Are Home-Schooled Children Really Smarter? August 7, 2010

Are Home-Schooled Children Really Smarter?

The Creation Museum founder Ken Ham has a nasty habit of not linking to websites he trashes or offering citations when he makes his wacky claims.

So when he mentioned that home-schoolers excel in college, and provided a link to the reference, I got very excited.

The link goes to the Home School Legal Defense Association — a Christian group — and they have issued a press release about a new study!

Therefore, it was with great interest that we read the new study — Exploring Academic Outcomes of Homeschooled Students, by Michael F. Cogan — which shows homeschoolers succeeding in college.

Some of the major findings include:

  • Homeschoolers scored higher on the ACT (26.5) compared with the overall student body (25).
  • Homeschoolers earned more college credit (14.7) prior to their freshman year compared to the student body (6).
  • Homeschooled students earned a higher fall semester GPA (3.37) when compared to other freshman students (3.08).
  • Homeschooled students earned a higher first-year GPA (3.41) when compared to other freshman students (3.12).
  • Homeschooled students earned a higher fourth-year GPA (3.46) when compared to other freshman students who completed their fourth year (3.16).

Sounds pretty strong. I have so many questions!

How many home-schooled students were used as data points?

How many states were represented in the study?

Where was this study published?

Here’s all I can find to answer those:

The study was based on a medium sized college located in the upper Midwest. The school has 11,000 students with an average 1,320 freshmen each year. The sample size for homeschoolers was 76 which is 1 percent of the 7,776 incoming freshman for 2004–2009. The majority of the student body (54.9%) identified themselves as Catholic.

In other words… Cogan went to one college — a private, Roman Catholic school in the midwest — and got the data for the 76 kids who, over the past six years, were home-schooled beforehand.

If I proposed this study in a Research Methods class, I would fail immediately.

This is likely an anomaly — who knows how many home-schooled children applied but didn’t get accepted into the school? What makes this school typical for all home-schooled college students? If anything, a private school of that size is going to draw in more affluent, better-educated kids overall.

And from the looks of it, this “study” wasn’t published anywhere.

At least we can read it for ourselves, right?

Of course not.

All you get is a link to Powerpoint slides (PDF) Cogan must have made to explain the findings.

I’m sure I’m missing something here. Am I being fair about this study? Am I forgetting to point something out? Is there a link to the study I’m missing?

For what it’s worth, I think home-schooling can work… but in too many cases, it deprives children of a fuller education and the opportunity to socialize with peers who may think differently. There’s often a hyper-focus on religion and a lack of focus on subjects the parents know little about. Even among atheist households, I get nervous when I hear that parents are home-schooling their children.

Some parents do it wonderfully, but in my experience, they are the exception and not the rule.

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  • Tim

    I don’t know if religious parents are inclined to homeschool, or if homeschooling just gives such a good opportunity for good old fashioned indoctrination and guilt that they can’t pass it up, but homeschooling always seems to go hand in hand with hardcore fundamentalist religion. It makes me sick with anger to think about the poor kids getting brainwashed into a system they didn’t choose for themselves; on the other hand for every family of homeschooling fundies, that’s one family that isn’t trying to get prayer back into public schools and creationist crap taught in science class.

  • laura

    hi Hemant,
    well if you are coming to TAM london,by any chance,I will introduce you to my 15yo home-schooled daughter.

    I agree not all home-schooling is good…much like school itself. No one system is perfect,nor can it suit everyone.
    We wanted our daughter to love education for its own sake…not just to pass exams to get a “good” job,and most importantly learn to think critically

  • Claire

    Yes this is not a well researched study.
    Yes THE HSLDA is a Christian lawyer group.
    Yes Ken Ham is a moron.

    Not all homeschoolers are “Fundies”.
    Not all homeschoolers are Christian.
    Not all homeschoolers are even religious.

    I am homeschooling my children.
    I am not religious.
    I am not indoctrinating my children.
    I am giving my children the opportunity to learn beyond what some administrator thinks they should learn.
    I am teaching beyond “the test”.

  • Iason Ouabache

    Two words: Selection bias.

  • Homeschoolers run the gamut from fundamentalists to secularists, from people who want to indoctrinate, to people to parents who are unhappy with the public schools but can’t afford private schools, to families who want to travel or have other lifestyles where traditional school doesn’t fit in well.

    Whether or not the kids end up smarter depends on how well they were taught. Some parents do a good job; some don’t. My parents are the king and queen of laissez-faire parenting, so when they tried homeschooling for a year, their idea of “teaching” was to throw a smattering of worksheets at us and say “Go do them. And for social studies, we all listen to Rush Limbaugh at noon.”

    This is not a good study though. They need a much broader sampling from many more colleges and they should include homeschoolers who don’t end up going to college.

  • The point you may be looking for is the institution’s admissions policy for homeschooled individuals.

    Here in Canada there are a number of insitutions where the level of performance of a homeschooled student must significantly surpass that of a publicly schooled student to be considered for admission.

    This ends up selecting for the strongest academic performers among homeschoolers and comparing their performance to average public school graduates, producing the same “superior” results.

    That said, I like homeschooling. The idea that an artificial grouping by age cohort is a better socialization model than homeschooling carried out with lots of opportunities for external interaction with a people representing a diversity of ages, views, ethnic backgrounds, etc and bolstered with participation in sports/clubs with others kids of a similar age doesn’t have overwhelming statistical support.

    Fundamentalists trying to raise their kids in a religious and ethical bunker (somethat that does happen often) don’t fit that model and can do more harm then good. But so can well-intentioned public school policies that produce one negative impact on students in the goal of removing another (a situation I’ve also seen many times).

    In the region where I live there is a good mix of religious and non-religious homeschoolers and in combination with the public system everyone is kept honest. All 3 groups know their academic performance can be measured against the other two (we are good here with regard to evaluation and measurement) and this reins in the religious temptation to make homeschooling “sunday school plus” while also encouraging the public system in meeting its goals of engaging learners and maximizing learning.

    Wherever learning is taking place the emphasis should be on the benefit to the child and to maximize the opportunities for learning and exploration.

  • Although, I may also have some bias since I skeptically homeschool my son but in everything except science and critical thinking skills homeschool parents generally do a decent job. Now don’t jump all over me here. I am well aware of what else goes on here with the ultra fundamentalists and their woo. Trust me I am better informed than most of you here, for I deal with these people on a day to day basis. I mean, try to sit there in a chess club meeting while one drones on about the healing power of the sacred heart of Jesus. Thank Darwin for bathroom breaks. But the fact remains that the numbers and resources that a parent can put into a single child at home can be considerable. With an educated parent at home the amount of time we dedicate to the child is large. And we are not shy about spending money on things related to education.

    One on one means we can go at the best speed for him to learn. He isn’t being left behind. He isn’t allowed to be bored by going too slow. We can adjust our learning rate to match what he needs on a day to day basis.

    That said, the worst part about the home school situation in general is the incredible lack of real science and the indoctrination of children into a very narrow world view. While we have never sheltered our son more than absolutely needed, most home schoolers keep their children so sheltered that the real world is a mythological place , demon haunted world. I remember when my son went to visit one of his friends and the mother thought it would be great fun for everyone to sit around and memorize Bible verses. I’d imagine there was a bit of eye rolling going on there. I pity what that boy is going to grow into.

    I guess the point of my ramble here is the homeschoolers, by nature, put a lot of time into their children’s education. Intellectually, the children cannot help but benefit in most areas. It’s only in the Blind Faith departments that they fail most utterly.

    There is a rise of secular homeschoolers now. They will be better.

    I talk about it at my blog.
    Blessed Atheist Bible Study.

  • NewEnglandBob

    The study was probably designed by a Christian home schooled person.

  • Cindy

    Hey Hemant, I’ve got a question for you. After you (fairly) criticize the study, your next statement is

    “I think home-schooling can work… but in too many cases, it deprives children of a fuller education and the opportunity to socialize with peers who may think differently. There’s often a hyper-focus on religion and a lack of focus on subjects the parents know little about.”

    What study did you get that from? The socialization canard gets dragged out in every homeschool discussion I have seen. In my experience the opposite is true in homeschooling. Kids from a wide range of ages, talents, and socioeconomic backgrounds spend a lot of time together. Children are more often with new small groups of kids for different activities and social events and therefore don’t have a chance every time to “hang with their pack” or the kids they would have selected to play with from a large rarely changing pool of public school peers of their own age. The few homeschool conferences I have been to have shown kids who on average are more comfortable hanging out with other kids who are very different from themselves and more comfortable taking the chance to meet new people.

    As far as the religion thing goes, I sure hope we continue to have the right to teach our kids our own religious beliefs because we know who the first horrible heathens they will come after if that changes. In practice it seems to me like the religious education sticks about as well with a homeschooled kid as it does with any kid, but again the pool of peers is small and kids are probably going to be with other homeschoolers of different philosophies some of the time.

