About That Homeschool Infographic You Keep Seeing

If you’re at all connected to the world of homeschooling, you may have seen this snazzy new infographic on homeschooling floating around recently.

HSI Intro

Unfortunately, this infographic is highly misleading in its content and assertions. Using data in this way, though, is sadly common in the homeschooling world, and that’s something that is worth addressing. In the name of good information and accurate data, I am going to run down this infographic and offer some pointers on where the information is incorrect or misleading. My commentary here may also be of interest in pointing to what we do and do not know about homeschooling, and to the limitations of much of the data we currently have.

HSI History

The first date on the list states that in 1840 some 55% of children went to school while the other 45% were educated in the home or by tutors. This is misleading. For one thing, school then was not like school today—most children who went to school did so for only a few years, and school terms were often only a few months long. For another thing, very few parents in 1840 could hope to afford tutors. In reality, most children in 1840 started working at an early age, some in brutal conditions in factories and mines, and most children never learned much in the way of academics beyond reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. The homeschool lobby often paints a picture of modern homeschooling as natural and public education as some sort of historical aberration. This is both incorrect and irrelevant.

Next, it’s factually untrue that in 1980 homeschooling was only legal in 20 states. Homeschooling was on the books either implicitly or explicitly in 36 states in 1980, and had been for some time. In the remaining fourteen states, parents wishing to homeschool often found that they could do so by operating their homeschools as private schools or by getting permission from the local superintendent. Yes, some states had requirements that went too far, and yes, some local superintendents were difficult to work with. Some states required parents who wished to homeschool to have teaching licenses, and some superintendents ignored the law and unfairly targeted homeschoolers. However, the statement that homeschooling was only “legal” in 20 states is false. Milton Gaither goes over all of this in his chapter “Making it Legal” in his book Homeschool: An American History, which is conspicuously absent from the list of sources at the end of the infographic.

The last thing I’ll mention about the timeline is the listing for 1983. What were the “changes in tax laws” that which supposedly forced many Christian schools to close and caused homeschooling rates to soar? The answer is Bob Jones University v. United States, in which the Supreme Court held that if a religious university practiced racial discrimination, the federal government could revoke its tax exempt status. This was about whether Christian schools could be racist and retain their tax exempt status. Regardless, it is untrue that this decision “forced many Christian schools to close.” Many Christian schools have closed since the 1980s, which was the heyday of the Christian school movement, but the reasons have to so with the challenges involved in running a school and the fact that the rise of homeschooling decreased enrollment in Christian schools, not changes in tax law. It is odd that this innacurate entry would be included on this infographic, especially when something hugely important to the history of homeschooling did happen in 1983—that was the year James Dobson had Raymond Moore on his radio show, which provided many Christian parents with the endorsement they needed to make the jump to homeschooling and directly contributed to the growth of Christian homeschooling.

HSI Today

This section is fairly accurate, with a few small caveats. First, Iowa’s law changed several months before this infographic came out, and it no longer requires either assessments or notification but is still listed here as such. Second, the criteria used to highlight six states and list them as states with additional requirements such as curriculum approval, parental notification, or home visits” is a bit unclear. For one thing, it ignores the fact that a full 11 states have some form of parent qualification requirements. For another thing, in spite of its suggestion no states uniformly require home visits, and even those that require home visits in case of a problem stipulate that those home visits must not be unannounced. The left side also has a some inaccuracies. Indiana has a tax credit for homeschoolers, but this isn’t listed.

There’s one more thing to add regarding this section. It is true that 11 states require no notification or assessments, 14 states require only notification, and 25 states require notification and assessment. However, it must be borne in mind that most of the states that require assessments have additional options—such as operating as a private school—that allow many homeschoolers to bypass these requirements. Further, many of these states do not do much in the way of ensuring that their assessment requirements are actually followed. Finally, several of the states that require standardized tests do not require students to hit any particular threshold. Unfortunately, it is really hard to put this sort of nuance into a quick chart for easy reference.

HSI growth

This data is accurate but is slightly outdated given the release of the NCES data for 2011 (for an up to date listing, see here). Still, it’s a fairly good picture of the current number of homeschooled students, and of the growth of homeschooling in the past decade and a half.

HSI Parents

This section relies on data from a study Brian Ray conducted for HSLDA, a homeschool advocacy group, in 2009, and here’s where we come to a problem. Ray’s study does not actually tell us anything about the average homeschool parent or the average homeschooled child. Ray recruited participants through major testing services, meaning that his study only included homeschooling parents who choose to have their students tested, which self-selects for a certain type of parents. Further, Ray had an absolutely terrible response rate; no social scientist would ever dare to suggest that a study with such a low response rate was representative of the population it was targeting. This means that only the most dedicated and involved homeschool parents volunteered to participate in Ray’s study. In other words, Ray was studying what one might call the cream of the crop of homeschooling families. It is incredibly deceptive to suggest that Ray’s results could be generalized to the homeschooling population as a whole, and yet that is what this infographic does. This would be like passing out surveys at suburban PTA meetings and then passing off the results as though they are representative of the average public school family.

