Some years ago, my wife and I lived in the country near a very small town. The public library there was staffed entirely by volunteers, so I offered up my services one day per week. That way I got to meet and talk with locals whom I’d otherwise probably never have gotten to know.
One of my favorite regulars was a woman I’ll call Allison, who often brought in her three sons who, at the outset were about 12, 8 and 5 years old. Along with her husband, the boys’ dad, they were a farm family. The kids dressed in boots and jeans; Allison’s hands were large, strong and lined with dirt. Her husband was a farm and ranch hand and worked at the hardware store.
What got my attention the very first time they came in was the boys’ behavior. They were polite, quiet, aware of the library’s rules and capable of having a conversation with an adult. They were homeschooled. Allison frequently brought lesson plans, tests, exercises, etc. into the library for me to copy on our Xerox machine. The difference between her boys and the run-of-the-mill kids who came into the library was like day and night, self-possession and its opposite. Since then, I’ve been skeptical of criticisms of homeschooling. Homeschooled children aren’t properly socialized? We should all be so lucky. A few minutes with Allison’s sons would disabuse anyone of such a notion.
So it comes as good news that the number of homeschooled children is now twice what it was before the advent of the COVID pandemic. Some five million kids are currently being homeschooled, which is about 11% of the total. Generally speaking, non-charter public schools do an inadequate job of educating our children, a fact that’s particularly true for black and Hispanic kids. (I’ll have more to say about that next time.)
It’s also true despite steep increases in school expenditures and sharp reductions in student-teacher ratios. Adjusted for inflation, we now spend about 2.5 times per child what we did in 1970 for public schools, but with no better academic results. Student/teacher ratios have dropped during that time from 27:1 to 16:1. As commentator Suzy Weiss says here, “The American Schoolhouse was in serious disrepair before 2020 — about that no one would disagree. But the events of last year tore the whole thing down to the studs.”
So I think that the more competition public schools have, the better. Most importantly, more competition means more choices for parents and children, but also more impetus for public schools to up their game. Plus, more kids being homeschooled means less taxpayer money spent on them. Homeschooling is essentially free to the public.
Now, I understand that we overburden public schools. Where once they were tasked only with teaching children and generally keeping them safe during school hours, we now demand they be not only teacher, but parent, cop, psychologist, mentor, physician, disciplinarian and more. Societal dysfunction (often associated with single parenting) is far too often dumped at the schoolhouse door with a note saying “take care of this.” Schools can’t, and shouldn’t be asked to.
So the marginal competency of non-charter public schools is far from being just the fault of schools. But if parents can fix even a part of what’s broken in the educational system and they’re willing to try, I’m all for it. Interestingly, black and Hispanic parents are somewhat more likely to home-school their kids than are white parents.
Why do parents opt for homeschooling? There are a lot of reasons of course, but, from the Home Education Research Institute, these jumped out at me:
[A]ccomplish more academically than in schools,
[P]rovide a safer environment for children and youth, because of physical violence, drugs and alcohol, psychological abuse, racism, and improper and unhealthy sexuality associated with institutional schools,
[T]each and impart a particular set of values, beliefs, and worldview to children and youth
That last was Allison’s message to me when I asked her why she’d opted out of the public school system. She wanted her sons to grow up to be honest, moral and hard-working, values she and her husband personified and that she thought would get lost in the public schools. Indeed, the reasons given by homeschooling parents read like a multi-point indictment of the public school system.
The data on kids who’ve been homeschooled compared to others are incomplete and, whatever seems true about them is likely somewhat skewed by selection bias, but, with that in mind, the results are good.
The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. (The public school average is the 50th percentile; scores range from 1 to 99.) A 2015 study found Black homeschool students to be scoring 23 to 42 percentile points above Black public school students (Ray, 2015).
78% of peer-reviewed studies on academic achievement show homeschool students perform statistically significantly better than those in institutional schools (Ray, 2017).
Homeschool students score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.
Home-educated students typically score above average on the SAT and ACT tests that colleges consider for admissions.
Nor do homeschooled kids lag their peers in social skills. Quite the opposite.
Research facts on homeschooling show that the home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem.
87% of peer-reviewed studies on social, emotional, and psychological development show homeschool students perform statistically significantly better than those in conventional schools (Ray, 2017).
Homeschool students are regularly engaged in social and educational activities outside their homes and with people other than their nuclear-family members. They are commonly involved in activities such as field trips, scouting, 4-H, political drives, church ministry, sports teams, and community volunteer work.
In short, the last two years have had one positive outcome – parents seeking and finding healthier, more productive ways of providing education for their children.