    Anyway, that is my opinion that I admit is based on my anecdotal experience from my four years in the homeschooling community. My opinions of homeschooling did echo yours before I needed to pull my kids out of public school and I got more experience with the kids who are homeschooled in our area.

  • Kaylya

    I think there’s several factors.

    Most who homeschool their children really care about the child’s education (and the exceptions to that, where the “homeschooled” child is really not schooled, aren’t likely to be applying to university). Even if the curriculum is heavily influenced by fundamentalism, that doesn’t affect *all* learning, and they are a lot better off than people who’s parents just don’t care.

    Second, as mentioned, homeschooled students often need to really prove themselves to admissions people, e.g. by getting a higher score. Although I think if you follow official online/correspondence courses for high school credits that is less of an issue.

    Finally, the people going to this predominantly Catholic college are likely not the most hardcore of the fundamentalists, who, if they go to college at all, would generally go to a fundamentalist school. Checking out the Duggars for instance, about 4 of the kids are now college aged, and it doesn’t look like any have gone..

  • Cindy

    Hey KKBundy- shout out from an atheist HS mom. I feel your pain with the parent stuff. Between the Catholic group and the hippy-dippy homeopothy and woo group I am pulling my hair out by the end of the week sometimes. I just got a notice about a “real ghost hunting event” with “real scientific instruments to prove ghosts” and another for daily bible verses for kids. I’m wondering if my kids are still too young to join my therapy sessions watching P&T’s Bullshit.

  • Luther

    Lets do another study. Ask the students if they believe more in Creationism or Evolution, then see which do better in college. (We could also then split the students into four groups based on this answer and if they were home schooled).

    Of course, we would have to eliminate bias in the selection process. If I were an admissions counselor at a reputable school, I would mark down a student that believed in Creation, and they would have to be a lot stronger in other areas to be admitted.

    Then lets do a study on class size, correcting for other factors. I bet the students educated in smaller class sizes generally do better.

  • Stephan

    It is worse than an anomaly Hemant, it is purposeful deceptive. You see this all the time in home school defense. You can’t look at the kids IN COLLEGE to see how many of your home-schoolers go to college. You also can’t look at ACT/SAT scores to see if home-schoolers are “smarter” at those tests.

    From estimates I saw a few years ago (no link, sorry…but if you find estimates for total number of home schooled children and then divide the number of reported ACT/SAT scores, I’ll bet you find it), only about 1-2% of home-schoolers take ACT/SAT tests. That means, compared to the general pop, they have a MUCH lower college entrance rate.

    Discounting crazy christian crap colleges of course (ah alliteration).

  • Brian Macker

    Hmmm… I wouldn’t use the term “smarter” because it isn’t clear if that refers to something like IQ, or education level. Given the context I will assume education level.

    As I see it there are two main reasons to home school 1) Religious objection to the theory of natural selection (actually the fact of evolution) and 2) Concerns with crime and disruptive environment in poorly administered schools.

    I’d like to see statistics on education levels separated based on these different motivations. It would be even more interesting to see how the kids do on biology vs. other subjects. Specifically how well they do on the subject of natural selection.

    I’d be willing to bet the home schoolers who were pulled out for religious reasons would do poorly on tests on the issue of the theory of natural selection.

  • Lauren

    I am always a little baffled by people who think they can provide the quality of education that a whole passel of professional educators can. Of course, my bias runs the other way, I am a teacher, lol. My training is in secondary science and even *I* would be hesitant to want to teach my children how to read, or basic math skills because primary reading strategies or beginning math are simply not my fields of expertise. Sure, I would do a fantastic job with science and math once they got older and were in my comfort zone……but it again is baffling that these stay at home moms with zero training just decide, what the hell, I am home….

    That being said, I worked with some home schooled kids doing a once a week science enrichment program with my local district about 2 years ago now. Let me tell you. Those kids were WEIRD. Mostly sweet and nice of course, but overall, a truly WEIRD bunch of children…..very fond of Jesus of course (man, did I have to bite my tongue!) but also remarkably socially immature for their ages.

  • LIke KKBundy, I am an atheist homeschooler. It certainly wasn’t the path I would have chosen, just the one that was forced on me by the school system here in the Christian Republic of Texas.

    I agree with him that most homeschoolers do a fine job in areas other than science and critical thinking (I would add math), but that’s a symptom of the class of folks who tend to homeschool, not the process itself.

    One area where homeschooled kids do tend to excel (I don’t have a reference, but I have seen it somewhere)–self starting and self motivating. That is a symptom of the process, and is independent of the class.

  • Cindy

    Also, beware of any “Study” of homeschooling outcomes.

    Homeschoolers are a highly self selected group. They tend to be very heavily weighted with the top and the bottom of the bell curve because many people begin homeschooling because their kids’ needs can be better met on an individual basis.

    There are probably more homeschooled kids who score very high on the tests as well as more who score very low or don’t take them due to disability.

    One of our state legislators accused homeschool parents of cheating for their children on standardized tests because so many of the scores were so high. It didn’t cross this woman’s mind that many parents taking their kids out of public school because the material is moving too slowly might show up in test scores.

    It doesn’t mean that homeschooling necessarily makes the kids do well any more than a high number of gay homeschooling teens means that homeschooling makes you gay.

    I happen to believe that individual instruction (pausing when something isn’t well understood and going more quickly when concepts are already mastered) is a no brainer for better outcomes, but I can’t point at my kid’s test scores to prove that. I can say that my daughter is doing material appropriate for her current ability when in public school she would be only given material two grades off from what she does now.

  • Secular homeschoolers ARE on the rise! I live near Wright-Patterson Air Force base and our homeschool population is heavy on military families, most of whom homeschool for lifestyle reasons and NOT religion. I count myself very lucky that I don’t have to deal with a lot of fundies in our journey as a homeschool family.

  • Family income is also a factor that needs to be controlled for when researching the school success rate of children. There is a well documented link between parent income levels and children’s school success. Homeschooled children generally come from more successful families, since one parent needs to give up work at least part-time to care for them. Many families simply can’t afford to live in a single bread-winner household. This impacts the children’s success.

  • Hitch

    Every time a study is conducted that does not control for sample selection a baby rabbit dies (or gets eaten by an atheist).

  • Definite selection bias. He only checked homeschooled kids that *went to college*. Sad fact is that most homeschooled kids can’t pass the necessary exams to get into college.

  • Darlene

    “As I see it there are two main reasons to home school 1) Religious objection to the theory of natural selection (actually the fact of evolution) and 2) Concerns with crime and disruptive environment in poorly administered schools.”

    How about wanting a decent academic environment?

    Can give child better education at home  48%
    Religious reason 38%
    Poor learning environment at school 25%

  • Cindy

    …Sad fact is that most homeschooled kids can’t pass the necessary exams to get into college.

    citation needed

  • Claire

    Sad fact is that most homeschooled kids can’t pass the necessary exams to get into college.

    And you know this how? By what study? Now you sound just as ridiculous as the people who put out the “our kids are smarter than your kids” report. Sheesh.

  • Phoena

    Homeschooling is difficult to compare because there are too many variables. The homeschool is only as good as the homeschool teacher, and in many cases, the homeschool teacher only has high school diploma. Heck, that’s not even required!

    One could argue that the higher the education of the teacher, the better the teacher is likely to be. The problem is, the higher educated one is, in most cases they are more likely to be working on their career than having time to homeschool. Few people go to college just for the “Mrs. Degree” these days (although some still do).

    Secular homeschool will always be vastly superior to religious homeschool, as religious people homeschool to “protect” their kids from things they don’t want their kids to learn, thus their kids aren’t learning all subjects.

    Good news, though: homeschoolers are likely to have higher reading scores across the board, but that’s about the only thing you can count on.

    It would be best if we required homeschooler teachers to have at least the requirements to be a substitute teacher in public schools, if not meet the requirements for some sort of teaching certificate. At least give the kids a fighting chance by giving them a qualified teacher!

  • Meg

    Okay, first off let me say that I homeschooled our kids for 10 years and I’m an atheist. One child went all the way through and is a junior in college (he’s doing about average) the other child transferred into public high school and will finish there (different kids, different solutions).

    NONE of the HSLDA’s studies are worth the paper they are written on (IMO). Personally I don’t think Ray knows how to do a proper study.

    Rather than pull them apart myself, Milton Gaither is an academic and a homeschooler (and Christian for that matter) and he writes about any kind of research that involves homeschoolers. Here’s his response to this study:

    His conclusion is: “Rather than insinuating that homeschooling is responsible for these impressive scores, I wish Ray would interpret his study as showing, as it so capably does, that homeschooling doesn’t make priviliged kids do worse on tests than they would have done had they gone to school. Homeschooling is no academic disadvantage. That’s newsworthy enough I think.”

