October 3, 2020
Unfounded assumption #1: Depriving children of the opportunity to homeschool does not harm them
Editor’s note: See Percentiles for help interpreting the graph.
The chart shows homeschooling gives the same academic boost to children, regardless of their ability level. This data is from state-mandated, nationally-normed standardized testing of Oregon homeschooled students.
Data from other states, such as Arkansas and Idaho, also show above average homeschool academic achievement. But we use the Oregon data because Oregon has the only body of data which is detailed enough to allow us to estimate a reliable curve for homeschool standardized test scores.
The boost shown in the chart is consistent with the fact that 11 out of 14 peer-reviewed studies provided evidence that homeschooling has a definite positive effect on academic achievement.
But despite this documented homeschool academic boost, in some US states there are individual children being prohibited from homeschooling based on either test scores or parent education requirements. This cuts those children off from the higher achievement homeschool environment. In so doing, these states harm the children they are depriving of the opportunity to homeschool.
Unfounded assumption #2: Low test scores indicate a homeschooled student is “falling through the cracks”
Test scores are used in some states to disqualify a student from further homeschooling.
The homeschool standardized test score curve above is the same as the public school curve, except it is shifted towards higher achievement. It is as normal for a homeschooled student to have a low test score as it is for a public school student to have one, based on the curves.
There is no mathematical basis to prohibit a student from homeschooling because of a low test score, just as it is does not make sense to bar a student with a low score from public school. The mathematical logic is the same in both cases. Someone has to have a low score when you are grading on the curve, as is done with standardized tests.
A related misuse of test scores is to block further homeschooling if a student’s academic achievement does not advance a full year’s worth in any particular year. This happens in public schools too, because children are not machines always meeting adults’ expectations.
Arbitrarily prohibiting a child from homeschooling because of a low test score (or other assesment) is without basis, as is expecting them to always keep their same place on the curve from year to year.
Unfounded assumption #3: Parents with less education cannot homeschool well
An analysis of 2008 nationwide data on homeschooling found “It is notable, however, that parents’ education level explains only 2.5% of the variance in the [standardized test] scores and, at every grade level, the mean performance of homeschool students whose parents (both, if two) do not have a college degree is higher than the mean performance of students in public schools; their percentiles are at the 80th percentile or above.”
Two earlier studies (Figures 5 and 6) showed variations in homeschool parent education level still left homeschooled students scoring above public school students on standardized tests.
Oregon (the source of data for the chart above) does not regulate on the basis of parent education. Parents without high school diplomas are free to homeschool their children. But there are no detectable signs of excess low test scores (see the three graphs just before the Appendix) in the Oregon homeschool achievement curve.
Unfounded assumption #4: The public school is better for a specific child than homeschooling is
Some states have legal provisions which prohibit homeschooling a child who has low test scores or where the parent does not meet some minimum education level.
Those children are required to attend traditional schools (usually public schools) without evidence that the specific child will do better in the mandated school than in the homeschool.
There is no credible evidence that children of parents who want to homeschool would be expected to do better in public school. In fact, available evidence indicates they would do worse in public school (see assumption #1 above).
Unfounded assumption #5: Homeschool regulations help homeschooled children
The analysis of 2008 data found that “there is no significant relationship between degree of state regulation of homeschooling and test scores.” An earlier study (Figure 8a) by the same researcher using different data found state regulation had “No impact on homeschool achievement.”
An analysis of the Oregon homeschool data found no indication that Oregon regulations helped homeschooled students.