So here’s a question. Do we actually know the education levels of homeschool parents? Yes, actually. We have data on this point from the National Center for Education Statistics, which conducts studies on random samples of the population. Unfortunately, while the NCES sample size is large, some of the numbers bounce around enough to suggest that it may not be quite large enough. In addition, a significant population of homeschooling parents are anti-establishment, and would not participate in the NCES should they receive one of its surveys in the mail. So the NCES numbers are not perfect. However, they still offer a better idea of homeschool parents’ educational backgrounds than does any other piece of data we have. And what do those numbers say, exactly?

Parents' Education fancy chart colors matched

That looks a bit different, doesn’t it? According to the infographic, only 1.4% of homeschool fathers and 0.5% of homeschool mothers do not have high school diplomas. But according to the NCES data, a full 11% of all homeschooling takes place in families where neither parent has a high school diploma. Further, according to the NCES data, only 39% of homeschooling takes place in families where where at least one parent has a bachelor’s degree. This contrasts with the infographic’s claims that a 66.3% of homeschool fathers and 62.5% of homeschool mothers have bachelor’s degrees. While the NCES data isn’t perfect, it is the best data we have and the only data on this subject that uses a randomly selected sample and therefore the only data that can be argued to be representative of homeschoolers as a whole. Interestingly, the NCES data suggests that homeschooling parents have, on average, essentially the same level of education as other parents (compare the two here and here).

Rather than relying at the NCES data, which is the best data we have, this infographic relies on the data from Ray’s descriptive study. Remember that Ray was studying the cream of the crop of the homeschooling population. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that his sample was much more highly educated than the average parent. What should be surprising is that this infographic would be so misleading as to claim that those numbers represent the homeschool average. It’s especially odd given that the creators of the infographic were obviously aware of the existence of the NCES data, because they used it as their source for the information in the very next section.

HSI Reasons

This section uses the NCES data from 2007. While this data has some limitations, as I’ve already mentioned, it is nevertheless the best data we have. Like the section on the number of homeschooled children, this section is a breath of fresh air. I would however offer two small caveats, however: First, the questions the NCES uses to ask about parental motivation for homeschooling are not well designed, which can be challenging for researchers. Second, the infographic only lists what each family put as their number one reason for homeschooling, and leaves out how many parents chose each option when they were allowed to mark more than one reason. You can read that information here, and you can see how parents reasons for homeschooling have changed over time here.

HSI Academics

In contrast, this section is a disaster. Once again, the infographic relies on data from Ray’s 2009 study, and once again that is a problem. Let’s talk just a little more about this study. Ray released his findings in an easy-to-read summary in a highly deceptive manner. In other words, Ray’s findings do not actually say what he says in that summary that they say. Ray’s full study, which he published in 2010, can be read here. In his published study, Ray explains that “this is a nationwide, cross-sectional, descriptive study . . . . It is not an experiment and readers should be careful about assigning causation to anything.” He also states that “it was not possible within the constraints of this study to confirm whether this sample is representative of the population of home-educated students.” In other words, Ray was not studying a random sample and his results cannot be assumed to be representative of homeschooled students as a whole. Yet, both the summary of his findings and this infographic state that Ray’s findings are representative. I am at a loss as to whether this is the result of ignorance or malicious intent.

Remember that Ray found that the participants in his study had parents who were significantly more educated than the average parent. Remember that the NCES data suggests that homeschool parents are not actually on average more educated than the average parent. This alone makes it crystal clear that Ray is not studying the average homeschooler, and that his results cannot be generalized to the homeschooling population as a whole. More than this, Ray does not correct for background factors. His participants are from families that are more educated, more financially well off, and more married than the average family. We know that public schooled children from families that are more educated, more finically well off, and more married outperform other public schooled children. Because Ray does not correct for background factors, which would involve comparing his participants to their demographically matched peers rather than to the national average, what he is actually studying is not the effects of homeschooling but rather the effects of growing up in families that are more educated, more financially well off, and more married. And yet, this infographic suggests not only that Ray’s results reflect the average homeschooler (they don’t) but also that their higher level of performance can be credited to homeschooling (without correcting for background factors, which Ray does not do, it cannot).

