I’m a numbers person.
Back when I started homeschooling (in 2001) I felt like I could give my daughter an excellent education. At least I could give her a better education than I’d received during my 12 years in the public education system.
But I wanted to know my odds.
What were my chances of success?
I didn’t really care how many others were homeschooling or their reasons for homeschooling. I wanted to know how well they did on college admission tests, what percentage of them were admitted to their preferred universities, and whether they eventually worked in their chosen fields.
I wanted to know about academic performance. I wanted to know how homeschooling affects college admissions. I wanted some homeschooling statistics to tell me I could do this!
I spent a lot of time searching for some such study.
I read every book in the education section of our local library. Only a few of them were even about homeschooling. And none of them contained the statistics for which I yearned.
Unfortunately, at the time there were very few homeschooling statistics available because studies hadn’t been conducted. (Statistics are still rather sparse because homeschoolers are a difficult bunch to study — more about that below.)
I jumped into homeschooling anyway, clinging to the idea that I couldn’t give her any worse an education than I’d been given. That thought really ought to have made me wary — the blind leading the blind and all that — but I’m always eager to take on challenges.
Let’s start by talking about the reasons homeschooling statistics are so much more difficult to find than public school statistics.
3 Reasons Homeschooling Statistics are Difficult to Find
It’s easy to find statistics on public schools, because all of the students are subjected to the same classes, schedules and tests. Students use the same curriculum and they are provided with the same resources and each students takes the end-of-year standardized tests.
Because schools cover small geographic areas, students within a school generally even have similar demographics. Schools also keep track of specific demographic data per student through surveys. All of those things make it really easy to whip up statistics for public schooled children.
Homeschooling families are an entirely different story, however. Here are 3 reasons homeschooling statistics are difficult to find:
1. There Are Myriad Definitions of Homeschooling
During the last century, homeschoolers as a population were much more alike. But over the last twenty years private and public schools have both begun offering programs to kids who complete school at home, but may or not be considered homeschoolers.
Which of the following scenarios would you consider homeschooling?
- Students enrolled in a charter or public school, but who participate in live, online classes, as well as all state-mandated testing from home.
- Students enrolled in a charter or public school, but who are only required to complete certain subjects or hours of work, and are allowed to choose their own curriculum.
- Students enrolled in a public or private school, but who attend only a few classes, or even just one, and complete the majority of their schooling at home, under parental supervision.
- Students enrolled in a private school, but who attend only a few classes, or perhaps just complete the private school curriculum in a home setting.
- Students who complete some years of school at home and others enrolled in a public or private school.
- Students enrolled in a co-op (not necessarily a private school).
See what I mean? All of these varying types of homeschooling make it impossible to divide children neatly into homeschool or public school groupings.
2. States Collect Little Homeschooling Data
Each state has different laws regarding homeschooling. In states where standardized testing is not required, homeschooler participation is pretty much nil. They are also much less willing to complete government conducted surveys because they find them intrusive.
In my own state, Utah, homeschoolers are required to submit an affidavit per student, but nothing else is required. Requirements differ from state to state.
But even in states were homeschooling is heavily regulated, decent statistics are hard to come by. One reason is simply context. Within a school, administrators can oversee grading from classroom to classroom, making sure teachers follow the outlined grading scale and overseeing curriculum and testing. That isn’t possible in individual homes.
Another reason is that many homeschooling families choose not to submit paperwork and participate in studies. They prefer to fly under the radar for personal reasons. Yet another reason is that school districts have no incentive to collect information on homeschoolers, because they don’t receive funding for them.
Further, homeschoolers use vastly different approaches to education, each of which affects academic outcomes. For example, while no less intelligent or capable, unschoolers have little experience with formal learning and may score poorly on standardized tests up to a point. Homeschoolers with more of a school-at-home approach to homeschooling would probably score better. Tests aren’t necessarily a good indicator of anything.
3. The Best Homeschooling Data Isn’t Great
Really, the most accurate homeschooling statistics probably comes from college entrance test data, where students are required to answer questions about demographics, religion and previous schooling.
There are obvious problems with that data, too, though. The first problem is that test takers are a self-selected group — the SAT and ACT are not required tests. Another problem is that students who identify as homeschoolers may have attended public school previously, or vice versa.
Another source for collection of data to create homeschooling statistics is the National Household Education Survey, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. As part of the US Census, this survey is representative and random. The NHES has been conducted approximately every other year from 1991 to 2016 and will continue to be conducted on a three-year cycle.
This information is limited to numbers of homeschooling students, demographics and reasons for homeschooling, though. There is nothing about homeschooler academic performance for obvious reasons.
Now that we’ve talked about how and why homeschool statistics are sparse and lacking, let’s talk about what we do know.
Homeschooler Characteristics & Demographics
Home schooled children currently make up approximate 3 percent of the school-age population. It seems to be rising. They are most likely to live in households headed by a married couple (one of whom is a stay-at-home parent) with moderate to high levels of education and an income above the Federal poverty level for their family size.
A higher percentage of homeschoolers are Caucasian (83 percent) than Black (5 percent), Hispanic (7 percent), or Asian (2 percent), according to NHES in the 2016 survey. 34% of the homeschool families surveyed were reported to live in a suburban neighborhood, 31% in a rural setting, 28% in an urban setting, and 7% in a town.