  • Darlene

    Hey, Evolved Secular Home Educator here!

    For decent studies take a look at Yes, smallish sizes because trying to study homeschoolers would be like surveying atheists: you can only survey the ones that show up.

    That said, I would first like to see studies that show placing a child within a group based on nothing but date of birth, without taking into account abilities, talents, interests or special needs is, in fact, the best way to socialize them.

    Homeschooling can be better or worse than a public school, depending on the family situation and the public school and (pay attention, this is the important part) the individual needs of the child.

    The biggest group I’m seeing is parents of gifted and/or special needs kids. Public schools can’t or won’t help them. Kids aren’t being skipped grades because other kids would feel bad (true fact, had a principal actually say that. Aloud.). Budgets are such that special needs require much fighting on the parents part to even get them, and then they see their kid getting bullied and abused and mocked by other kids and even teachers. Public school is often cruel to the different.

    Parents who wish to raise their kids in isolation manage to do it just fine, even within public schools. Actually, because of the way groups form in high school, it is very likely that kids will be part of a small group and limit their exposure to those who aren’t like them. Hanging with out-groups is social suicide in high school.

    Homeschoolers get to meet a wide range of people, and what’s more important, are in the ultimate standards based assessment. NCLB is homeschooling, where we can move quickly through stuff that my teen gets, and take twice as long on something he has trouble with. Without ever getting left behind 🙂

    We are starting high school this year.  There are those who say “But how can one person teach all those subjects! I am a teacher and I wouldn’t be able to teach that.”

    Well, I do the same thing schools do, I find experts in subjects I’m not expert in. Music lessons, martial arts…contract out! There are also great video based or online learning curriculums available. My teen can watch college level lectures and study both broadly and deeply, depending on his interest and ability in a particular subject. I can also get tutors if needed. But the key is that there is a constant involvement, and there can be a completely individualized educational program. I know kids-gifted kids-who are doing math at grade 10 and reading at grade 3, with everything else at their 4th grade level. There is no reason to cheat, to promote a kid to get her out of a classroom, to have some kids waiting while the rest catch up.

    In a perfect world public schools would be able to do this. There are a few public schools that have stopped age-based promotion and move kids in each subject as mastery is achieved. Which is how it should be.

    As for money: we are military. Enlisted. We learned to live without a second income. In fact, I was bringing home more then my spouse when I stopped working to homeschool. It was tight, but worth it. I know single parents who homeschool. One doesn’t have to be rich, or even wealthy. One just has to be willing to without luxuries.

    Home education is a wonderful option. Traditional public schools work great for some kids: but the kids it fails, well, it fails badly. So homeschooling and private schools and magnet schools and charter schools and online or correspondence schools all provide options, choices. One size doesn’t fit all.

  • Citizen Z

    The study was probably designed by a Christian home schooled person.

    Winner of the thread.

  • Nessa

    Another atheist home-schooler here. My boys are still young, 4 and 6, but I wanted to address the socialization argument, that always crops up in these discussions. I help run an all-inclusive group of home-schoolers in my area. We meet at-least once a week, sometimes up to 3 times a week. There are more than 50 families in our group, coming from all different backgrounds, religious affiliations, and lifestyles. My children interact not only with the children in the group, but the parents as well, since we take turns leading classes and activities. My children are the most social people in our household. Not afraid to talk to anyone.

    On the other side of the coin, my step son has always gone to public school. He is about to start 9th grade, and has not a single friend. He can barely speak among a group of family, let alone to someone he doesn’t know. He has almost no social skills, and it’s quite sad. Despite sending him to public school his mother has kept him completely sheltered. He is never allowed to have friends over to the house, nor is he allowed to visit friends she deems unfit, (which is just about everyone). He also can’t participate in sports or clubs, because she doesn’t want to be bothered with driving him around. I have been trying for years to help him, but there’s just not much one can do when your influence is as minimal as mine.

    The point of all that was, for every well socialized public-schooler, there are just as many unsocialized public-schoolers, and the same holds true among home-schoolers. If a parent wants to shelter their children, the type of schooling they choose makes little difference.

  • In my family, I was not homeschooled, but my two younger brothers were. My 21-year old brother and I made the exact same ACT score. My youngest brother, who was the only one homeschooled from Kindergarten, scored lower. Anecdotal, but if you’re getting your sample from one college, that’s kinda anecdotal, too.

  • While the HSLDA ‘study’ struck me as an excercise in creaming, your comments,

    Even among atheist households, I get nervous when I hear that parents are home-schooling their children.

    Some parents do it wonderfully, but in my experience, they are the exception and not the rule.

    struck me as equally ignorant and biased.

    What exactly is the extent of your experience with atheist homeschooling families? Do you know a statistically significant number of them? Do you spend personal and professional time viewing and interacting with their children in a variety of setting? Are you aware of the broad spectrum of homeschooling methods and philosophies? Have you studied the socialization skills of homeschooled and traditionally schooled children in large and small group settings over time?

    OR have you rather fallen back on your and others stereotypical view of “homeschoolers” in general? As an atheist homeschooling parent with experience homeschooling in two midwestern states, and who has maintained a variety of friendships with secular homeschoolers across the US and around the world, I have never seen two families that homeschool in quite the same way.

    Homeschooling, in the end, is what each family – and each individial child – makes of it. These “all homeschoolers” posts appear to be painted with a frighteningly narrow brush.

  • Meg

    @Darlene, is Brian Ray, which is HSLDA.

    Go read Gaither’s takes of their other work.

  • Enn

    My problem is not with homeschooling necessarily- I think as most have pointed out, the quality of education really depends on the quality of teachers and parents. There is nothing wrong with trying to maximize your child’s education through whatever means possible. I do disagree with some commentors here though- not eveyone can homeschool. It’s easy to say you can sacrifice on luxuries in order to trade gainful employment to stay at home with your kids, but that is not true of many families. Anecdotally, my parents made less than $25,000 a year due to minimum wage jobs and lack of employment in our area. We had no luxuries to give up and survived by accepting the generosity of others. I went to public school, and despite the mediocrity of my particular high school, I still came out just fine (attended a great university in the end too). I will always support public education because ANYONE can partake in it, not just the select few whose parents can afford alternative modes. I hope that we can make it better in the future with more funding and better teachers. As for socialization, it seems that a lot of people are worried about hurt feelings from the grouping that goes on in public schools. Unfortunately, this is part of learning to live in the real world and sheltering kids from people who might be mean is probably (just my feeling, no references) not doing them any favors in the long run. Just my thoughts… 🙂

  • It’s not a question of kids ending up “smarter.” It’s a question of whether or not they will be “well -educated.” A person can be extremely smart and yet not have a good education – and poeople can have a good education and still be “educated beyond their intelligence.” I.e. knowing things, but not being able to extrapolate from what they know.

    As a kid I was bullied a great deal at school. My grades dropped for years and I ended up dropping out. If I’d been home-schooled, who knows what I could have been now. (On the other hand, by going to a public school, I learned early on how evil people were…)

  • Richard Wade

    There once was a study of 100 skydivers who used umbrellas instead of parachutes. Of those who completed the survey when they reached the ground, 100% had survived.

  • Hey Hemant, I’ve got a question for you. After you (fairly) criticize the study, your next statement is

    “I think home-schooling can work… but in too many cases, it deprives children of a fuller education and the opportunity to socialize with peers who may think differently. There’s often a hyper-focus on religion and a lack of focus on subjects the parents know little about.”

    What study did you get that from?

    Cindy — That’s based on my own experience meeting home-schooled kids. I didn’t mean to imply that some study had shown that.

  • CBC

    I was homeschooled by non-denominational Protestant parents. They raised me to love God, but taught me to think for myself. Because of this, I am an atheist law student with many interests (and lots of friends). Done right, home schooling can be excellent. Calling it “indoctrination” when parents don’t want to institutionalize their 5 year olds is an unfair characterization of motivations.

  • I hate it when these studies come out, mostly because they force everyone, even the homeschoolers, to continue thinking of education as a numbers game. But it’s not. And also because the sources of these studies means that those who are ignorant about homeschooling can continue to hold on to their false generalizations and beliefs about it.

    The focus on testing and numbers and data is misguided and has only come about because of the way we educate – putting lots of kids together in large groups means we have to think in terms of numbers, averages, data, etc, in order to figure out if we’ve actually accomplished anything. Homeschoolers should be working harder to break free of the notion that it must be judged in this manner.

    This is not education, this is schooling. This number-based outcome focus has nothing to do with giving each learner individual attention and respecting that the best way to learn is when one is able to follow his or her natural interests and desires.