So, what do we actually know about homeschooled students academic achievement? A number of things, actually. The state of Arkansas tests homeschooled students annually, and releases those findings. It finds that homeschooled students score in the low 60th percentiles, and score far better in reading than in math (in math, they are only slightly above the public school average, and are sometimes below it). Unfortunately, we do not have the data to correct for background factors, and therefore cannot say whether or not these students outperform their public school peers. By this I mean that, for example, students whose parents are better educated do better in than other students regardless of whether they are educated in public, private, or homeschools. If these Arkansas homeschool students have parents who are, on average, better educated than their peers, that may explain their slightly higher test scores. The Rudner study, conducted in 1997, found a full 20 percentile point difference between the children of homeschool parents with college degrees and the children of homeschool parents without high school diplomas, indicating that parental education does affect homeschool performance. We also know that homeschooled students are more likely to have two parents living in their home than are public schooled students, and studies suggest that having two parents living in the home improves students test scores. In other words, we do not know whether Arkansas homeschoolers’ slightly higher test scores are a result of homeschooling, or of factors such as parental education and family status. Regardless, the Arkansas numbers show that this infographic’s claims that homeschooled students score on average in the 87th percentile are flat out false, and demonstrably so.

We also have some interesting numbers from Alaska, which I’ve played around with a bit. Most homeschool students in Alaska enroll in public school extension programs designed to serve homeschoolers. These programs offer students monthly contact with certified teachers and require parents to create an educational plan for each child each year and to file quarterly progress reports. The students are tested at the end of each year, and the parents receive around $2000 per student per year for use on textbooks, computers, and tutoring. Each of these extension programs must make its test scores public (here is an example), and I’ve compiled the scores for the largest of these programs as follows. In reading, 86% of homeschooled students were proficient or advanced as compared to 80.1% of public schooled students. In writing, 77.3% of homeschooled students were proficient or advanced as compared to 74.2% of public schooled students. In mathematics, 64.3% of homeschooled students were proficient or advanced as compared to 68.6% of public schooled students. In other words, these Alaska homeschool students outperformed the public school average in reading and writing and underperformed the public school average in math. This data does come with background factors, though the results of that analysis are too complex to discuss here. Of course, it should be remembered that this is only homeschooled students enrolled in the public school extension programs, and does not include those who homeschooled under Alaska’s minimalist homeschool statute. Still, the results are intriguing.

What else do we know? Well, we know that homeschooled students score slightly above average on the SAT and the ACT. However, a study of homeschooled students who take the SATs found that their parents were significantly better educated than were the parents of public schooled students taking the SAT, suggesting that homeschooled students’ slightly better performance on college entrance examinations like the SATs and ACTs may be largely attributable to their family backgrounds rather than to homeschooling. Further, homeschooled students are less likely than public schooled students to take the SATs and ACTs, suggesting that homeschool graduates may be less likely to attend college than public school graduates and that, as a result, homeschooled students SAT and ACT scores may be inflated by the fact that only the best of the best of homeschoolers take these tests.

Can homeschooled students succeed academically? Absolutely. Do all homeschooled students succeed academically? No. One question that never seems to be brought up is why successful homeschoolers succeed. First, homeschooled children in well educated middle class families would likely score well above average even if they attended public school simply because of their socio-economic status. Second, It takes hard work and dedication to succeed at homeschooling, it’s not like you can just apply the label “homeschooling” and get instant success. There’s also the fact that some students who would have wilted in public school thrive at home, and some students who would have thrived in public school wilt at home. Which educational method works best for which child may vary greatly, but many homeschooling advocates act as if homeschooling is some sort of universal formula that works automatically for every child.

HSI Grow up

HSI Involvement

This section relies on Brian Ray’s study of homeschooled adults. It should be noted that Ray is associated with HSLDA, the country’s leading homeschool advocacy group, and is not an unbiased researcher. For more, see this article. Anyway, in his study of young adults who were homeschooled, Ray did not use a random sample or correct for background factors. Further, his study was composed of highly leading questions and was not scientific in any sense (for more on Ray’s habitual use of leading and unscientific questions, see this critique of new study of homeschooled young adults that Ray is currently spearheading). In other words, Ray asked current homeschoolers to help him find homeschool graduates who would be willing to fill out a survey on their experiences. It’s not surprising that the homeschool graduates who would volunteer to participate in such a study would be those who most positive about their experiences. For a study conducted by Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a group dedicated to helping those homeschool graduates who experienced some form of abuse or educational neglect, see here. The group’s 2013 Basic Survey found that its participants ranked their academic experience in the home fairly low and experienced high rates of physical and emotional abuse. Neither Ray’s study nor HARO’s study used a random sample and neither can be assumed to be representative, but then, that’s kind of my point. 

The only random sample we have of adults who were homeschooled is in the Cardus Education Survey, which corrected for background factors like family income or parental education. The Cardus found that being homeschooled negatively impacted a student’s future educational attainment and earning potential, and made students less likely to attend college and, for those who did attend college, more likely to attend a community college and less likely to attend a prestigious university. Further, they were less likely to be politically engaged as adults. Homeschool graduates were also significantly more likely to report “lack of clarity of goals and sense of direction” and “feelings of helplessness in dealing with life’s problems” than any other group. Finally, they were also more likely to marry early, to have fewer children, and to divorce. Again, this study actually corrected for background factors and it used a random sample. While further research is badly needed, the Cardus suggests that Ray’s congratulatory survey is far from the whole truth when it comes to homeschooling outcomes. 

