An in-depth look at the research behind common homeschooling myths help us to uncover the reality of this childhood education option
As homeschooling becomes more and more popular across the United States, two damaging myths continue to thrive. We wanted to find out how widespread those myths are, and how they compare to the reality of homeschooling today. So in January and February, we surveyed over 2000 people. Then we reviewed the existing research to discover the truth about homeschooling in 2020. Below are the study’s findings for homeschooling myths vs reality.
Traditional Classrooms and Learning in Groups
Classrooms hum with the chatter of excitable teens. Books and papers spill from overstuffed lockers. Days are routine, conducted by the regular, shrill blast of the school bell.
Most of us have experienced the ‘institutional’ school system in some form or another. Ever since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century, when the need arose for societies to be able to produce a functioning workforce that could read and write. Since then, group schooling (such as public schools) has been the norm. But that wasn’t always the case.
How Homeschooling Was Started
For most of history, those who were privileged enough to get a formal education received it at home. Their teachers were personal tutors, parents and other caregivers. This custom gradually faded as the makeup of society changed and the practice of group schooling spread.
But in the latter half of the 20th Century, dissatisfaction with the modern school system increased in some quarters. The idea of home education grew in popularity once again, albeit in a different form. Parents would be the sole educators. Passing on their world-views and the knowledge that they deemed important. And in that moment, the modern homeschool movement was born.
Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s the number of homeschooled children swelled throughout the U.S. And since the late 1990s, this number has doubled.
Common Homeschooling Myths
However, even as the number of homeschoolers rose, the general public remained skeptical of homeschooling. Negative stereotypes began to take root. And without any apparent basis in fact, two of these stereotypes spread through society and developed a mythical quality.
- Myth #1 – Homeschooled students suffer from a lack of social development.
- Myth #2 – Homeschooled students perform worse academically, receiving fewer opportunities to succeed than traditional school students.
Over the years, various studies have been carried out to compare the social and academic outcomes of homeschooled students to those in institutional schools. While much of this research has confirmed that the myths around homeschooling are untrue, they have done little to address the widespread nature of these damaging ideas.
Homeschooling Research – An Extensive Study
Study.com wanted to better understand the homeschool community and find out where people stand on the effectiveness of these two schooling methods today. So, in January and February of 2020, we conducted a survey of 2,398 parents and students (aged 13 and up), both with and without homeschool experience.
Combined with a review of the existing research, we aimed to discover how widely held these myths are, and shed some light on the reality of homeschooling today.
Homeschooling and Social Development
It’s clear from the results of our survey that this myth still holds. Well over half of homeschoolers felt that poor socialization was the most common misconception aimed at them.
In a different question, non-homeschoolers, and especially students, felt that institutional schools would be better for their social development. Below are survey responses to the question “Is it more beneficial for children to learn social skills and emotional maturity in a brick-and-mortar environment, or a homeschool environment?”
Of the non-homeschoolers we surveyed, over a third of parents and over half of students told us that they thought institutional schooling was better for their social development.
But it was also striking how many homeschool parents felt the opposite. Only 2.6% of homeschool parents we asked said that institutional schooling would benefit children’s social development.
Homeschool Study Results for Social Development
This result matches what we found in existing research. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported in 2016 that 80% of homeschool parents had concerns with the school environment. Saying that drugs, peer pressure, and the social environment were factors. 34% said this was their main concern.
One final thing that stood out from our survey results was the fairly consistent feeling that neither method of schooling is more beneficial than the other. Across all the groups we spoke to, more people believed that children would develop similar social skills regardless of the type of school they attend.
We did a lot of digging into homeschool studies. However, we couldn’t find any evidence to support the idea that homeschooling is bad for children’s social development.
So this appears to be a myth in the truest sense – a story told to make sense of something that is not well understood. As the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) states, ‘there is no empirical evidence that homeschool causes negative things compared to institutional schooling’.
Given the lack of evidence, presumably homeschoolers feel this is the most commonly held misconception among non-homeschoolers. Unfortunately, it‘s something they hear a lot in conversation and in the media that they consume.
Evidence of Social Development Advantages for Homeschooling
There is however, actually some evidence that homeschooling may be better for social development than traditional schooling. Also according to NHERI, homeschooled children are “typically above average on measures of social, emotional and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem.”
They go on to say that “research designs to date do not conclusively ‘prove’ that homeschooling causes [improved social development],” and that further research is needed, but this is exactly the point. There just isn’t any evidence to support the idea that homeschooling hurts students’ social skills.
Where Does this Homeschooling Myth Come from?
So where does this idea come from?
In reality, it may be that non-homeschoolers do not fully appreciate the range of social activities and interactions that homeschooled children experience. If homeschooling simply involved sitting children down at home and getting them to work through exercises, then it could be argued that those children’s social development would suffer. But in practice, many homeschooled students are active in groups outside the family home.
For example, some parents see homeschooling as an opportunity to teach their children about the world through exploration and interaction with it. Others do primarily teach children academics at home. But they use the increased freedom to take educational trips, and travel to places that provide valuable learning experiences and interaction with other people.
Reasons for Homeschooling
Many homeschool parents we surveyed commented on the freedom that it provided. One told us that homeschooling allowed them to “tailor [education] to what interests your child has. If it’s college, a trade school, or neither. You can do what is best for your child.”
Another said their main reason for homeschooling was to free up “more time to do things that interest us. Such as trips, excursions, 4-H [an organization devoted to youth development], etc.”
Others take advantage of local sports teams and other community programs. Some join homeschool co-ops, where their children interact with others in an environment that aligns with their parents’ views on education. According to one researcher, “the average homeschool student participates in five or more out-of-home social activities”.