    Education is an individual process, one that occurs over our entire lifetimes and to focus on data just misses the whole point.

    Shouldn’t the real point be in looking at how homeschooling might be helping all of us to understand how we might better develop creative and innovative ways to help human beings maintain their natural curiosity about the world so they can become lifelong learners?

    Studies like this can’t give us that kind of information. And since homeschooling happens within individual families, I think it’s way too individual to really make any definitive statements about it.

    If you want to learn about homeschooling then listen to what lots of homeschoolers have to say. Listen to them as individual families doing it in their own individual ways. Celebrate this individuality.

    All I really want people to know about homeschooling is that it can be an excellent way to give a child the freedom to learn.

  • Argh – you need to control for other factors known to affect scholastic performance! Parental involvement is a big factor in student performance, and homeschool parents are obviously involved.

    So the real comparison is between groups of children with similar family, financial, etc. backgrounds — then compare home school vs. public school groups.

    Hasn’t someone already done a study like this?

    I haven’t found such a study yet, but here’s one study that doesn’t do this, and is clear about the limitations of interpreting such results without properly controlling for other factors known to affect performance.

  • gwen

    Based on 30 years of pediatric nursing, I can tell you that the majority of the children in my area who are home schooled, are being so poorly educated, by parents who are determined to concentrate education on their dogma to the exclusion of most of what is taught in a public, or good private school, I doubt that they will have a chance to succeed in a college or university. Some parents do a great job, but these same parents would have made sure their kids succeeded in any school.

  • I was homeschooled for most of high school for completely non-religious reasons and I’ve done a’ight.

    If you take the typical class hour and subtract 10 mins pass time, 10 mins to get people calmed down and 10 mins of handing out papers or giving instructions, there’s only 30 minutes per hour of quality instruction before a student is distracted and on the next subject. I enjoyed focusing on English 4 hours a day for an entire month before moving on to math.
    It’s all about learning styles, I suppose, but for a motivated, reasonably bright student, self study and homeschooling should be a viable option for even secular families.

    Also, judging by all the teen movies I’ve seen (and real life examples too), social interaction in middle and high school is overrated and sometimes probably a bit dangerous.

  • revyloution

    And the homeschool debate rages on.

    We considered homeschooling, and listened to all the pros and cons for both. In the end we decided to do both.

    A public school can offer things that home schooling can’t, but there is no rule saying you can’t teach your kids at home after they finish with public school. We spend time each day on math, science, and reading/writing.

    The real issue isn’t where the kids do their learning, it’s just having parents that are active in their kids education. The kids that fail are those who have parents that think of public schools as a daycare.

  • Scratch that – Meg (at 9:36 am above) has provided an example of just such a study (link to the study and some commentary). It looks like homeschooling vs. public schooling for a given demographic doesn’t matter much.

    First, from the commentary:

    But the only variable that really seemed to make a significant difference was parent education level. Kids with parents with at least a college education did noticeably better than kids whose parents had less formal education.

    The first comes in his comparison of students in his sample who were homeschooled their entire lives (59%) with those who have only homeschooled for a little while. He found no statistical relationship at all between number of years homeschooling and achievement. Later in the study Ray compares the scores of his homeschooled sample with scores from three of his large testing companies that include students enrolled in private Christian schools. The scores are nearly identical. From these two tidbits it is clear that what Ray is measuring is not a homeschooling effect but a sociological effect of stable, two-parent, middle-to-upper-middle class, white families whose parents are deeply committed to their children’s well-being. Children with advantages like this are going to shine no matter what kind of schooling they get.

    The flip side to this is how we interpret studies that show home schooled students doing just as well as typical public schooled students. For example, if they do about the same in college despite the same differences in other important factors (number of parents growing up, parents educations, household income, race, ethnicity, etc.) then such a studies would suggest home schooled students are negatively impacted by their home schooling (again, you don’t see it without controlling for those other factors).

  • I’m 21 years old and was homeschooled from 4th through 8th grade because my parents, sister and I were traveling by sailboat from September 1998 to April 2003. I think the “not all homeschooling is done for religious reasons” argument has been covered, but I just thought I’d weigh in on my personal experience with reintegrating, as it were, as a freshman in high school.

    I was undoubtedly behind in social terms. I’ve never really liked the term “socially retarded,” but I think it’s applicable. Through no fault of my own, I had entirely missed the middle school years and the music, fashions, trends, memes, friendships, and stigmas that go with. It took a few years to catch up, but my parents raised a confident guy and I pulled through.

    Academically, I was well ahead. My homeschooling classes included specific instruction in spelling and grammar that have been notoriously absent in my peers—I’m in 3000-level writing classes with students who can’t use an apostrophe properly—and my mathematical skills were well ahead of almost everyone else in high school.

    I think my homeschooling actually helped with my atheism. I didn’t really have an opinion on religion at the tender age of 9, and my homeschooling curriculum was entirely secular (I don’t know if my parents chose it for that reason, but they’ve always been rather ambivalent about religion). I had no exposure to religion other than in the sense of observation, visiting churches and mosques as a tourist, and always feeling awkward and uncomfortable in the presence of believers. By the time I was introduced to the truly religious in my own society, I already had a fairly secure personality that did not include religion.

    I was tolerant of religion then, and I am not now, but my schooling had nothing to do with it. I think that my homeschooling was a boon.

  • Carrie

    All I can think about is when I was tutoring part-time at an elementary school. One of the fourth grade teachers asked me if the dolphin was a mammal. I don’t have kids, but if I did I wouldn’t want them to be educated by someone who doesn’t know if the dolphin is a fish or mammal.

    Both my husband and I were bullied in school. I did fine academically. But it isn’t an environment I would let myself be put in as an adult. It’s a shame I was trapped in it as a child.

  • littlejohn

    The problem with this study is that results are presented simply as averages.
    I’d rather see a chart.
    My guess is it isn’t a bell curve, but rather a curve with two separate, widely-separated peaks.
    After all, Tom Cruise and Shaquille O’Neal are, on average, 6-foot-2, but that doesn’t give you a clue as to how tall either of them is.
    I suspect about half of home-schoolers have well-educated, wealthy parents who figure (correctly) that they can do better than the local public school. Those kids are going to score very highly.
    But a significant number of kids are home-schooled because their parents are ignorant religious zealots who don’t want their kids to mix with other races and learn about evolution. Those kids are being ill-served and probably score very poorly.
    I’m guessing there’s very little middle ground, which is why the use of averages is so misleading.

  • Beijingrrl

    This survey is bogus, as are most things you find on HSLDA. But does it really matter whether or not homeschoolers are smarter?

    I’ve been a secular homeschooler for 10 years now. I think the best thing a parent can do is instill in their children a love of learning. If your child has this, it doesn’t really matter where the learning occurs. Or when.

    Personally, I check out the standards every year and make sure my children are meeting or exceeding them. But I’ve known families who are completely child-led and I’m always surprised at how well-educated the kids end up in the long run, so I can understand the skepticism. It confirms my own experience that most children will learn the basics easily when they’re open to it.

    I don’t think our community would stand idly by and watch a child obviously failing without attempting some intervention. But those parents who will isolate their kids and let them fail will do that regardless of where they are schooled.

    I think the best thing about homeschooling is that it can give a child ownership in the learning process. Learning is not just something provided by an outside source, but something to be pursued for your own pleasure and edification. This can happen in traditional school, but generally only for the most gifted students in my experience and what I’ve gathered from speaking to others.

  • muggle

    As so many have said, depends on the homeschooling and the parents. My daughter was homeschooled for the last three years of high school because she got sick of the social pressure to be Ms. Mary Sunshine Homecoming Queen and I got fed up with religion being injected regularly.

    She’s in college now and makes the Presidents List every term. When she asked to be homeschooled (because she wanted to learn not obsess about dances, cliques and the teen dating scene), she had already found a homestudy program for herself.

    I also resent the implication that kids of single parents won’t do as well. Or the financially challenged. Or the uneducatated. (I never went past high school.) Results speak for themselves. She is.

    Will her way work for every “misery chick” (what she often got called in high school for not being the cheerleader type)? No, of course not. Can every single Mom manage what I did? Of course not.

    As others have said, it’s a very individual thing. But don’t lump all homeschooling kids — or public school educated kids — together.

    As far as the socialization goes, so far she’s far more socialable than me. I don’t socialize much and I was public school all the way through. I hung around with the other outcasts and didn’t learn socialization skills in public school. In fact, I learned the opposite — how to avoid and not trust people. I think all too many kids in public school are being taught that the privileges and all go to those born lucky as they watch the kids with means getting all the attention and hands up that they need more.

    Grant you, they’re all in the public school but my grandson’s learning socialization more by living in an apartment complex than going to school. We’ve every color and creed in this complex, native and immigrant, and these kids all go outside and find each other to play with and learn how to interact with what each kid brings to the table and learn from one another.