HSI Costs

Finally, the section on how much it costs to homeschool a child is highly misleading. If I were to leave my career and homeschool my own two children, that would cost our family tens of thousands of dollars a year in lost income, not the $500 per child listed in the infographic. When a family homeschools, they give up an income, because, in effect, they have to have a teacher—i.e., one of the two parents—employed full time teaching the children. And yet, that cost, that sacrifice, is routinely left out of infographics like yours. If a woman who made a salary of $50,000 chooses to quit her job and stays home to homeschool her single child, it costs that family $50,000 to homeschool that child, even before counting in books and supplies. If that woman quits her job and stays home to homeschool her five children, it costs that family $10,000 per year to educate each of those children, even before counting in books and supplies. Suggesting that homeschool parents’ average of $500 per child in school books is a figure you can compare to the average $9,963 public schools spend on educating children is highly disingenuous, and that’s me being gracious.

HSI Footnotes

Notice something about these footnotes? Very few are to actual good academic research on homeschooling. The history of homeschooling links are lay articles, not scholarly pieces. Lay articles have their place and are sometimes very good, but for something like creating an infographic it’s important to use sound academic data—and, well, this infographic is an example of what happens when you don’t do that. Now there is a link to the NCES data, which is some of the best data we have. However, the infographic relies on that data selectively and completely ignores it when it comes to areas like parental education (if you have any skill at reading charts, you might find these summaries of the NCES data interesting: herehere, and here). Further, there is not a single link to the International Center for Home Education Research, which was founded by Milton Gaither and Robert Kunzman and is probably the best resource currently out there on research on homeschooling. Finally, this infographic relies on Wikipedia for the history of education, rather than scholarly books and articles on the subject. This might help explain why its history section was so terrible, and it should be a sign that the people who put this infographic together did so without putting in a lot of effort.

This infographic does nothing but mislead readers and misrepresent data. It may be a nice pat on the back for those homeschoolers who want to make themselves feel good, but it’s not good research or accurate information. And you know what? This sort of terrible scholarship does nothing but hurt the image of homeschooling. These sort of infographics make homeschoolers look either ignorant or willfully deceptive. If you want facts about homeschooling, I suggest you go elsewhere.

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23 thoughts on “About That Homeschool Infographic You Keep Seeing

  1. Interesting dissection and commentary. I couldn’t help but notice that you don’t seem very objective. Your analysis and disdain of the references slide along with your shameless plug for your own site at the end brought your biases home. I respect your experience sir, but the world does not revolve completely around PH.D.s, or PH.D. candidates. I also respect the work and research of the lay people.

    • Nathan, ICHER is not my site. It was founded by Milton Gaither and Robert Kunzman, one of whom is a homeschooling father and both of whom are prominent researchers of homeschooling.

      • The ‘go elsewhere’ link is actually broken. You don’t have ‘http://’ in front of the address, and thus it leads to a ‘not found’ error on your own site. (Try it.) This may be why Nathan thinks its a shameless plug.

      • Ah, thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ve now fixed the link. I do know both Robert Kunzman and Milton Gaither, and I was invited to a sort of open panel discussion during its founding talks, but I haven’t been involved in the group in any official capacity.

  2. I admit I don’t have a PhD, but even I know that a + means you add. The page on state requirements says 14 states require notification of homeschooling, but it’s implied that the 20 states that require test scores and the 6 that have additional requirements would also require notification to the state. 14 + 20 + 6 = 40 states that require notification. Very close to your 39 total, probably just due to using different sources. You say that 24 states require further assessment. Same thing, they say 20 require further assessment and it’s implied that the 6 with “additional requirements” would also require the further assessment. 20 + 6 = 26. Again very close to your 24. So their numbers aren’t so very different from yours after all. Your were just to focused on finding something wrong that you closed your eyes to what they are saying.

    “Also” and “Additional” both mean in addition. Free education for you. You’re welcome

    • I don’t understand why you think I’m being disingenuous. I’m not. You’re right, I did misread this section. I’ve looked it over again and am pleased to say that it’s actually pretty accurate. I just spent the last hour looking over homeschool oversight in the various states to double check the accuracy and ensure that my understanding is correct, and I’ve revised my commentary on that section. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention!

  3. My goodness….is there nothing better you can find to do with your time? What a shame. What is apparent here is that you have a lot of anger towards home educators and those who promote it. While you waste your time lashing out at home education, more and more people are doing it and the benefits are undeniable. Perhaps it is time to quit grinding that ax and find a more useful and productive way to expend so much energy?

    • My anger is not toward home education but rather toward bad research and claims that twist research to say something it doesn’t. What’s curious is that I should think that homeschooling parents would be against bad research too, but apparently me being against bad research is interpreted by some as being against homeschooling. Why is this?

