Homeschooling is an educational option that allows parents to teach their children at home instead of sending them to school. Modern homeschooling began in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, there are a wide range of resources and opportunities available to homeschooling families and around two million children being homeschooled.
How many homeschoolers are there? The real answer to this question is that we don’t know—but we can guess. Few states collect data on the number of children being homeschooled. Even states that require parents to notify their local school districts when they begin homeschooling do not generally collect this data at the state level, and some states track the number of homeschools but not the number of homeschooled students.
Good data on homeschool demographics—including race, educational background, and income—is hard to come by. Neither state departments of education nor individual school districts collect demographic data, and studies conducted with volunteer samples cannot be assumed to be representative of the entire population. The best data we have is collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Parents choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons. Some have objections to the secular nature of public schools, and homeschool in order to give their children an education that integrates religious beliefs into the children’s curriculum. Some are concerned about the academic quality of local public schools, and homeschool in order to give their children more educational opportunities. And of course, many families homeschool based on a combination of reasons.
We know that students who are homeschooled can succeed academically—some homeschooled students score high above the national average on standardized tests. However, we do not know how well the average homeschooled student does academically or whether homeschooling can be credited for the success of those who are high achievers. We know that homeschooling students can and frequently do succeed in college, but we don’t know what percentage of homeschoolers are being educated to college level—or even being educated to levels of basic literacy.
We know from both research and anecdotal data that homeschooled children can be well socialized, both in terms of learning the social norms of society and in terms of social interaction. Many homeschooled children have large social networks and active social calendars. These homeschoolers are involved in field trips, play dates, ballet or gymnastic classes, group sports, music lessons, homeschool co-ops, and even community college courses or dual enrollment courses in the local public schools, and generally integrate into the university or workplace without a hitch. However, not all homeschooled children are involved in such a wide array of social activities and some do not receive the level of socialization they need.
What do we know about how homeschooled children fare once they reach adulthood and enter the world on their own? The answer is a lot—and a little. We have a good amount of data on how well homeschool graduates perform in college, but we have comparatively little other data on homeschool graduates’ experiences as adults. We also do not know what percentage of homeschooled students attend college. As a whole, we know very little about how they fare socially, how well they integrate into society, or about their life satisfaction.
We at CRHE believe that good research helps promote good homeschooling. Research that is honest about exploring the strengths and weaknesses of homeschooling has the potential to help improve homeschooled students’ experiences. With this goal in mind, we offer critical analyses of prominent or interesting pieces of research on homeschooling.