    It’s a terrific thing to watch. In public schools, it seems like all that forms socially is cliques based on social status and club/sport participation. At home, the kids who are into a sport teach it to the others kids; the kids who are into books bring what they learn from them into the conversation. They aren’t split up into cliques.

    Grandson talks about Harry Potter to the kids teaching him cricket. In school, they’d be separating them out into different groups, especially since the boys into teaching the littler ones cricket are older.

    But I doubt homeschooling would work for him the way it did his mother. Instead of applying himself, he’d climb the walls. Just different personality. On the other hand, he doesn’t like sitting still and school makes way too much of that already and he’s only going into the 2nd grade. Time will tell.

    What some said about kids in public school being isolated even so really resonates. I had a mother who didn’t let us leave the house. I think that’s made the crucial difference in my lack of social skills. She had 8 kids in 10 years and guess she felt we had each other to play with. Well, we did but we weren’t much exposed to kids of different backgrounds. I think I could have really benefited from that.

  • Karen

    Another long-term homeschooling atheist parent here (one kid now in college, one one his last year of high school at home).

    I really wish the atheist community could move past the negative stereotype of homeschooling and think about the issue with the same commitment to evidence that they have for most other issues.

    Some atheists seem to have developed a negative attitude about homeschooling due to the association with Christian fundamentalists. I have read many unsupported claims by atheists about homeschoolers (most don’t do a good job, the kids don’t get properly socialized, etc.). Claims made without any evidence.

    Those who say they know some homeschooled kids who are weird, or who are behind grade level need to watch out for confirmation bias. If you have a negative view of homeschoolers, and you meet a homeschooler who confirms your expectation, your bias is confirmed. You may well completely miss the capable, confident homeschooled kid who doesn’t match your preconceptions.

    Also, some kids are homeschooled due to being either gifted or in some other way exceptional. These kids are more likely to seem ‘odd’. My oldest is quite gifted and also has Aspergers. He doesn’t socialize well. School would not have helped that — he would just have been tormented for being different. (There have always been socially awkward kids in school. Amazingly enough, being bullied by their peers doesn’t acutally seem to help them learn better social skills).

    Homeschooling can be done poorly, and it can be done well. Same as public schooling. Homeschooled kids can and do get into college all the time. I agree that the few studies that have been done on the performance of homeschooled kids suffer from design flaws. But there is certainly no scientific evidence at this point of harm, academic or social.

    So a consistent skeptic/atheist would not jump to negative conclusions about homeschooling based on his or her gut feelings.


  • allison

    Another thing I can think of immediately that’s not mentioned in the list of stats you posted:

    What percentage of home schooled kids near “graduation” took those tests? How does that compare to the percentage of public schooled kids near graduation that took the tests? If you’re testing over a wider population, then that also makes a difference.

    As others have pointed out, people home school for a variety of reasons, and secular home schooling is on the rise. I have considered it because our public school has not been flexible enough about accommodations my child needs — he’s routinely tested a couple years above age level but is, age-wise, on the low and somewhat immature end for his grade. He could handle much more rigorous material than he’s being given but could not handle the classroom expectations that would go with the material as far as organization and such go. We think things may get better as the school is finally planning to honor his hard-fought paperwork and as he ages (once he gets into the situation where everyone has a rotating schedule, not just him, there will be more options that are easy on the teachers), so we’re sticking with school for now.

  • Annie

    School was horrible for me from an early age. I wish I could have been homeschooled. In fact, I don’t think I learned that much in school. I spent most of my time reading, often in class behind a textbook. Being put in a social situation does not in itself result in socialization. I was and may always be a social retard, though I’ve learned to cope better as I’ve gotten older. School was just hell, and I think a lot of bright, introverted kids have the same experience. OTOH, my husband – who’s also very bright – had a great experience in school. Then again, he is pretty thick-skinned and tends to be oblivious to other people.

    My 7 year old enjoyed preschool and the first two years of public school. Last year he began to have problems when he had a teacher who would not keep order in class. The chaos drove him nuts. He also began experiencing bullying from some of the older/bigger boys. School starts in a week and he’ll be going back…but if things don’t improve this year, we’re strongly considering homeschooling. The social pressures of public school seem to often override and overshadow the academic aspect, particularly for sensitive and intelligent children. There’s a charter school ( supposedly starting in the area next year which will be designed to support homeschooling families…we’ll see.

  • Aric

    I haven’t thought of homeschooling as a Christian thing. Maybe statistically it often is though. I think it can be very good. Even great schools will have to spend time on discipline and logistics, as well as teaching to some kind of average level. Very small groups or private tutoring can be much more efficient for the child’s time. Then there is the question of how good the schools actually are.

    Of course the kids will loose out if the motivation for homeschooling is to isolate them from society or indoctrinate. But homeschooling for academic reasons can give them a great education, encourage their individuality, and leave more time for hobbies. Social interaction can be accomplished by organizing with other parents/kids.

  • Daniel

    Hey, I’m an atheist going to a private Roman Catholic highschool, and loving it.
    A number of the above atheist homeschoolers have given the argument that they took their children out of school due to “Christian Dogma”. Here is my experience: if you are a true skeptic there is NO amount of brainwashing and dogma that teachers, priests, or your peers can throw at you that you won’t question and rip apart with logic. I have Religion class 4 times a week. There has never been a time where I have “run out of questions” because my questions are never answered directly.

    I would argue that going to Catholic high school makes me better prepared to debunk myths from any religion since now I understand how indoctrination stems from the lack of asking the right questions.

  • Shannon

    Thumbs up to Karen’s post.

    I don’t want to get into a big thing about it (believe me, it gets tiring having this same old conversation all the time) but did want to chime in as another atheist homeschooler who is really tired of the knee jerk reaction so many other atheists and skeptically minded people have toward homeschooling.

  • aerie

    “If it’s true,then it’s not a stereotype.”

    In southern US & parts midwest, 90% of homeschooling parents are of the fanatical Christian/Religious brand. It disturbs me on so many levels. Critical thought, intellectual honesty & emotional maturity are lacking or absent for many of these folks. They cannot be relied upon to properly educate anyone. The way of land says a parent has the right to own their child’s mind.

    The growing number of secular/atheist homeschoolers is a good thing. It will benefit us all at some point as we have more & more kids ‘less exposed’ to the religionutters as peers, classmates & teachers. I have confidence in their teaching skills if *they* are confident in them.

    What I don’t understand is how do you teach a child geometry or similar when you haven’t studied mathematics?

  • aerie

    Clarification: Let’s put semantics aside. “Most” doesn’t mean “all”. *Of course* we’re aware of exceptions to all the stats, rules & stereotypes. However, I’m a native southerner, I’m aware that people southerners are ridiculed & rightly so, therefore I expect to stereotyped, it doesn’t offend me!. It’s my job to break it.

    Homeschooling is *so* much the religious thing that when we hear about athiest homeschoolers we are conditioned to a knee-jerk response. It just doesn’t ring true.

    For example, atheists who fall for homeopathic quackery or who are anti-vaccine evoke a similar response for me. Not b/c hmschooling is quackery but b/c it’s usually the quacks doing it.

    I just stepped on all kinds of toes, I’m sure but basically it’s the Christians’ fault.

    Down here ‘atheist homeschooler’ is a contradiction in terms & probably blasphemous to the religionutters.

  • Karen

    In southern US & parts midwest, 90% of homeschooling parents are of the fanatical Christian/Religious brand.

    Do you have evidence for this, or is this based on your perceptions?

    I live in a semi-rural part of Ohio. Lots of homeschoolers are fairly conservative and religious. But then lots of everyone else is, too. I live 30 minutes from where the infamous John Freshwater (finally) got in trouble for teaching religion in public school science class. And the community overwhelmingly supports him.

    It is my opinion (based on surveys of reasons why people homeschool and 15 years involvement in the homeschool community) that homeschoolers are a bit more religious, on average, than the community. The problem is that the secular homeschoolers or those who are religious but more liberal are much more quiet and tend to be less organized.

    But I’m pretty skeptical of your 90% estimate.

    For example, atheists who fall for homeopathic quackery or who are anti-vaccine evoke a similar response for me. Not b/c hmschooling is quackery but b/c it’s usually the quacks doing it.

    I understand your frustration, and I share it. I tend to know two (fairly opposite) kinds of people in the homeschool community: the conservative Christian kind and the liberal woo-accepting kind. Interestingly, both kinds seem to gravitate to homeopathy and anti-vaccination.

    But you know what, that also describes most of the people that I know in the non-homeschool community, too (being either conservative Christian or liberal and new age-y). I’m afraid that skepticism is not a popular viewpoint in general.