    • I don’t think I understand why you think Rachel is angry or lashing out? Nothing in this post seemed angry. I’m guessing you are the one lashing out because this exposes some of the truth about homeschooling that so many homeschoolers work so hard to cover up. And I can assure you, the numbers are far worse than even the picture that Rachel paints. There is an extremely large number of homeschoolers that fly under the radar and certainly would not respond to a survey.

      Unfortunately, I was homeschooled my entire life and speak from personal experience.

      • That you had a less than desirable experience is the fault of your parents, not the fault of home education itself. I would suggest you forgive and move on instead of wallowing in the past.

  4. The result of my homeschooling experience is a lack of education that has hurt my educational and career choices. While that may be the fault of my parents choosing to homeschool. It is also the fault of state who let them do so with no system in place to ensure that I received an adequate education. And about 90% of the homeschoolers I know are in the same boat. So much for homeschooling being sooooo superior! If you can’t teach your child what they need to know find someone who can!

  5. I just read this lovely article and was subsequently shocked to see the negativity expressed in the comments. Great analysis, Rachel. I’m currently a PhD student too (in poli sci), and I was homeschooled (personally, I had a fabulous experience with it). I know the existing data isn’t great, but I was actually pleasantly surprised as I read this to realize that there’s some reasonably good data around. All I’d heard of before were the sources HSLDA (and other homeschoolers) tend to cite. So I learned something today from your article! Pretty cool stuff. I’ll probably send you an email because I’d love to talk about this stuff more.

  6. I was homeschooled. My answer to how I feel about that is complicated and nuanced, and also is bound up in the fact that I was homeschooled for religious reasons that I do think were wrong and caused me to be overly sheltered. I think that was very damaging, as the world very much took me by surprise later.

    Strictly focusing on academics, though, I don’t think it hurt me: I graduated from college, will attend a prestigious graduate school this fall, and I currently work internationally at what I would describe as my dream job. However, I think that the successes I’ve experienced have little to do with being homeschooled. The main thing that got me on my current path, a one-year student exchange abroad, happened in my supplementary public education classes at the local high school when I met foreign exchange students at the school and wanted to try it myself-and saw a brochure in the school counselor’s office one day.

    Most parents do not have the resources, education, or knowledge to successfully home school their children. My mother was exceptionally dedicated and I think she really did a great job on our academics, but she could not fully counsel us about what to do after high school, or how to succeed in choosing and following a higher education path. There are a lot of options and considerations out there that we had no idea about when I was graduating from high school.

    I do want to say that my father and my mother together provided a wonderful family environment that I think has really helped me in life, and my mother staying home to teach us was most definitely part of that.

    I agree that bad research is bad for everyone, whether parents choose to homeschool or not. Thank so much you for your article.

  7. I appreciate your view on statistics and realize no study is perfect because of all the parameters are influenced by what the test was proposed to show and the participants chosen.

    There may be statistics available about home education not by home educators but not published since it is contrary to the public school agenda. The community college in our region did an assessment of ACT scores and college GPA of public, private, and home educated students in 2007. Home educated students ranked the highest in both assessments.

    Due to being sent to the wrong department in the college I spoke to the in-house statistician and when he heard that I home educated my children he shared the study with me and had multiple questions because the results were not what he expected and he was quite curious why home educated students had the best results.

    The school has this info every year but does not make it available to just anyone. I have asked since then but have not been able to get it. I realize the scope of your home education interests is much broader than ACT scores and college GPA, but these results are an unbiased study based totally on students enrolled in this specific college.

    Of seven of my children three have graduated with highest honors from university level, one attending now at 4.0GPA, one chose not to attend college (technical route). and two are still being home educated, this being said; home education can work and is an option for families. Does it matter? Sure, but does it have to be analyzed to your standards to prove its worth. My children’s total secondary education expenses were supplied by us personally and did not cost you, the taxpayer, anything. Now four are taxpaying adults paying for public school students education.

    • It’s true that homeschoolers have higher SAT/ACT scores, that’s not something anyone is hiding. It’s common knowledge and well documented. However, much of homeschoolers’ higher SAT/ACT scores are actually explained by socio-economic factors — i.e., the average homeschool taking the SAT have parents with higher incomes and more education than the average public school student taking the same test. Further, only one third as many homeschooled students as one would expect take the SAT or the ACT. This discrepancy carries on into college, and there is a wealth of data that suggests that homeschooled students are less likely than other students to attend college.

      It’s worth noting that the data on the college performance of homeschooled students who *do* attend college is generally positive, but is more mixed than your comment suggests. There are some studies that have found that homeschooled students’ college performance is average, and some that have found that homeschooled college students tend to underperform in math and other STEM fields. Yes, the balance of the data suggests that homeschool graduates who do attend college tend to do well, but the picture quite as simple as it might sound.

