Rodger Williams
November 29, 2018

Question: Is the observed high academic achievement of homeschoolers due to the method of education or just due to homeschooler demographics?

Homeschool critics prominently voice — without supporting evidence — conjectures such as these from Lubienski, Puckett and Brewer (pages 383-384):

 Although there is little dispute that homeschooling children typically attain higher test scores on average, the question is whether homeschooling causes better achievement (or engagement, or higher education participation, etc.). Outcomes such as increased achievement and engagement may simply be a reflection of the advantages that homeschooling families typically bring to their children — advantages that would make it likely that these students would succeed academically and in life even if they were educated in schools…

[H]igh-achieving students who are homeschooled might very well still reap the benefits of their socioeconomic advantages if they were enrolled in a public school. It follows that the children of parents who homeschool could fare at least as well in public school as they do in the private realm of the home.

Demographics is not destiny for homeschoolers

But the data contradicts this assertion that demographics determine academic outcomes for homeschoolers.

National data on homeschooled students [Table 7] along with national data on virtual charter school students [Figures 3 and 5] shows:

  • 41% of homeschooled students are from minority race/ethnicities compared with 34% of virtual charter school students
  • 21% of homeschooled students live in households with incomes below the federal poverty threshold compared with 18% of students nationwide; 37% of virtual charter school students qualify for free and reduced priced lunch compared with 51% of students nationwide

So homeschools have more minority students than virtual charter schools. And homeschool households are more likely to be poor than virtual charter school households. (Parent/guardian education level data is not available for virtual charter school students, so we cannot make that comparison. Median parent/guardian education level in homeschool households is the same as that in other households with school age children.)

Statistically, minority students and those from lower-income families have lower than average academic achievement. Therefore, homeschools should have lower academic achievement levels than virtual charter schools, all things being equal.

However, homeschooled students and virtual charter school students have dramatically different academic outcomes: Homeschoolers have higher academic achievement than public school students, as measured by achievement tests. And virtual charter school students have lower achievement than public school students.

virtual school vs homeschool comparison chartFrom Homeschooling vs. Virtual Charter Schools: Academic Performance

These higher homeschool test scores defy the known demographic factors of race/ethnicity and income. No “demographics-only” theory of homeschool achievement would predict the pattern we see in the chart.

Public schools are no substitute for homeschooling

What is the unique factor in homeschooling? It is parent commitment. That commitment leads to both:

  • devoting dramatically greater time to personally educating their child, and
  • taking the final responsibility to make sure the child succeeds academically.

Parents who put their children in public school send them away for 6 to 7 hours per day. During that time the parent is not available to give the child individualized, tutorial instruction.

The parents also cede responsibility for, and control of, the education to the school. They can only give supplementary instruction — or do damage control as the case may be.

Committed parents are the deciding factor in homeschool success. There is no substitute.

Conclusion

There is credible evidence that homeschool academic success has contributing factors beyond just demographics. Homeschool-related factors, such as parent committment, are likely associated with a large part of the academic boost among homeschooled students.

The claim that homeschooled students could do just as well in public school because of “their socioeconomic advantages” disregards what would happen to parent committment and its outworkings if their children were in the public school.