Friday, 28 January 2011

In the USA

I dare say that most home educating parents in this country are aware by now that over two million children in the USA are being educated at home. Here is a piece about this;

I was interested to see the bit in this article about home educated children doing better at the SAT and ACT college entrance tests. This has been touted before as evidence that home education is better for children than schooling, but it is worth looking a little closer at this claim.

Students who wish to attend college or university in the USA sit either the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT (American College Testing). These give a rough idea of the academic attainment. There are components for reasoning, maths, science, reading and so on. For the last eight or nine years, students have been specifically asked if they are home educated. This allows us to judge the educational standard of home educated kids as opposed to those who have been to school. Because every college student takes these tests, the results are not biased by self-selection. (Of course they are biased by the fact that only those applying for college take the tests; of which, more later)

The ACT is scored from 1 to 36. The average score is 21 and home educated young people average 23. This is a very slight advantage, but the individual parts of the test reveal something interesting. In reading, the home educated teenagers are very much ahead of their peers. They are roughly level in science and a bit behind in maths. This means that the only advantage that home education seems to have given them is a greater fluency and improved comprehension in reading. This is good, but it should be borne in mind when we are told that evidence from America shows that home educated children are in advance of those who went to school.

Another point to consider is this. The proportion of home educated young people applying to college is lower than the average population. The obvious explanation for this is that those taught at home are less likely to go to college or university. Those that do go to college do better on average than the schooled, but fewer go in the first place.

Because home education is so well established in the USA, it is a good place to look for evidence of its efficacy. The latest research shows that it is certainly no worse than schooling, but probably not a great deal better. This is encouraging and it would be good to see some research conducted in this country


  1. Not sure which category to put this post in Simon, as it doesn't fall easily into your usual categories of:

    Other People Are Stupid
    How Women Are Sillier Than Men
    I'm Frankly Baffled By Home Educators

    However, this is quite a turnaround, as you are usually at pains to demonstrate how the US experience of home education has absolutely no bearing on the UK, because parents choose to do it for different reasons.

    Possibly the reason fewer HS kids do college courses is that entry to college is still a little more difficult for them. Even though most colleges now do SAY they welcome HS students, I wonder if that is borne out in practice.

  2. 'However, this is quite a turnaround, as you are usually at pains to demonstrate how the US experience of home education has absolutely no bearing on the UK, because parents choose to do it for different reasons.'

    I didn't say that this had any bearing on the UK, merely that it would be nice to see some similar research in this country. As for my supposed belief that women are sillier than men, this is likely to be a statistical artefact. Since most home educators are women, it stands to reason that if I say anything unflattering about home educators, then women are more likely to be the target. You might have been closer to the mark, had you suggested that I believed that women tend to be less structured at their home education than men.

  3. A few points on these results:
    - Not everyone who goes to college takes these tests - they aren't British-style universal admissions tools, that's why there's more than one of them.

    - A very high proportion of US homeschoolers are conservative Christians who prefer religious universities. Many such institutions do not require or even request these (even Wheaton, the "evangelical Harvard", doesn't, nor does Patrick Henry College).

    - Non-traditional colleges favored by unschoolers (think Hampshire and Evergreen) also generally don't require them, and many liberal arts schools (even the best) are 'flexible' about these and allow applicants to avoid taking them (even top-ranked schools like Bates fall in this category) - these are popular with secular homeschoolers of various types.

    - It's also likely that many college prep homeschoolers skip tests like this because they dual-enrol in 2-year community college as teenagers and then "transfer" to 4-year programs - this option is quite popular with secular homeschoolers.

    - Sadly, some of that lower proportion of HS-ers going to university is accounted for by conservative Christian families who do not believe they should send female children to university at all, preferring them to be "stay at home daughters" until "christian courtship" leads to marriage. This is a depressingly popular option among US conservative-christian homeschoolers.

    It is therefore likely that these are mitigating factors for the idea that a lower proportion of home educated kids apply to university - it's likely that many homeschoolers that do go to university, particularly Christian homeschoolers, are absent from these stats.

  4. Another reason that it could seem that fewer people who are educated at home go to college or university is that we have a 'mature student status' registration. This means that if you have been out of education for more than three years, if you apply to go to university your high school transcripts are irrelevant as you are a 'mature student'.

    We have always had to pay for our university tuition over on the other side of the pond, and therefore some people have to work to earn their way and again are not necessarily going to college or university immediately after high school or finishing their equivalent in their home education. This would mean that taking some time off between high school and college/university would put them in the 'mature student' category and therefore they would not be writing those tests and would not show up in this research.

    They would have to work to save up their money, go to university for a year, then work some more to save up again to cover the costs of another year. Some even work at the universities and get money deducted from their tuition.

    Student aid or student loans are available, but only if your parents don't earn too much money. If you are one of the people whose parents appear to earn lots of money, again you will have to take your time getting into university.

    I'm just curious if there was a category for those types of students in the survey that was carried out to obtain these results.