Homeschooled students score about 72 points higher than the national average on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The average American College Test (ACT) score is 21. The average score for homeschoolers is 22.8 out of a possible 36 points. Homeschoolers are at the 77th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
Advocates of homeschooling point to these standardized test results to show that not only does homeschooling work, it is also superior to public schooling. Critics disagree and say that demographic and other explanations may account for the higher homeschooling scores.
Critics point out that these higher scores do not indicate that homeschooling is superior to other forms of schooling. Some arguments are:
- Students who take these tests are self-selecting, so we don't know if homeschoolers overall are doing better than other students. But all SAT and ACT takers are self-selecting regardless of how they were schooled. However, there is no way to know if homeschoolers are taking these tests at a lower or higher rate than public or private school students.
- If broken down by demographics, homeschoolers may not fare so well. Homeschoolers tend to come from higher earning and better educated families, which may account for the higher scores.
- Sampling is sometimes done to compare homeschoolers to public school students. Critics point out that successful homeschooling parents may be more likely to allow their children to be tested than less successful homeschoolers.
The Demographic Argument
Johnna Burns of Northeastern State University made the demographic case in a 1999 study called "The Correlational Relationship between Homeschooling Demographics and High Test Scores." 1
According to Burns, homeschoolers are more likely to come from homes with educated parents and higher incomes. Homeschooling parents are less likely to divorce (which is true of higher income couples in general). Homeschooled kids watch less television. All of this results in higher academic achievement. As a result, Burns says that there is "inconclusive evidence of the actual quality of homeschool instruction."
A U.S. Department of Education study found that homeschooling parents are about twice as likely to have advanced degrees. But the percentages with Bachelors degrees or some college is similar to the population overall. Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented among homeschoolers. 2
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) commissioned a study called the "Homeschool Progress Report 2009." 3 This report did look at demographics. This study found that:
"Homeschoolers are still achieving well beyond their public school counterparts—no matter what their family background, socioeconomic level, or style of homeschooling."
Homeschoolers in this study were actually not better off or better educated, when compared to other households headed by two parents.
"Homeschoolers’ median family income ($75,000–79,999) closely spanned the nationwide median (about $79,000) for families headed by a married couple and with one or more related children under 18."
Homeschool households where neither parent had a college degree did less well than households with one or more college graduate parents. But the differences in academic performance were not significant.
"Students whose parents both had a college degree performed better than those who had no parent with a college degree. However, this correlation is generally weaker for homeschool students than for public school students.
The homeschooled students whose parents did not have college degrees still performed at the 83rd percentile."
According to this study, homeschoolers have significantly higher test scores than the national average.
"Homeschooled boys (87th percentile) and girls (88th percentile) scored equally well; the income level of parents did not appreciably affect the results (household income under $35,000: 85th percentile—household income over $70,000: 89th percentile); and while parent education level did have some impact, even children whose parents did not have college degrees scored in the 83rd percentile, which is well above the national average for public school students. Homeschooled children whose parents both had college degrees scored in the 90th percentile." 4
Since the HSLDA is a homeschooling advocacy group, it's very possible there is bias in the study, which consisted of 11,739 participants. Critics can easily make the self-selecting claim that only parents who knew their children would do well would participate. It is highly unlikely that the HSLDA study will end this debate.
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Problems with Critics' Arguments
The only way to know if homeschoolers outperform public school students is to look at similar sample populations. Critics won't accept these kinds of studies due to the concern that only students who know they will do well on the tests take them. This assumes that homeschooling parents somehow know in advance how well their children would actually perform. Many homeschooling parents wouldn't know in advance how well their children will perform on any particular test. Homeschoolers typically take tests like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to gauge how well they're doing. However, it doesn't make sense to compare homeschoolers to the national average because the demographics of both groups are very different.
The argument that homeschoolers may be taking the SATs and ACT at lower rates is problematic too. Considering that homeschoolers are more likely to come from homes with college-graduate parents, they are most likely taking college entrance exams at a similar or higher rate compared to other students.
While it's easy to explain away standardized test scores and comparisons based on sampling, it's hard to dismiss homeschoolers' successes in other areas. Homeschoolers tend to be significantly over-represented in spelling bees, geography bees and other academic contests. All participants in these kinds of contests are self-selecting and from similar demographic backgrounds. Consider that almost 88 percent of American students attend public schools, about 10 percent attend private schools and approximately 2 percent are homeschooled.