      As to your question, there are several reasons for analyzing how well homeschooling works. The first is that if homeschoolers do have general weaknesses (such as in math), it would be helpful for homeschool parents to know about that so they can be on guard against it. Another is that if there are advantages homeschooling offers that public schools could copy, it would be worth knowing that.

      Finally, homeschool advocates often argue against accountability for homeschooling by arguing that homeschooling is so wildly successful that accountability is unnecessary. Meanwhile, some homeschooled students are not given an education, often because their parents are neglectful or abusive. Just as parents should have the right to homeschool, even so children should have the right to a good educational foundation. But as long as homeschool advocates continue to argue that homeschooling is universally and wildly successful, contrary to the actual evidence, those children will continue to be without recourse. That is wrong.

      Finally, I absolutely and completely agree that home education can work and should be available as an option for families. I just happen to think that every homeschooled child deserves an education as sound as the one I received and that good data is always better than bad data.

      • Rachel,
        What evidence have you uncovered that would show *why* homeschoolers are weaker in math than public school kids. It seems that most homeschoolers I know, myself included, spend a lot of time trying to find the best curriculum, and have their kids in co-ops, if math is not the parent’s forte. Is it that the math curricula available to homeschoolers isn’t as good as it is marketed to be? Are a lot of homeschooling moms just not that good at teaching math? What do you think it might be?

      • This an excellent question! We don’t have data on the *why* yet, but I suspect it’s because it’s easier to get a child reading and let them take off, simply providing them with reading material, than it is to teach a child math all the way through high school. I don’t think the problem is the curriculum, I think the problem is that math comes easier if it’s taught, and most parents, myself included, do not have the knowledge to teach advanced math, at least not with a great deal of extra study.

        Let me share a bit of my own experience. I was homeschooled K-12, and when I was in high school my mother simply gave me textbooks (Saxon) to study out of. This worked for me through Algebra 2, but after that I started to lose the threads. I could still make the equations work, technically, but I had no idea what I was doing. My mom said I could ask my dad (an engineer) if I had problems, but when I did, the level I was at was beyond what he uses regularly, and it took him so long to answer my question that I didn’t ask again. Instead, I floundered. I technically did the work, but I didn’t actually *learn* it. I think I would have benefitted from having a tutor, or taking a math course at a community college. I think homeschool parents need to be especially ready to go for outside assistance on math. Once I was in college, I told my mom that what she’d done for math with me in high school didn’t work well, and my two high school sisters, whom she is homeschooling today, have a math tutor.

        I’m glad to hear you’re taking math seriously! I’ve spoken to some homeschool grads whose parents simply gave up on math when it got above their heads. Your children will be grateful you put so much effort into finding curriculum that works for them! 🙂

  8. Your same argument of “socio-economic” factors for home educated I think has been proven to be the same for public school students. The children of parents with better “socio-economic” factors do better in public school than the less advantaged. I know there are exceptions, no doubt, but that goes both ways for both models of educating.

    As to your need to help home educators with the lower math score analysis, your above article did not come across of something to help me; but only what home educators are not doing or possibly doing wrong. I have looked into math research and have chosen a strenuous math curriculum that is available to public schools. but few use it because it is boring and not flashy. Financially, this curriculum has been used and used again by my children/students, and much of it was bought used. Some even was purchased from a school that was no longer using it.

    Your comment, “Meanwhile,some home schooled students are not given an education, often because their parents are neglectful or abusive,” probably is the most confounding! There are multiple public school students that can’t receive an adequate education due to neglectful and/or abusive parents. I am sure there are public records available and the home-educated child is not the highest percentage of abused children. In our state, foster parents, not in it for the money, are being recruited in many ads in newspapers and other media.

    If you truly believe that accountability is so important than I would suggest you look into the spending and living habits of those that receive tax dollars by not working (not that people paid into all their lives such as social security) and see if the children of these families have received the childhood “as sound as the one you received.” I am appalled how much we give to families that have no responsibility to what is given to them. According to you, if it were some who didn’t do a proper job of home educating, there, “…children will continue to be without recourse. That is wrong.” Then do something to reform welfare and how many of those children suffer for something that is equally wrong and costly to the public, as well.

    Things funded by public tax dollars do need to be answered to, but honestly you want to check on my schooling that does not cost you a dime. Honestly, we could check on the education doled out in a local city school and it would not be up to the standard of the local suburb school and the dollar amount spent is within 10% difference. These “F” graded schools(by published state standards)still receive funding and often even more money. This is why families that care, poor or rich, are moving out of the city at all time highs or choosing to home educate.

    You seem to miss my point is that there is research already done that is not published by the state because it would not favor public education. Our state regents require this info to be reported to them, but I have never seen any of it in print. All of the legislators, I have shown the study that I have, actually have said no one has ever revealed that to them. Daily they have paid spokespersons from public secondary schools to higher university level visit their offices requesting for more funds and portray the public model as outstanding. I have met these lobbyist and they seem to share many your negative sentiments.

