Tuesday, 9 February 2010

How well do home educated children do academically?

I have in the past warned of the caution that must be exercised before making sweeping statements based upon extravagant extrapolations from grotesquely small, self selected samples consisting of a few dozen home educated children. In order to see properly conducted, large scale research on the subject of home education, it is of course necessary to turn to the United States.

In 1998, the academic achievements and home backgrounds of over twenty thousand home educated children were examined in the largest project of this kind ever conducted. All the children were tested using the same instrument, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. The results, when collated, were fascinating. These children out performed schooled children in all areas. Interestingly, the longer they had been home educated, the better the academic results. A clear and ringing endorsement of home education, perhaps. Hey, if it works in America, I suppose that must mean that it works here as well? Well, maybe.

It is true that these children were home educated, but were there any other factors in their lives which could go some of the way to explaining their educational success? There were a number of clues. In the first place, the parents in such families were educated to a higher level than average. In a quarter of families, one or both parents were qualified teachers. The percentage of parents who were married was higher than the national average, perhaps not unconnected with the fact that many of these families were devoutly religious; evangelical Christianity being the most common denomination. The mothers tended to stay at home and those
who did work only did so part-time. Again, this is not really a surprise. These look like very conventional families, where the father goes out to work and the mother stays home with the children. The whole family worship in church on Sundays. This is a lifestyle and family structure which is perhaps a little less common in this country. Overall, only 6% of the families belonged to ethnic minorities, compared with around 30% nationally.

A picture emerges of stable and traditional families where the parents are dissatisfied with the schools system because it does not educate children effectively and also transmits poor ethical values to the pupils. The parents in these families are sure that they can do better themselves and so they set to and get on with the job. One cannot help wondering whether this kind of family structure produces children who would thrive academically in any setting and that the fact they are home educated might be something of a red herring.

It would be intriguing to see how British home educating families would compare if all these factors were to be ascertained and compared. Are there any differences? Are home educated children more likely to be living with single mothers in this country? Would this affect the amount of time and attention that their parent could give them? Does having a man living in the household have any effect upon educational outcomes? Is religion a factor? Are home educated children raised in a home with two parents who are married to each other, more likely to do well as regards GCSEs and so on? These are all fair questions.

It has often been noted that even when a group of children are all receiving precisely the same education in a school, there is wide variation between their academic attainment. Some of this is of course due to differing intelligence. However there is also a definite link with family circumstances and lifestyle. It is possible to speculate that the same applies to home educated children, only far more so. Since these children are immersed in the family circumstances for far longer than the school educated ones, it would not be at all surprising were the family to have a greater effect upon them. In short, the American work described above might well be an endorsement of traditional family life, rather than a reflection of the efficacy of elective home education per se. This strikes me as a rich field for future research.


  1. Do you have a link to the US research? How many children were from disadvantaged families and how well did they do compared to their less disadvantaged home schooled peers? Was the difference in achievement between the two groups similar to the differences seen in schools? How did the disadvantaged children do compared to their disadvantaged peers in school?

  2. I'm pretty sure this was the study stating "HEing parents who are teachers perform no better than HEing parents who are not teachers" so maybe they have already done the comparison work with other subsets.

    Is the study freely available online or is is pay to view ?

  3. This is a link to a summary of the work I mentioned;


  4. I think you are mixing up your research studies. The page you link to only includes the following about the Rudner research you mention:

    "This was confirmed in another study by Dr. Lawrence Rudner of 20,760 homeschooled students which found the homeschoolers who have homeschooled all their school aged years had the highest academic achievement. This was especially apparent in the higher grades. ii This is a good encouragement to families catch the long-range vision and homeschool through high school.

    Similarly, the 1998 study by Dr. Rudner of 20,760 students, found that eighth grade students whose parents spend $199 or less on their home education score, on the average, in the 80th percentile. Eighth grade students whose parents spend $400 to $599 on their home education also score on the average, in the 80th percentile! Once the parents spend over $600, the students do slightly better, scoring in the 83rd percentile"

    The rest of the information (which you seem to associate with the Rudner research) is about other pieces of research. For example, the information about ethnic minorities comes from the Strengths of Their Own study (5,402 students) and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills came from a different study in 1994. I don't think there is enough information about each study and the study populations to draw the conclusions you have done.

  5. No, I'm not really mixing up my studies. The paer to which i refer above is; "Achievement and Demographics of Home School Students: 1998", by Rudner. This contains all the information which I talk about. The summary on the HSLDA site which I provided a link to, does not have the full paper. I was just pointing you in the general direction of the study. If you google it by name you should find more.

  6. Thanks, a proper reference for a change! For anyone interested the full report can be seen here, http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/viewFile/543/666

    I'm surprised though that you are willing to accept the results so uncritically. The population was self selected and only represents somewhere between 1.7% and 3% of the US home school population. All of the same criticisms you apply to other research applies equally to this study. Those who are interested in competing academically and probably the more highly educated home schooling parents are most likely to volunteer for this type of research. Only those parents who had contracted to take the paid-for test were asked to take part so not only were the parents free to take part (or not), the population pool was a pre-selected particular group of home schoolers who were interested in their children being tested according to the school curriculum. I don't think it is possible to conclude that this study population is representative of the US home school population any more than similar (though smaller) UK studies do.

    However, I did find the comparison between the home schooled children's and catholic/private school children's results interesting. It seems likely from the descriptions of the home schooler study population demographics that the populations in these two groups are quite similar and the home schoolers still exceed their school going peers in every area in every grade. This seems a more useful piece of information as is more likely to be comparing like with like - religious parents interested enough in education to pay for it. It would be interesting to know more about how the this school population compares to the home schoolers.

  7. Interesting point:

    Simon writes,
    "In a quarter of families, one or both parents were qualified teachers."

    The study states:
    "Controlling for grade and parent education level, there is no significant
    difference in the achievement levels of home school students whose parents are
    certified [teachers] and those that are not."

  8. That is perfectly true. I made the observation without comment. The same has been found with studies in this country; 25% of home educating parents in these surveys tend to be teachers. I do not think at all that teachers are any better than anybody else at teaching their children, I was simply giving an outline of the demographics.

  9. But wasn't the point in outlining the demographics that the demographics are a possible reason for the home schoolers doing better than the general population as opposed to home education per se?

  10. A position that is disputable when you look at the comparison between the home schoolers in the study and the more demographically comparable children at religious/private schools and statistics such as parents being teachers making no difference to outcomes?