Scripps Spelling Bee - In the 2009 Scripps Spelling Bee, 6 of the finalists were public school students, 2 were private school students and 3 were homeschoolers. In 2010, there were 8 finalists. Four were public school students, 2 were private school students and 2 were homeschooled. Public school students made up only about 50 percent of the finalists in both 2009 and 2010, while private school students made up 18 percent and 25 percent respectively. Homeschoolers made up 27 percent of the 11 finalists in 2009 and 25 percent of the 8 finalists in 2010.5
National Geographic Bee - No homeschoolers made it to the top 10 in the 2010 National Geographic Bee but three out of the 54 participants were homeschooled. Homeschoolers made up 5 percent of the participants. Of the 10 finalists in 2009, one was a homeschooler. 6 In 2007, homeschooler Caitlin Snaring became the first girl to win the National Geographic Bee in 17 years. 7
Apangea Math Contest - The second annual Idaho Math Cup was won by a class from the Idaho Virtual Academy, a public online homeschooling program. 8 Brother and sister Garrisen and Cecilia Cizmich beat thousands of students nationwide to win the Apangea Summer Contest. Both are homeschooled through the Idaho Virtual Academy. 9
3M Young Scientist Challenge - Two of the 10 finalists in the 2010 and 2008 contests were homeschool students. Homeschoolers made up 20 percent of the finalists. One of the 2009 finalists was a homeschooler, making up 10 percent of the finalists. Only 60% of the 2010 finalists and 50 percent of the 2009 and 2008 finalists attended public schools. 10
USA Mathematical Olympiad - This contest has 12 winners each year. In both 2010 and 2009, a homeschooler was among the winners. So homeschoolers made up 8 percent of the winners both years. Only 7 of the 2009 winners were American public school students (approximately 58 percent), as were 8 of the 2010 winners (approximately 66 percent). 11
If homeschooling didn't provide any academic advantages over public schooling, public school and homeschooled contestants would make up a similar proportion to their representation in the student population overall. However, public school students are obviously underrepresented in these contests, while private school students are over-represented and homeschoolers are significantly over-represented. The success of homeschoolers in academic contests indicates that homeschoolers are most likely doing much better educationally than their public school counterparts.
This doesn't mean homeschooling will work for every child or every family because it does require a lot of dedication from parents. Going to school also provides many benefits that homeschooling families are not always able to provide like larger social networks, mixing with people from diverse backgrounds, opportunities to play competitive sports, or perform in a marching band. Homeschooling may not suit the personality of every child, just like schooling may not suit the personality of every child. Education isn't one-size-fits-all.
4. National Finalists: 2010. National Geographic Bee, National Geographic Bee finalists announced
7. Nampa kids win national math contest from The Idaho Statesman
8. 2008 Young Scientist Challenge, 2009 Young Scientist Challenge, 2010 Young Scientist Challenge
Bobo Smithson on September 18, 2019:
This was “updated” in 2019 but the studies cited are very old and the “critical arguments” are worn out. Dr. Brian Ray, in a peer-reviewed journal, did a review of peer-reviewed studies in 2017. Overall, 78% (35) of the 45 peer-reviewed studies found that the homeschooled students or graduates performed significantly better than their conventional or institutional school peers; 11% (5) found no significant difference; 7% (3) found mixed results; conventional school students performed significantly better in 4% (2) of the studies. This cite provides constantly updated research information www.nheri.org
trinty on April 22, 2018:
why did you do this you are amazing
LT Wright (author) from California on January 12, 2015:
Your first point is meaningless because you still admit most SAT takers are self-selected.
I don't know where you get the idea most homeschoolers have more time to prepare. I spend 6 hours a day going through a curriculum. Any competition preparation if we did that kind of thing would be in addition to that. Many homeschoolers have two working parents or a work-at-home parent. I have my own business leaving little free time. Homeschooling multiple children can be a lot of work even for a full-time stay-at-home parent. Few people who are wealthy enough to afford nannies homeschool because they can often afford private schools or they can afford to live in the best school districts.
Your ad hominem attack is shameful and unnecessary and hurts your poorly made points.
Public on January 08, 2015:
First of all, not all SAT and PSAT takers are self-selected. Many districts (though far from most) do blanket testing.
You also fail to consider, when holding up homeschooled children's success in activities, that homeschoolers have time to prepare for and attend the competitions. The fact that they have one stay-at-home parent or nanny to help them attend said competitions surely has an effect on their ability to participate and thus, win.
I hope the fact that you failed to identify this source of selection bias was due to your poor public school education.
Perhaps your homeschooled children will be able to better interpret data.
LT Wright (author) from California on October 17, 2014:
I homeschool through a public school program, so my eldest has had to do state testing. She got an almost perfect score. But I agree that no type of schooling is perfect. There are some great public schools and some terrible homeschools and vice versa. Where I live all the schools are mediocre despite a large middle-class population. Parents I talk to complain about how little their kids learn everyday. In that kind of situation, it's easy for homeschools to do a better job.