    My point is that there is good scientific evidence for opposing the alternative medicine and anti-vaccination crowd. There is not good scientific evidence for opposing homeschooling.

    Please try to un-lump us.


  • The sample is too small to draw an accurate conclusion. It may be worth repeating the study for larger groups. We’d get a better look at the methodology as well.

  • Karen

    Oops, I’d also meant to answer this:

    What I don’t understand is how do you teach a child geometry or similar when you haven’t studied mathematics?

    Well, math was easy for me to teach, because I like math. I didn’t remember everything, of course, that I learned in high school, but I re-learned it along with my kids (and enjoyed it a lot more this time around).

    There are other high school level subjects that I found harder or that I personally had less interest in. So we’ve made use of distance learning classes and community college classes for some of those.

    Right now my 17-year-old is really interested in zoology, and it’s nearly impossible to find high school level curricula in that field, and the only distance learning class that I could find is already full. So I’m researching materials and pulling together a course from a variety of sources, which will include volunteer work at a local wildlife rehabilitation center. And we’re going to supplement that with a semester of evolutionary biology. You can bet that finding high school level curricula for that in this country is near impossible (but I did order some workbooks from New Zealand).

    A reasonably intelligent and motivated parent can find resources, classes, outside teachers, volunteer opportunities, etc., to help their child learn what they need to.

  • Karen

    One other point. Or more accurately a plea:

    I must say I would LOVE having more high school level science curricula available. There is a need for materials that have been designed for homeschoolers (for self-teaching) and comes from a non-religious viewpoint. It is sadly lacking in the homeschool community.

    I know a lot of parents who are NOT ideological creationists who end up using homeschool science materials with a religious/creationist framework. This is because they never really learned much about science in school themselves and don’t feel secure enough about science to work up their own course materials. Sadly they don’t understand enough about evolution (because they didn’t learn it in public school) to understand what’s wrong with the creationist arguments. They think they can just skip over some of the religious references, without really understanding what material they are missing.

    Note: having their kids learn science in the public school wouldn’t really fix that problem, because so many of high school biology classes don’t teach evolution or even endorse ID.

    This is another area where religious homeschoolers have been much better organized and active than secular ones. It think it’s because they think they’re on a mission, while secular homeschoolers are just trying to educate their families.

  • Olive Oil

    For what it’s worth, my own personal experience of homeschooling was extremely beneficial to both me and my younger brother. The primary reason my brother and I ended up being homeschooled (I for a couple years; my brother until high school) is that schools weren’t really able to meet our educational needs, because we, at the risk of sounding a bit braggy, were ahead of our age in terms of academics. We followed a pattern of homeschooling where we basically chose the sorts of topics we were interested in and my parents helped to find classes and activities wherein we could learn in our particular areas of interest, and we also attended many groups, classes, etc. of a variety of topics, so we ended up with a fairly well-rounded education. We also moved around a lot, so it was beneficial not to have to worry about finding a school when we moved and having to fit in during the year, but rather we had the freedom to interact with a lot of different groups of people. While we did attend church, we absolutely did not do the sort of fundie religious homeschooling – religion was pretty much separate from what we learned, as far as I can remember. (Plus, obviously, I’ve moved away from that now, and it’s cool – no brainwashing, etc.) I was determined to take the SAT at a young age and to attend some community college classes, and ultimately when I decided to return to high school (due to a variety of factors) I had attained enough credits that I was able to graduate at the end of the year, when I was 15 years old. I also earned a scholarship to study abroad in Germany for a year between graduation and starting college. I absolutely think homeschooling was responsible for my being able to do all of these things, many of my social navigation skills and, especially, my ability to, even as a child, relate to adults and people in positions of authority on a personal level rather than feeling uncomfortable in their presence, as a lot of my schooled peers did. (My relationship with my family also blossomed, rather than when my brother and I were in school and came home tired and bickering.)

    For those who challenge, also, the proposed intelligence of homeschoolers, again, for what it’s worth, I’m 21 and entering my second (and final) year of graduate school and will be getting my master’s degree in less than a year. My younger brother is 17, entering his sophomore year of college, and is enrolled in a 5-year bachelors/masters program, so he will get his master’s degree at the age of 21. (We’re also both gainfully employed. One gets a certain determined work ethic and love of learning when one is in charge of one’s own education.)

    Now, I absolutely realize that this does not work for everyone. There are people who are homeschooled who don’t take advantage of the opportunities it offers. But, to those willing to seek them, there is SO much more available to do and see and learn when not spending 40 hours a week sitting in a classroom, constrained by the limits of the people around you.

    (PS – To those wondering how parents can teach their children subjects they don’t know much about – actually neither of my parents went to college and neither of them purport to be masters in any typical subject; instead, we found co-ops with other homeschoolers, books, classes, tutor types who were knowledgeable, etc.)

  • Olive Oil

    Oh – Just to add, because I just read a comment re: finances – we were *not at all* wealthy as I was growing up. Homeschooling well is not limited to those who have money; it’s limited to those who are willing to put in the time to find and take advantage of all opportunities. Admittedly, that’s not everyone. But there’s a lot out there that doesn’t demand money. Co-op lessons and free museum days and the like.

  • Miko

    I have no interest in defending this particular study, but I would note that your assumption that home-schools are more likely to indoctrinate that government-schools is a rather shaky one.

    Take a look at the textbooks they use: Math classes have textbooks with titles like “Algebra.” Science classes have textbooks with titles like “Biology.” So far so good. History classes have textbooks with titles like “American Pageant” and “Land of Liberty” or worse. It’s immediately obvious from the titles that these books have a different focus from the rest of the curriculum. Taking a look inside, we find that the history/civics curriculum of most K-12 schools is based on presenting the ideas that all important things in the world have come from Europe/European colonies, that colonialism is a good thing for the native peoples, that rich white males are superior to everyone else, and that the existing class hierarchy is the result of a fair and impartial process of “liberty” that benefits everyone (rather than a criminal act of dispossession arising through massive and continuing acts of violence by the state). Not surprisingly, the history curriculum is presented as a list of facts to be memorized and regurgitated rather than ideas to be considered critically.

    There are some problems with homeschooling (some of the time), but if I have to choose between children getting pro-Christian propaganda or getting pro-feudalistic/colonialist/capitalist/statist propaganda, I’m going to reluctantly choose the former. (And, with government-schooling, the kids are going to get one set of propaganda at school and a different, yet complementary, set of propaganda at home, so attacks on home-schooling aren’t really going to end religious indoctrination anyway.)

  • Miko


    It think it’s because they think they’re on a mission, while secular homeschoolers are just trying to educate their families.

    If secular homeschoolers don’t see educating their families as a mission, well, that’s the problem right there.

  • Karen

    If secular homeschoolers don’t see educating their families as a mission, well, that’s the problem right there.

    Sigh. Now you’re playing semantic games.

    I think it’s reasonably clear I was referring to “mission” in a broader context. There are religious conservatives who are on a mission to change our culture. They want a Christian country. They do things like try to get religious ideas into public school science curricula (or at least cast doubt on scientific findings that are problematic for their version of religious truth).

    Similarly, religious conservatives have eagerly embraced the homeschool movement and put effort into providing educational materials for homeschoolers. Materials that present a particular worldview, consistent with their mission.

    There has not been a similar effort to create materials for homeschoolers from a secular perspective. No big financial backers, I suppose, who have a sense of mission about it.

    I was (pretty obviously) not talking about the strength of purpose behind a family’s decision to homeschool.


  • Trace

    Oh my, I am late for this “party” 🙁

    “Even among atheist households, I get nervous when I hear that parents are home-schooling their children.”


  • txindie

    “It would be best if we required homeschooler teachers to have at least the requirements to be a substitute teacher in public schools, if not meet the requirements for some sort of teaching certificate.”

    I don’t agree with this method at all. First, there are no requirements to be a substitute teacher other than having a bachelor’s degree and the willingness to work for very little pay and not a steady pay at that. Second, requiring a person to substitute or get an alternative certification will only show a person how to teach the same methods taught in public schools. How to pass the test. It’s like saying a catholic priest has to go watch a fundamentalist minister to learn how to preach. There are plenty of options for parents who homeschool to get the information they need from stores for educational material, homeschool groups, and online resources from educational sites just to name a few.

  • T Ray

    I’m not terribly surprised by this. Even though it’s a bad sample method I would expect home-schooled collegiates to do slightly better than average. School administrators and education experts are always pushing for smaller class sizes. A home schooled student with college aspirations and access to information should be very well prepared.

    At least it wasn’t Bob Jones University… or was it?

  • nazani14

    Clever way to get in a dig at Catholics. Two lies for the price of one.

  • Another atheist home-schooling family here!

