This website is no longer being updated. Most of its content, including research citations, has been transferred to the website for the International Center for Home Education Research (ICHER.org), an organization I have founded along with several colleagues from around the world.
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THREE KEY POINTS ABOUT HOMESCHOOLING
1. We don’t have any comprehensive data about U.S. homeschoolers nationally: total number of homeschoolers, learning outcomes, or anything else.
The broadest set of data we have comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), but even that large-scale study likely doesn't provide a full picture, as many homeschoolers are strongly opposed to any sort of governmental oversight of their efforts, and therefore refuse to participate in any data-gathering attempts (the 2003 NCES survey, for instance, had a 58% refusal rate).
2. Claims that the "average homeschooler" outperforms public and private school students are simply not justified.
This is not to claim that homeschoolers underperform, either--the simple fact is that no studies exist that draw from a representative, nationwide sample of homeschoolers.
Nevertheless, a 1999 study by Lawrence Rudner is frequently cited by homeschooler advocates as definitive evidence that homeschoolers academically outperform public and private school students. But as the study’s author himself acknowledges, the homeschool participants (unlike the public school students’ scores) were an unrepresentative sample, and it was not a controlled experiment. Among a range of inconsistencies, the study drew only from homeschoolers who elected to take these tests through a Bob Jones University standardized testing program (in which parents typically administer the exams to their own children), then compared this narrow slice of homeschoolers to national averages for public and private school students. Even with the caveats Rudner offered in his analysis, the study came under heavy peer critique in the same academic journal in which his findings appeared.
In August 2009, the Home School Legal Defense Association publicized a new study comparing the standardized test scores of 11,739 homeschoolers to those of public school students. Despite HSLDA's assertions to the contrary, this study suffers from many of the same methodological weaknesses as the 1999 Rudner study. In particular, the homeschoolers who responded to HSLDA's invitation can hardly be considered representative of the broader homeschool population: the sample only includes the subset of homeschoolers who use standardized tests, and it draws almost entirely (95%) from those who self-identify as Christian. While HSLDA claims that "the overwhelming majority of parents did not know their children's test results before agreeing to participate in the study," it's also reasonable to assume that many parents whose homeschooling is subpar would not be willing to share those scores (whether they know them in advance or not), or would avoid testing altogether. It's also worth pointing out that homeschool parents can administer these tests themselves, making it possible to create very different testing conditions from what public school students experience.
Again, my argument is not that homeschoolers as a whole underperform other students--we just don't know, despite HSLDA's claims about the "average homeschooler."
3. There is no such thing as a "typical homeschooler."
Even without comprehensive demographic data, it seems clear from more limited studies and abundant anecdotal accounts that describing the typical homeschooler is about as difficult as describing the typical public school student. Homeschoolers come from all walks of life, and families choose this education option for a variety of reasons—NCES data suggest that "concern about environment of other schools" and "to provide religious or moral instruction" are parents' most common motivations.
Support and advocacy organizations serve almost every demographic imaginable. A quick check on-line, for instance, lists groups for disabled, Jewish, Latino, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, single-parent, vegan, Native American, African American, and Muslim homeschoolers (the latter two, among others, claim to be the fastest growing segment of homeschoolers). The growth of online communication seems likely to only increase the available opportunities for networking and support moving forward.