    Scrutinize and fix what the public pays for and then come to my home.

    • There are programs and organizations working to help improve the scores of underprivileged public school children. Underprivileged homeschooled children deserve the same.

      I’m glad to hear that you feel confident in your math curriculum, but I think homeschool parents deserve to know that homeschooled students have a weakness in math so that they can make extra sure to address it. I know that if I were homeschooling my children, I would want to know that so I could work to circumvent it. I would want to know so that I could work especially hard to ensure that my children received a good math education. Knowing that homeschoolers face a math challenge would give me something to watch for. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who feels this way. As for finding out what does or does not work when teaching homeschooled children math, well, how can we look into that if we don’t know that there’s a problem? That research is important, and it is research that needs to be done, for the benefit of both homeschooled children and homeschool parents.

      As to abuse and neglect, no, there are no public records available that show that homeschooled children are at a lower level of abuse. I am the cofounder of Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, and from the limited data we have collected so far we have found that homeschooled children are at no lower risk of death from abuse or neglect than other children. When we have more data, it is likely we will find that they are actually at increased risk. Why? Because homeschooling allows abusive parents to isolate their children and escalate their abuse without worrying about a teacher noticing it. These are likely not parents you know as those who homeschool to hide child abuse are unlikely to join a homeschool co-op (although some do). But there are stories, oh so many stories, of children locked in closets for years, chained in their parents basement, or starved to death over a period of months. There are stories of children kept in cages, or forced to wear dog shock collars. Yes, I know, this is shocking to hear, but in an environment without accountability is it any surprise that abusive parents would take advantage of homeschooling to ensure that their abuse is not detected? If you’re interested in reading more, I’d suggest you take a look at the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database.

      You are right that programs funded by public tax dollars do need to be held accountable, but we have accountability for things not funded by public tax dollars as well. For example, we have safety standards for workplaces, with safety inspections to provide accountability. Homeschooling needs accountability too, because it involves not just the homeschool parent but also the homeschooled child. Children have a right to an education. Accountability on homeschooling ensures that homeschool parents provide their children with an education. Without accountability, there is nothing to support children’s right to an education.

      As for public school education that is not up to standard, yes, I care about fixing that too. And there are organizations out there working on improving public education. But as a homeschool graduate, I have a particular interest in improving things for homeschooled children.

      Finally, what research are you talking about, when you suggest that research is being covered up? I already responded to this before — it is common knowledge that homeschooled students who take the SATs have higher than average scores, which is the information you suggested was being covered up. There is no coverup that I am aware of. I would appreciate seeing the study you are discussing, however, as I’m trying to collect and read essentially every study I can find on homeschooling.

  9. A quick note on math curriculum. My mother-in-law has been a public school advanced math teacher for over 30 years and she has tutored tons of Christian school and home school students who has suffered under Saxon. So, curriculum DOES matter. The way Saxon presents material in is based on a ‘cyclical’ theory, which in short, means the students don’t get enough mastery of one concept before moving on (because the theory is that they will reintroduce the concept again later…) Every home schooler I know who does NOT enjoy math, has studied using Saxon. Public school text books on math are superior.

  10. Coming late to the party, but thanks for an excellent dissection of the claims made in the homeschool infographic.

    About 10 or so years ago, it began to dawn on me that homeschoolers’ claims of universal high academic accomplishment couldn’t be true, any more than all of Lake Wobegone’s kids could all be “above average”. Advocates routinely dismissed the growing dissent pointing out abuse or bad results connected with homeschooling as “anecdotes”, without noting that the homeschooled spelling bee champs and the like receiving so much positive media attention were also just as surely anecdotes. Spelling and geography bees are essentially trivia contests anyway, and to address a point you made here: you just don’t hear of homeschoolers winning equivalent math or science competitions.

    At the same time more and more comments began to appear in disparate forums and local news around the US about—

    “homeschooled” kids who were past age 10 and still couldn’t read, as well as similar victims of educational neglect;

    girls receiving little or no actual education in fundie Christian homeschooling because “they’re going to be housewives anyway, and their husbands can read them the Bible”;

    children made to leave school to be “homeschooled” but instead made to care for siblings or elders, or do farm or other work at home;

    horrific instances of isolation and abuse under the rubric of homeschooling that put almost anything happening in the public schools to shame.

    The famous series on homeschooling questioning many advocates’ claims appeared in the Akron Beacon-Journal in late 2004, around this time, though I wasn’t familiar with the series until a few years later.

    Finally a couple of years ago I took what numbers I could find to see just how many homeschooled students were actually going on to university, based on the proportion taking the SAT or ACT as a proxy. If you intend to go to a normal university, even the local community college, you take one of these tests, period. My numbers surprised even me.

    The percentage of public school students going on to university after high school graduation is upwards of 25%—and much higher in some wealthier districts. The equivalent for homeschoolers? About 10%.