    Home-schooling is obviously not for everyone. But for some, it works out quite nicely. And, like everything else in life, your mileage may vary. There are certainly cases on both sides where we know that the child is not getting a good education. Teacher credits or qualifications are not a pre-requisite for quality.

  • Janet

    “And from the looks of it, this “study” wasn’t published anywhere.”

    Yes, it was. In the Summer, 2010 Journal of College Admission Counseling. (Link:

    JCAC has also done other studies of homeschool students in college, at least one of which had nothing to do at all with Brian Ray or any other homeschooler. That study found that homeschoolers do as well or better as traditionally schooled students in every aspect – socially, educationally, graduation-rate, etc. It was published in 2004, I believe (sorry, don’t remember the name of it). Which, to me, just proves that homeschooling is just another way of educating students.

    I homeschool my 7-year-old son. The local public school he attended for 18 months made me want to vomit and had him so stressed he was unable to sleep at night. We are religious, but more in a Bahai-Edgar Cayce-Christian mix that is eclectic and interesting. The homeschoolers I know are all over the board in just about any way you want to measure them. I’m tired of atheist broad-brushing/lumping of homeschoolers.

    Oh – on a side note – for those who are so worried about how “indoctrinated” these children are, I would tell you that the Christian homeschool fundies were trememdously shocked a few years ago when they did a big survey of formerly homeschooled fundie children and found that over 70% of them had abandoned their faith. Which goes to prove that ultimately children become adults and develop their own minds, no matter whether you indoctrinate them at school or at home.

    And, finally, yes, there are homeschooling parents who are deficient in educating their children. But for those who think that public schools are the “answer” (did you know the United States spends more per pupil than most Western countries but lands only in the middle of the pack when it comes to student performance on international academic tests), keep in mind the great numbers of students who graduate from public school who need remedial coursework in math/reading/writing before beginning college (national estimate – 28%, over 50% at our local community college). Keep in mind that drop-out rate (over 50% at many urban schools).

  • “And from the looks of it, this “study” wasn’t published anywhere.”

    Yes, it was. In the Summer, 2010 Journal of College Admission Counseling. (Link:

    Can anyone get the PDF? I’d love to read this…

  • Janet

    Found it! (the 2004 study) or

    “First-Year College Performance: A Study of Home School Graduates and Traditional School Graduates”. Conducted by Dr. Paul Jones & Dr. Gene Gloeckner.

    The conclusion and the authors’ bios are below. I did not do the best job of summarizing the article above, but – give me a break – I read it six years ago!


    Families who home school their children should not feel that the education they are providing is inferior to the traditional K-12 education of their neighborhood peers.

    Although not statistically significant, the average first-year GPAs, credits earned in the first year, ACT Composite test scores, and ACT English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science and Reasoning subtests for home school graduates were all higher than traditional high school graduates. Although the sample was relatively small, the ACT Composite test score results for home school graduates was an average of 22.8, which matched identically to the national average in 2000 for home school students (ACT 2000). The national average for all students in 2000 was 21, which was nearly identical to the 21.3 average for the traditional high school graduate.

    The academic performance analyses indicate that home school graduates are as ready for college as traditional high school graduates and that they perform as well on national college assessment tests as traditional high school graduates. The results of this study are also consistent with other studies on the academic performance of home school students compared to traditional high school graduates (Galloway 1995, Gray 1998, Jenkins 1998, Mexcur 1993). These results also suggest that a parent-guided K-12 education does not have a negative effect on a student’s college success.

    With the anticipated growth in the home school population, state policy makers, home school advocates, and the families who educate their children at home should also benefit from this study on the academic performance of home school graduates.”

    Dr. Paul Jones is the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services and Professor of Educational Administration at Georgia’s designated public liberal arts university, Georgia College and State University. Dr. Jones is responsible for the oversight of the Offices of Admissions, Career Services, Financial Aid, Institutional Policy and Analysis, and the Office of the Registrar. he brings nearly I 8 years of experience in higher education. Dr. Jones holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Utah State University, and a doctoral degree in education and human resource studies from Colorado State University.

    Dr. Gene Gloeckner is an Associate Professor of Education at Colorado State University. Dr. Gloeckner who teaches research design, earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University, his master’s degree from Colorado State University, and his doctoral degree from Ohio State University.

  • Atheist homeschooler here, as well.

    I understand someone who has dedicated the time to becoming a teacher being a bit nervous about homeschoolers – but it’s a totally different skill set. I only have to guide the education of two people whom I know very well. Ensuring that a class of 30 or more kids of vastly different abilities and backgrounds get the best education possible? That’s a whole different ball of wax. (And seriously? TERRIFYING! Glad there are people who are willing to do the job.)

    And for those who worry about children not being able to deal with less than optimal social situations? I have found that life provides *ample* opportunities for learning to deal with assholes.

  • Claudia

    I tried homeschooling briefly in high school, though I ended up returning to school, though at the other end of the planet. I left because the educational level was terrible and the social aspect (I was bullied) was even worse. Best decision I ever made.

    This “socialization” argument strikes me as rather empty. Certainly homeschooled kids who are isolated from the outside by their parents will have social problems. So will schooled kids who are isolated by their parents. So will kids in public school who are abused and bullied. I want to hear from those who admit that bullying happens but it helps you confront the “real world”. How many of you were bullied constantly? Oddly, these statements tend to come from those not abused in childhood. In any case, I would think that social capacities could be measured to a certain extent, so any affirmations about the extent of socialization should be left until there is actual data on the subject.

    I think that its pretty obvious that the motivation of the parents who homeschool is vital. If you separate parents into those who homeschool to protect their kids from the Devil, those who do it to address their kids special needs and those who wish to give their children a more demanding education or have gifted kids, you’re going to have vastly different outcomes. “Homeschooled” describes such a diverse group of people as to be virtually worthless by itself.

  • Clint Warren

    Anyone who wishes to homeschool their children has to take precautions against dogma… even the secular minded.

  • One must look no further than our dismal public schools to see that homeschoolers are better off than their publicly educated peers. Atheists should not be apologists for the failed public school system and should consider alternative education for their own children.

  • I wanted to ask you about your use of the word “nasty” to describe someone’s actions. You see, your belief system presupposes that we exist in a world that has resulted from chance processes over billions of years; thus there is no meaning or purpose in life. So by what standard can you make moral judgments, including declaring that something is “nasty”? In an evolutionary worldview, there is no basis for something to be morally determined to be good or bad, including something deemed as nasty. You are appealing to an arbitrary kind of authority — your opinion — to judge what is good and what is bad/nasty. Your arbitrary opinion has no moral weight in an arbitrary universe.

    Your judgment is wholly inconsistent with an evolutionary worldview in which there is no logical basis for something nasty, bad, or good.

    In addition, I suggest that for a man who bills himself as “friendly,” you are being unfriendly when you call Ken Ham’s views as “wacky” (and you’ve used even harsher language in prior writings). But even your use of the word “wacky” has no moral weight because, again, you have no ultimate standard to make that kind of judgment. Your own opinions create your moral standards and determine your rules for living, and then you suppose to tell others in your columns how they should lead their lives.

    I am reminded of the comment that PZ Myers made several months ago, after he toured our Creation Museum with you last year and rode on top of our play dinosaur. When he was chastised for not obeying our clear museum sign that stated that only children could ride the play dinosaur, PZ rationalized his actions by stating: “Some very persnickety people have been demanding that I apologize for riding a fiberglass dinosaur at the Creation ‘Museum,’ because it had a sign saying it was intended only for those under the age of 12. I’ve thought about it. There is that sign, after all, and if I’d looked a little more carefully, I might have noticed it. But then, I realized that I still would have clambered aboard. There isn’t the slightest twinge of repentance in my heart. I’ll even encourage everyone else to jump on …”

    Both of you are simply acting in accord with your worldview, in which there is no ultimate standard for morality (including a respect for the private property of others). In that light, your actions are actually quite consistent and understandable in your meaningless and purposeless universe.

    If the universe is a mindless product of an accident, why does it display order, including laws of nature? These laws of science only make sense in a Christian worldview, where they are the descriptions of the consistent, logical way that a Creator holds the universe together. If there is no God, how do you account for these laws? How can you explain laws of logic, laws of mathematics, etc. in a naturalistic, materialistic universe?

  • PJG

    Sampling issues (hugely problematic though they are) aside, I would also be interested in knowing what sort of majors these students have, and if it skews disproportionately away from quantitative and scientific fields.

  • p.s.

    This was not directed at me, but since I’m fairly sure that mark has no more insite into his intended targets mind than mine, I don’t feel too bad about butting in.

    You see, your belief system presupposes that we exist in a world that has resulted from chance processes over billions of years; thus there is no meaning or purpose in life.

    Bullshit. I have plenty of meaning and purpose in my life. I consider the meaning and purpose I find in life to be particularly special because it belongs to me, not a supernatural being. What gives you the right to say my life is meaningless because I don’t believe what you do?