C E Clark from North Texas on October 15, 2014:
All these statistics are very interesting. My own daughter, home schooled all the way, took the GED exam only one time and got 90% over all In fact she got 90% on all sections except math where she got 80%. Most of the people taking the test had taken classes on how to pass the test and still had to repeat some sections of the exam to pass. My daughter took the test cold turkey and she did exceptionally well.
I work for our local school district. It has been my observation that even the teachers are poorly informed, and so of course they pass on what they know . . .
I find that no particular type of schooling is perfect. All have challenges. I have seen home schooled children that I considered to be at a great disadvantage. I have seen even more public schooled children in that situation. There are some wonderful teachers, and then there are the others. There are some wonderful parents, and then there are the others. There are some wonderful schools, and then there are the others. Every situation is different as is every child, teacher, and parent. Not surprisingly, we get mixed results all around.
Goringe Accountants from London, UK on September 22, 2014:
Even in a private school, kids are still taught at a 'general' pace which greatly holds some kids back. I know of pre-schoolers at the age of 4 that have reading ages of 10 and in the classroom are being taught basic phonics all day every day! I often think what a waste of time and money in such cases.
LT Wright (author) from California on February 24, 2014:
It's very hard to answer because you really are dealing with very different populations when comparing public schools, private schools and homeschooling. But yes, public education needs lots of fixes to be truly effective.
Sarah Forester from Australia on February 24, 2014:
It's an interesting debate and one that will probably go unsolved for many years. I do believe in proper education but just not in it's current state, it needs significant in a number of areas to truly be effective.
LT Wright (author) from California on July 08, 2012:
It doesn't help that the math books used in American schools are pretty bad. The National Academy of Sciences did a review of math book that are used in American schools. Only a few were were considered to be good and those happened to be the ones that were least used in schools. They also did a review of middle school science books and concluded that none of them were good. Homeschoolers have the benefit of being able to choose effective books, which gives them a big advantage over public school kids who are being forced to learn from lousy textbooks.
tmbridgeland from Small Town, Illinois on July 08, 2012:
My personal experience. I an 50. I wanted to take a class at the local jr. college, but did not have the math per-requisite. So I decided to test out of it. I last took algebra in high school, and got a 'C'. So I had to learn essentially one year's worth of high school algebra in the two weeks available before the test. I passed the test. High school requires a full school year to teach what can be learned by a motivated student in two weeks.
collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on May 06, 2012:
There is a good chance that my daughter will be attending a virtual academy this year. I believe that a student can progress in their studies at a quicker pace in the homeschool environment. We homeschooled for the month of August two years ago. When my daughter went to public school that September she was 6 months ahead of her class. She was able to do this because she could focus on her school work and had the full attention of her teachers (parents). We also believe that virtual colleges are the way of the future. That said, allowing her to educate online will only strengthen the skills she will need to prosper in college. It's a win-win.
Shandria Ball from Anniston on December 09, 2011:
Naomi Starlight from Illinois on December 04, 2011:
I believe homeschooling is academically superior, I've done both, and I much preferred homeschooling. Without distractions like chatter, socializing, taking attendance, and walking to and from various classes, a homeschooler has a lot more time at her disposal during the day. Also, I was able to develop learning strategies that suited my personality and learning style, as well as choose topics that engaged me mentally. I remember that since I liked playing Oregon Trail she (my mom) made our history lessons about that time period, and since I liked space, our science lessons were about Astronomy. I was able to do better because I had one on one support, the ability to change my schedule to suit my individual learning needs (if I was struggling in an area we could take more time to work on it and shorten the time we devote to things I was already doing well at). And all this with my mom working minimum wage jobs and at that time she had no education beyond high school and we lived in a bad neighborhood. So based on personal experience, I'm an exception to the demographics argument. It might be true in general, but it's not true for me.
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on November 03, 2011:
Very good (and important) Hub. And the general conclusions are most certainly valid. Clearly something is working in Home-schooling. I find it interesting that little is ever said about the possible motivations of the critics and nay-sayers.
Supporters of public school systems, which are often not doing a particularly good job educating students (for lots of different reasons) have cause to downplay the success of home-schooled children. There is the possibility for a strong bias at work here.
Lastly, I have taught on average 200 college students a year for the last 16 years (freshmen to seniors) and I can state unequivocably that I am impressed with the abilities, knowledge, dedication, intelligence, and performance of home-schooled students.
They are, on a percentage or proportional basis, over represented in our Honors Program, on the Dean's list, in our competitive scholarship program, and on the list of our students who go to graduate school. About 40% of the best students I work with were home-schooled and yet, they represent a little less than 10% of the total student body at my institution. Thank you for addressing this topic and writing this Hub. Dr. Theresa Ast