    The percentage of homeschoolers is commonly given now as 3–4% of all students. Balance this with a fairly common practice of parents sending their children to public school for the high school years, so let’s drop that to about 2% of those still being homeschooled in those last few years. Trying to be fair. You would think, then, that about 2% of those taking the SAT or ACT would identify as homeschooled: that is, a direct proportion. Instead, it’s about 0.5%—a quarter of the expected figure.

    These are based on information that is now several years old, but the SAT and ACT people haven’t been releasing the relevant figures to the public recently. Researchers presumably can get access to recent data.

    The problem as you discovered is that any attempt to point out that issues do exist within homeschooling and deserve to be addressed is answered by angry attacks from the homeschooled crowd, many of whom do not seem to have reading comprehension and instead take any criticism as a call to ban homeschooling. This in turn undermines their credibility and makes one wonder just what their kids are learning. Many such missives are full of serious typos and grammatical and punctuation errors. That doesn’t help their cause either.

    Homeschooling can achieve excellent results from dedicated parents. Some children thrive best in that environment, and it might be the best option for highly gifted, special needs, or bullied children, among others. But we need to be honest and have a serious discussion of all problems inherent in homeschooling, backed by genuine academic studies, so that these problems can be addressed. Your blog is a vital part of beginning this process, and thanks again.

  11. As a first-year homeschooler the plethora of comments have helped me form a clearer picture of what I should be aware of as I homeschool. I, personally, chose to homeschool my son (currently in 4th grade) because his test scores EXCEEDED state requirements, in both Language Arts and Math. It has been this way from when he entered public education, and I felt it was doing him a great disservice to continue sending him to school, where they could NOT differentiate the curriculum to meet his needs. In addition, I grew extremely frustrated with the amount of time that was focused on Test Prep. My son, never had a regularly scheduled PE, Art, or Library period….He had a 20 minute morning recess, 40 min lunch period, and a 10 min lunch recess. It really seemed like the focus of the entire school day was on prepping kids for assessment after assessment, NOT on providing a WHOLE well-rounded education. As a parent with a child who excels in and enjoys math and science, I’m still concerned because I feel that the entire education system is making a vigorous push for STEM!! It’s disconcerting, to see how we have disregarded the importance of the Arts and creative thinking. For example, my son struggles with reading for leisure and creative writing. He’ll gobble up informational texts, but quickly grows bored when reading a novel. When he was in Public School, Common Core focused solely on reading Informational Texts, but there was no time to introduce and/or discuss literary staples such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Stuart Little. When it comes to creative writing, my son struggles because the schools did little to NO practice on how to write a short story. In addition, now that I am homeschooling, I have been able to take my son to the Theater for several musical performances that he would not have been able to attend if he was in enrolled in school. Although these performances are meant for schools to attend, for some reason, the school that he was attending does not take advantage of these opportunities. Out of 5 or 6 performances, I have seen his former school at one performance. Meanwhile, the charter and private schools have been present at all shows. While I don’t think this is representative of all public schools across the nation, it definitely points to the pressure that public schools are under to have their students meet the standards outlined by Common Core. But it is definitely NOT without expense. As I mentioned before, I think the focus on Science and Math in our educational system is definitely important, but there needs to be a balance. Not everybody is meant to be an Engineer, Doctor, or Scientist. What would this world be without the artistic type: musicians, set designers, lighting designers, costume designers? They are equally innovative and important!

    I homeschool because I feel that, while he is young, I want to expose my son to as many things as possible that will broaden his horizons. I DON’T want him contained for 6 hrs. a day, within four walls that are limiting his personal, academic, and artistic growth. Right now he enjoys being homeschooled. He enjoys the shorter school day & not having homework. He enjoys the outings that we go on. I have made the committmment to homeschool him through the 7th grade, at which point I will let him decide whether to continue, or not. Although I value the opportunity to homeschool, I feel that it’s equally important for him to venture and learn to navigate the ‘real-world’ on ‘his own’. At the middle and high-school level, I also feel that school sports and clubs will provide additional opportunities that he would not have access to if he were homeschooled. In a nutshell, I think as a homeschooling parent you need to be focused, motivated, and dedicated to providing the best education for your child. You need to know you and your child’s strengths and weaknesses and know your limitations. I’m enjoying homeschooling, but I know that I can only take my son so far with my limited knowledge. I’m not willing to sacrifice my son’s education for my pride and obstinance.

  12. Oh boy. The point of education and ultimate goal of homeschooling is not “math” or “college”….it’s SUCCESS in life. And I’m getting a little bit tired of anonymous people bashing hs’ing, who say “I was homeschooled…” that don’t offer anything in the way of proof or at least a social media link to demonstrate they aren’t actually 72 years old.

    Rachel, why don’t you join the real world, have kids, or offer a real service/product that improves other people’s lives instead of sitting around spouting off advice for other people who are ACTUALLY DOING THINGS.

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