parents who embrace homeschooling. The articles that were published in law journals summarized findings of educators and psychologists who conducted research. There seems to be a great divide between the educators who want to genuinely understand the homeschooling phenomenon and provide the research and the lawmakers who want to keep the status quo of public school. Lawmakers are not conducting studies, but instead finding information that supports their claims. Before 1970 there were few parents who embarked on the homeschooling journey, but as the numbers increase, states become more interested in protecting their rights. While the government schools struggle with issues of school safety and meeting the needs of the many, parents have stepped in to provide solutions for their own families by homeschooling. Even though it is not a choice that all will make, parents choices for their children are a fundamental right under the constitution. Research will continue and as homeschool students graduate from college with higher degrees and contribute to society in a satisfactory way, their numbers will help dispel disbelief. There will always be an outlying statistic where homeschooling is failing, but that will be the case within the public school system as well. Education is one of the important aspects of a productive society and citizens and parents will always have an interest in creating the best scenarios for learning – which will be as varied as the people.


Bielick, S. (2008). 1.5 million homeschooled students in the united states in 2007. (). Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education (National Center for Education Statistics).

Cogan, M. F. (2010). Exploring academic outcomes of homeschooled students. Journal of College Admission, (208), 18-25. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=52253079&site=eds-live

Creswell, J. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Dumas, T. K., Gates, S., & Schwarzer, D. R. (2010). Evidence, for homeschooling: Constitutional analysis in light of social science research. Widener Law Review, 16(1), 63-87. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=502141523&site=eds-live

Martin-Chang, S., Gould, O. N., & Meuse, R. E. (2011). The impact of schooling on academic achievement: Evidence from homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue Canadienne Des Sciences Du Comportement, 43(3), 195-202. doi: 10.1037/a0022697

Ray, B. D. (2010). Academic achievement and demographic traits of homeschool students: A nationwide study. Academic Leadership (15337812), 8(1), 1-26. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=57804347&site=eds-live

Rothermel, P. (2011). Setting the record straight: Interviews with a hundred british home educating families. Journal of Unschooling & Alternative Learning, 5(10), 20-57. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=82214991&site=eds-live

Rothermel, P. (2012). Home educated children's psychological well being. Estudios Sobre Educacion, (22), 13-36. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=77896038&site=eds-live

West, R. L. (2009). The harms of homeschooling. Philosophy & Public Policy Quarterly, 29(3), 7-12. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=504307071&site=eds-live

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