    As to the rest of your misguided post…
    There is this pesky little diference between opinion and fact. evolution is a fact. Judgements, such as calling something/someone “nasty” is an opinion. Morals are subject to opinion. Believing in scientific facts does not make my opinions or morals less valid than yours. You do not have the right to tell me what my morals are, or that my life is meaningless.
    You are lumping all atheists together in some giant nihilist pot and that’s just not an accurate representation of the general “community”
    You seem to think that “no ultimate standard of morality” means no morals at all. This is absolutely not true.
    I don’t want to get into the whole argument that “an ordered universe proves there must be god.” Suffice to say, that argument is rife with logical fallacies and is thoroughly discussed elsewhere. I am more concerned with your incredibly inaccurate assumptions of what atheists must think. I sincerely hope it is merely a case of ignorance and the product of a sheltered, thoroughly christian life.

  • Claudia

    @Mark Looy I’m afraid that your comment cannot be admitted as a valid contribution to the conversation because:

    1. You have given a wildly incorrect definition for evolution.
    2. You have given a wildly incorrect deduction about morality and purpose derived from your wildly incorrect definition of evolution.
    3. You have given a wildly incorrect description of the atheist position.
    4. You are (as creationists tend to) conflating the unrelated subjects of physics and the origin of the universe with evolution, which is so bizarre that it could only be done by someone who has no knowledge of either.

    In short, you are demonstrably ignorant of the subject on which you see fit to opine. Your “points” cannot be argued because your various base assumptions are incorrect.

    Oh and this has fuck all to do with homeschooling *^_^*

  • JM_Shep

    I didn’t read the whole thread, because I’m at work and don’t have time, so if this has been addressed, I apologize.


    Hemant, you say

    a private, Roman Catholic school in the midwest

    Where does that come from? Nowhere in your quote from the study does it say that the school is either private or a Catholic school. If I polled the people in my neighborhood (a city in the upper midwest), I think a little over half of them would identify as Catholic. Just because a slight majority of the student body identifies as Catholic doesn’t mean it’s a Catholic school. And where does the ‘private school’ thing come from?

    It’s not very skeptical to make unsubstantiated statements or assumptions about this study.

  • @JM_Shep It said that in the Powerpoint and in the press release. I may be combining the information (one from one source, one from the other).

  • ckitching

    I wonder.. What the likelyhood that the person doing the study corrected for socio-economic factors? Home schooling isn’t cheap, so it does limit who is able to do it, and the income level of the family has a very strong influence on academic success (malnourishment, inadequate health care, etc have obvious effects).

    I have a feeling (although no data) that when corrected for the other known factors with extremely strong correlation, the difference between the home-schooled and public schooled students may completely evaporate.

  • Kai

    I was homeschooled, and I am excelling in college. Let me tell you: I am excelling despite being homeschooled, not because of it. My parents thought a secular education would destroy my mind and my love for Christ. It was clearly much better to keep me at home and let me run wild. On the days we actually did any schoolwork (maybe twice a week), we read a few passages from the Bible and practiced our handwriting. I wasn’t exposed to even basic science principles until around the 8th grade, and then only to very deeply ignorant creationist propaganda.

    Throughout college, I have struggled to overcome a poor work ethic and social awkwardness and anxiety. I’ve had to discard most of what I thought I knew about the world and start from scratch—literally. There are things I still don’t know that are obvious to elementary school students. On top of all that, I’ve had to deal with doubts that afflict most college students: doubts about the religion I was raised in, doubts about my sexuality and identity… Looking back, I’m amazed I didn’t go insane.

    Anyways, I call bunk on that study. I’m still bitter that it was legal for my parents to do what they did to me and my siblings (most of whom haven’t recovered as well as I have). Homeschooling should be far more regulated that it currently is.

  • An Aaron

    “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers.”

    It seems that to that we can add to that ‘we all believe that we are better then average educators’ as well.

    I can not speak for Mr. Mehta, but the reason I get nervous when I hear that parents are home-schooling their children is because I know that educating is a specialized practice. To do it right requires a lot of time and determination. To know you are doing it right requires testing and standardization. To understand how to properly test and standardize (and apparently to understand why it is necessary) requires years of specialized education. The reason I get nervous is because with out these things it is easy to fail at this task and not even know that you have, until it is too late.

  • Brandy

    @ Tim: Please don’t think we are all that way! I don’t know how many other homeschoolers feel the way I do, but I am so frustrated at the reality that my family is probably often stereotyped as the kind of family you describe, simply because we homeschool.

    I am not atheist, but I do not homeschool for religious reasons, AT ALL. I simply chose to homeschool my younger kids after years of feeling like the public school was only depriving my kids of a decent education, and fostering an environment that was going to kill their self esteem along the way.

    I believe in God, but I am a secular homeschooler…does that make sense? Personally, religious based curriculum materials annoy me probably as much as they annoy you. I, like you, also have a very serious distaste for the indoctrination of children into their parents’ belief systems (although I also have a distaste for the indoctrination of kids into parents’ purposeful lack of belief systems – I feel there’s no difference between the two scenarios, conceptually speaking). And I, like you, am completely turned off by fundamentalist Christians, even though I believe some of the same things that they do.

    Personally, this homeschooling Mom teaches her kids about ALL belief systems (even Atheism and things like Wicca) – so that they are knowledgeable. I believe they will be led in the direction that is right for them, and I express that to them. I don’t expect them to blindly follow my path of beliefs…there are a million things in my life from birth onward that have led me to where I am belief-wise – I don’t expect them to base their belief system off of MY experiences, that’s ludicrous. I do SHARE my experiences, and I SHARE my beliefs, and I tell them that they will have to decide for themselves what they believe.

    My main point is, that you should understand that stereotyping all homeschoolers as fundamentalist religious nutjobs, isn’t really accurate. And it’s certainly not helpful.

    I just want my kids to receive a quality education, and to be able to become the people they are meant to be, as opposed to mindless sheep who follow the crowd due to excessive peer pressure. LOL, I want them to think for themselves…and public school is absolutely a system of indoctrination, no less so than any fundamentalist religious institution!

  • Home schooling isn’t indoctrination, but rather parents, who for various reasons, want a better education for their children than the public schools can offer. I can’t believe that anyone with a functioning brain could think a parent the indoctrinator and not the state. Please fill that prescription.

  • Gsirsi

    Are homeschoolers better prepared for life? A very nonsensical and unanswerable question.

    As a adult leader in the Boy Scouts of America(pack, troop and venturing crew) for nearly 10 years, and also a youth minister for 8th grade teens as well as wrestling coach, I have experienced youth from most walks of life.

    Homeschooled, public schooled, private schooled, paraochial schooled, economically -challenged and “well-off” teens.

    I have witnessed a homeschooler with amazing language arts skill sets but with not a clue when it comes to social interaction with another student that has differing opinions on a subject. 

    Listening to a parochial student’s view on science and world history drastically contrasts with the well-informed knowledge of a public school student’s broader view.

    The high-spirited attitude of a public school student compared to the reserved nature of a private school student.

    Teens are teens. There are no “bad” teens – only bad parenting.

    One of the few common denominators to a student’s success appears to be the level of parental involvement in their child’s development.

  • John

    I feel sorry for you, I’ve been home-schooled all my life and I’m 15 now, and learning calculus and 2 different languages and I’ve been through various science courses and none of them have been creationist biased. (I am a Christian though.) My parents had me doing school completely at home until about 3rd grade. Then I was put into a home-school connections program where I and countless other homeschoolers would go to classes twice a week and receive enough homework to keep us busy until the next school day. The teachers are top notch in my opinion. I plan on going on to college next year. I’m afraid that you were just unfortunate. (BTW i’ve never had a  problem with social skills)

  • Ajdmoore

    No matter what it is in life you will always have good and some bad.

    To Kai: Where I live the kids in public school can get homework passes and things where they don’t even have to do their homework.

    But everyone wants to say that home schooled kids don’t get school done.
    Some public schools are letting the kids out of some of their school, but they continue to criticize home schooled kid if they miss one little thing.

    What I am trying to say is, if you are criticize home schooling, maybe you should look at the public school system.

    Kai, Just think what you missed by not being in public school. You missed dugs, alcohol, shootings, people dressed in black clothes and green hair. We could go on. you also missed be porn stars come to class and be held up as a role model.

    Let me tell you, YOU DIDN’T MISS ANYTHING

    You said you were facing questions about religion sexuality etc. But you also said that every collage kid faces those questions. So you just in your own words that you are just facing questions like everybody else. IT IS NOT BECAUSE YOU WERE HOME SCHOOLED.

    Evern if you did not have a good education, It is not the fault of home shcooling.
    It you and your parents fault.

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