So while there is a perception that homeschooling harms children’s social development, the truth may be the opposite. Certainly, given the range of homeschooling approaches practiced across the U.S., this generalization is not well founded and doesn’t reflect the reality of modern homeschooling.
[ Homeschooling Printables: 35 Free Printables for Teaching at Home ]
Homeschooling Academic Performance and Opportunities
Here again we found that the myth still holds. Large numbers of non-homeschoolers told us that they felt institutional schooling would lead to better academic outcomes for their children than homeschooling would.
Also as before, we found that homeschoolers, especially homeschool parents, were very skeptical of the benefits of institutional schools in setting their children up for success.
Measuring Academic Success in Homeschool Students
For this part of the study we were really interested in two measures of academic success:
- The best chance to pursue a college degree
- The best prospects to be a successful adult
On both measures, we saw that non-homeschoolers had more faith in institutional schooling than homeschooling to deliver academic success. On the other hand, only 2.1% of homeschool parents felt that institutional schools would be better for their children’s college chances. And just 0.5% said the same for the chances of being successful adults.
Why Homeschool Parents Choose to Homeschool
This tallies with the results of separate question, where we asked homeschool parents why they homeschool. The most popular reason given (from almost 60% of respondents), was dissatisfaction with education in schools. Among non-homeschoolers in our survey who said they would consider homeschooling, over a third (35%) said that they didn’t like education in schools.
As with the question of social development, we see that both homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers feel that – in general – the education their child is receiving is more likely to lead to success.
‘In general’, because the picture is not completely clear-cut. Many children switch between homeschooling and institutional schooling as needs and circumstances change. Some families have a child that they homeschool, and another that attends their local school. As one experienced homeschool parent told us, “I have counseled literally hundreds of families [on homeschooling]. Everyone has different reasons for what they do. And some families only homeschool some of their children. Every situation is different. And every family is different.” Ultimately, families choose when, and for how long, to homeschool.
SAT Scores for Homeschool Students
Existing research has looked into the question of academic success too. A 2014 study showed that homeschool students’ SAT scores were much higher than the average scores of college-bound high school seniors.
In 2015 NHERI found that homeschool students perform in the 86th percentile on standardized tests, as a measure of the national school-age population.
Percentiles refer to performance groups in a given population. So the 1st percentile contains the group that has the lowest set of scores on a test. The 100th percentile contains the group with the highest scores. By definition, the 50th percentile is the ‘average’ score of a given population.
Achievement Tests for Homeschoolers
In 2019 NHERI also reported that “The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests”.
Of course, we should be wary of accepting these results without question.
Samples for such studies will have a strong bearing on the results. It’s possible that self-selection plays a part. More motivated parents are more likely to be involved in this kind of study. And those parents may be from more privileged backgrounds with more resources to put into their homeschooling efforts.
That being said, in an analysis of peer-reviewed research, 35 of the 45 studies (78%) found that the homeschooled students or graduates performed significantly better than their institutional school peers. Measures that were looked at in these studies were exactly those we’ve been discussing: academic achievement, social and emotional development, and success into adulthood (including at college/university).
Homeschool Students Going on to College
It’s also been reported that “colleges and universities boast that their place of learning is supportive of students who have largely been homeschooled ”and that“ universities actively recruit homeschoolers”. This includes prestigious schools like Brown, Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and many more.
The question of setting children up for success gets to the heart of why people homeschool. No parent chooses this option because they want worse outcomes for their child. The truth is that no single method of schooling will work for everybody.
Where families have the motivation and the resources to homeschool their children effectively, their outcomes may be measurably better than their institutionally-schooled peers. And where schools have the resources, the teaching quality and support of the community, there is every chance for the children who attend them to become successful adults.
So What Have We Learned About Homeschool Myths and the Reality of Homeschooling?
However these negative homeschooling myths seep into the collective consciousness, it is clear that they persist. But where research has been carried out, it suggests that homeschooling can actually have positive effects on students’ social development and academic achievement.
We should be wary of accepting such results without question and further research is required in this area. But undoubtedly it is true that if motivated, nurturing parents take homeschooling seriously, then it can be extremely beneficial for their children’s prospects.
It may be that these myths are based on an outdated vision of homeschooling. The modern homeschooling community is a rich demographic tapestry woven from political, religious and ethnic groups from all corners of society.
And in the digital age, homeschoolers have access to more information, support and affordable resources than ever before. This is likely to further boost academic success for homeschoolers, and give families more confidence if they feel they want to try homeschooling.
Which Education Method is Better?
The reality is that, as with so many aspects of life, there is no simple answer to the question of which method of schooling is more beneficial; there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Different children will flourish in different environments according to their personality, temperament, family situation and a whole range of other variables.
Homeschooling is a huge responsibility for parents to take on. But with a dedicated approach, and when students receive the appropriate levels of support and attention, they will ultimately benefit. And of course, the same can be said for children in institutional schools.
What is important moving forward is to redress the balance of people’s common misconceptions around homeschooling.
This appears to be happening slowly over time, but homeschoolers, non-homeschoolers and observers alike should take a responsible approach to the discussion and work to dispel unsubstantiated myths.
Only in this way can we counter existing stigmas so that people can make informed choices, based on sound judgements, about whether to homeschool their children.
For more on this topic, check out the full Education Options collection
- National Center for Education Statistics (2008) – https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009030.pdf
- Ray (2005) (as seen in ref. 5)
- Ray, Brian D. (2017). A systematic review of the empirical research on selected aspects of homeschooling as a school choice. Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform,11(4), 604-621
- Romanowski – Revisiting the Common Myths about Homeschooling (2006) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254350927_Revisiting_the_Common_Myths_about_Homeschooling
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