Home Schooling Benefits Are Real, Widespread

Published February 1, 2005

The evidence that home schooled students do well is more than special-interest pleading. Departments of education in such states as Alaska, Tennessee, and Washington have conducted studies that found the typical home schooled student comes out ahead on virtually every significant measurement.

Specific instances abound. One family sent three home schooled youngsters to Harvard; a home schooler wrote a bestseller at age 15; home schoolers placed first, second, and third in the 2000 National Spelling Bee; Patrick Henry College in Virginia was founded for such students. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett has suggested, probably only partly tongue-in-cheek, that “Maybe we should subcontract all of public education to home schoolers.”

Self-esteem is a goal for students much-proclaimed by many public educators, a goal that, whatever its merits as a theory, has created much controversy. John Wesley Taylor found in research published in 1986 that home schooled children did far better when measured for this attribute as well. Only 10 percent were below the national average. By definition, among the general student body, 50 percent score below average.

Studies by Cornell University Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner suggest that, at least until age 10 or 12, students who spend more time with other children their age than with their parents tend to rely on other children for their values. The result? They tend to have a lower sense of self-worth, of optimism, of respect for their parents, and, ironically, even of trust in their peers. If Bronfenbrenner is correct, this is one of the major, and unrecognized, reasons for the growing dysfunction of much adolescent behavior.

More than 200 colleges, including such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, actively seek to attract home schooled students not only because of their high SAT scores, but for their advanced social skills as well. So much for the rhetorical concern about socialization.

A 1960 study for the Smithsonian Institution by Harold McCurdy concluded that genius is more likely to develop among children who spend more time with their parents and other adults, spend less time with their peers, and have freedom to work out their fantasies. McCurdy also suggested the public school system tends to do the reverse and restrict the development of geniuses.

Martin Engle, head of the National Demonstration Center for Early Childhood Education in Washington, DC, some years ago said children sense rejection if they are schooled too early. Raymond S. Moore, citing Engle in a September 1985 Phi Delta Kappan article, suggested “early schooling may be the most pervasive form of child abuse in the Eighties.”

That may be carrying things a bit too far. But in the face of the evidence, there is no justification for the hostility so many public school supporters seem to feel toward home schoolers. In district after district they are rejected when they try to participate in a limited number of school activities, academic or extracurricular, although a number of states now require public schools to allow such participation. In Pennsylvania, which lacks such a law, hundreds of school districts do this voluntarily.

As Stephen Arons wondered in his 1983 book Compelling Belief, “Why is it that millions of children who are pushouts or dropouts amount to business as usual in the public schools, while one family educating a child at home becomes a major threat to universal public education and the survival of democracy?”

Home schooled students, whether there are 850,000 or 2,000,000 of them, save the taxpaying public billions of dollars a year by withdrawing from the public schools. Using $9,000 per pupil as a rough approximation of current annual spending on public schools, home schooled students save the taxpaying public between $7.65 and $18 billion a year. It has been estimated that home schooling parents spend about $800 of their own money annually to educate each child.

In brief, although no one should be compelled to undertake the unusual dedication required to home school their children, those who wish do to so should not have government place bureaucratic roadblocks in their way. The evidence to date makes it clear the success rate is much higher for home schoolers while the actual cost is lower–as little as zero for taxpayers. The results benefit students, parents, family, and society.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

David W. Kirkpatrick ([email protected]) is a senior education fellow with the U.S. Freedom Foundation and also with the Buckeye Institute in Columbus, Ohio. This article was released to the public by the author on December 23, 2004.