- Thursday, February 22, 2024

The recent rise of homeschooling has resulted in much skepticism. An educational alternative that was once thought to be relegated to the fringes of the religious right and the countercultural left has risen to mainstream prominence, and critics are raising alarm bells, most recently the Washington Post. Among other things, they are challenging whether homeschooling can really provide a quality education. For homeschool veterans, questions and criticisms are nothing new.

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Over the years, skeptics have raised concerns ranging from parent qualifications to socialization and everything in between. These skeptics have long pointed to the scarcity of research on the methods of homeschooling as a major cause for concern.

In response, officials — often meaning well — attempt to regulate homeschool education, employing the same ideas they use to regulate traditional schools. Without taking time to research and understand the issues, they employ curriculum restrictions, teacher qualification requirements, and minimums for instructional hours.

Being short-sighted and reactive, most of this criticism fails to account for the substantial pedagogical differences between traditional schools and homeschools. While hard data showing this can be difficult to acquire (although homeschool graduates by the thousands can provide anecdotal evidence for homeschooling’s efficacy), the decentralized nature of homeschooling and its diversity of practice make focused research challenging, particularly in large-scale studies.

However, that seems to be slowly changing. Researchers like myself are finding ways to more deeply examine homeschooling as an educational method and what we are finding is fascinating. For example, while gathering data recently for a research study on 3rd and 4th grade homeschoolers, we found that the students in the study were academically engaged 2 to 2.5 times more often than public school students.

This wasn’t the first time that we’ve observed this.

In two previous studies that I have published, one that involved homeschooled students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and another that examined homeschooled students with learning disabilities, we discovered that the students spent 50-60% of their instructional time actively engaged in reading, writing, and discussion about their lesson. This was more than double that which similarly affected students experienced in the public schools.

In contrast, a well-known study completed in a large midwestern city found that 4th grade public school students were actively engaged a mere 67.5 minutes out of the 250 minutes per day that were allocated for academic instruction. That amounts to only 27% of the instructional time spent engaging in learning behaviors that promote learning.

This massive discrepancy is easily accounted for when you take the time to examine and understand homeschooling. Traditional school settings have long dealt with teacher shortages fueled by myriad factors that we cannot cover here. This has led to ever-increasing student-to-teacher ratios.

Long gone are the days of small classrooms in which teachers had time to individually tend to each of the students in their care. Now, teachers see dozens, sometimes hundreds of students being funneled through their classrooms each day.

Contrast that with a typical homeschool environment. The teaching parent rarely has more than a handful of students at any one time that, in turn, allows for far more one-on-one attention. Scheduling flexibility allows parents to spend less time on subjects that students grasp quickly and more time to focus on troublesome areas of study. Parents can employ the methods that best suit their child and quickly provide corrective feedback when it is apparent that students do not understand.

It should be no surprise then, that the average homeschool day is often significantly shorter than the traditional six-hour public-school day. And yet, according to multiple studies, homeschooled students perform, at the very least, on par with their traditionally schooled colleagues.

One of homeschooling’s greatest strengths is its flexibility. No two homeschools look the same, and that’s the point. Traditional school systems are in the unenviable position of having to be many things to all students and are hampered by sluggish bureaucracies that often require teachers to apply cumbersome, unnecessary reforms.

At present, home educators in most states are largely free of such limitations and imposing unnecessary restrictions on them risks depriving homeschoolers of the very things that make their educational efforts effective.

Homeschools and public schools are each effective in their own way, but to regulate homeschools as if they were public schools would be extremely awkward, harmful, and damaging to the learning principles that make them successful.

Homeschooling works best when it is nimble and responsive to the needs of individual students. Officials seeking to regulate homeschooling would do well to take the time to study and understand the issues that make homeschooling unique. They must speak with and listen to families whose children benefitted academically from homeschooling because the parents had the flexibility and freedom to tailor their pedagogy to fit the children’s educational needs. They must consult the experts dedicated to understanding why and how homeschooling works ─ not just those who blindly oppose it without understanding it. And they must bear in mind the guiding principle which has driven homeschooling from the beginning: our children deserve the best education that we can give them.

Failing to do so could severely hamper the most rapidly expanding and effective forms of education.

After working as a public school psychologist for 21 years — during which he served students, parents, teachers, and administrators — Dr. Steven Duvall spent the next 19 years teaching as a university professor while directing school psychology training programs. During this time, he also served as a consultant for homeschool families across the country. He is currently works as the Head of Research at HSLDA and is licensed or certified as a school psychologist in three states (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Washington) and has earned degrees from Wichita State University (BS), Pittsburg State University (MS and EdS), and the University of Kansas (PhD in developmental and child psychology).

HSLDA is a non-profit advocacy organization that makes homeschooling possible by protecting homeschooling families and equipping them to provide the best educational experience for their children. We have been trusted for over 40 years to care for homeschooling families as we safeguard their freedom and secure the future of home education.

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