Academic Performance of Homeschooled Students
- The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) reports that homeschoolers typically score 15 to 30 percent higher than public school students on standardized achievement tests, regardless of parental education and income.
- Homeschooled students also score above average on their college entrance tests. Homeschoolers average 72 points higher (out of 1600 possible points) than the national average on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The average American College Test (ACT) score is 21 out of 36, while the average score for homeschoolers is 22.8. Because of this, home-educated children are being recruited by many colleges and universities. In fact, many universities have a tab on their websites dedicated specifically to homeschoolers who wish to apply for admittance into their schools.
- Data from states that have legally required homeschooled students to be tested shed some light on the question. For example, several years of data from Oregon’s Department of Education consistently reveal homeschooled student scores to be above average, with medians at about the 71st to 80th percentile (Williams, 2014).
- Michael Cogan of the University of St. Thomas organized a study which found that homeschooled students graduated college at a rate of 66.7%, as opposed to a graduation rate of 57.5% of students from public high schools. The study also showed that homeschooled students applied to the university with an average 26.5 composite ACT while public schooled students averaged a 25 composite. Homeschoolers ACT Math and Science scores were only slightly higher, but their English and Reading scores averaged a full 3.3 points higher. Homeschoolers also consistently earned a higher GPA than the other students enrolled in the college.
- Homeschoolers tend to be significantly overrepresented in spelling bees, geography bees and other academic contests. While homeschoolers represent only 3% of the student population, they average 25% of the contestants annually at the Scripps spelling bee, 10% of the National Geographic Bee, and 66% of the USA Math Olympiad. If homeschooling didn’t provide any advantages over public schooling, public school and homeschooled contestants should be proportionate to their representation in the overall student population.
- In 2003, Iowa State University’s admissions department data showed that homeschoolers had a 26.1 mean ACT composite score, as compared to a 24.6 mean score for all entering freshmen beginning in the fall of that year. The University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) have also seen higher ACT and SAT averages from homeschoolers in comparison to the total school population. The cumulative admissions data from UNI reveals that the average ACT score for homeschoolers was nearly 2 points higher than that of regular freshmen: 25 versus 23.5.
- Lawrence Rudner of the University of Maryland found that homeschooled students performed well on tests of academic achievement, typically scoring in the 70th and 80th percentiles. Lawrence M. Rudner, “Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol. 7, No. 8 (March 23, 1999).
- While my own family statistics are neither random nor representative, I feel like they would have been helpful to myself as a beginning homeschooler, in need of reassuring statistics, so I’m going to share them. My oldest graduated our homeschool at age 18 with 60 University credits (from a combination of AP credits and concurrent enrollment credits through our local university) and a 33 composite ACT score. I think she earned a 35 in math and her lowest score was in science reasoning. She accepted a full tuition scholarship to BYU, which is a pretty prestigious, private university, but she was also offered scholarships to every school to which she applied. My second child graduated our homeschool with an associates degree (I think he had 65 credits — also a combination of AP credits and credits from a local university) and a 34 composite ACT score. He actually earned THREE full-tuition scholarships to BYU; one was an academic scholarship awarded by BYU, one at a regional science fair for his work on graphene supercapacitors; and the third was a science scholarship from Intel. My third child earned a 32 composite on his ACT (he was so disappointed, lol! But he didn’t want to retest…) and also graduated with an associates degree and a 3.95 GPA. He declined his BYU scholarship in favor of a full-tuition scholarship at a more engineering-oriented university. My fourth child is 16-years-old and on the same successful path. I don’t think we’re an anomaly. If we can do it, anyone can.
Why Are Homeschooling Statistics So High?
As I gathered these homeschooling statistics, the bias of each author or study organizer was evident. From studies biased against homeschooling, the reason for the excellent academic achievement of homeschoolers seems to be based on the fact that homeschoolers are wealthier, whiter and have better educated parents than public schoolers.
Studies biased toward homeschooling argue that demographic factors play no role in homeschoolers academic achievement. I never saw it mentioned, but I argue that public schools spend many weeks toward the end of each school year teaching the test.
I remember as an elementary school student taking practice tests galore and learning things that had no bearing on anything except the test we were preparing to take. I don’t know any homeschoolers who spend (waste) that sort of time on a test. How do studies factor for that?
Why should homeschoolers be penalized for having above average income if public schoolers aren’t penalized for their extensive test prep?
Regardless, the fact of the matter is that nobody argues that homeschoolers actually do exhibit excellent academic achievement. With individual attention, completely individualized instruction, and more time to devote to academics (because less time is devoted to classroom management), higher academic achievement is almost a given.
It’s anecdotal, I know, but I’ve seen it time and again in my own family.
Homeschooling Statistics: The Verdict
The funniest thing about this whole article on homeschooling statistics is that now, after 18 years of homeschooling, they don’t even matter to me (aside from helping my children earn great scholarships so I don’t have to pay for college).
What does matter now is that my children are curious, confident, resourceful, independent, that they love learning and that they know how to ask questions and find the answers. Because tests don’t really matter.
The imposed time constraints actually make standardized tests more about a student’s ability (or willingness) to perform under pressure. High stakes assessments like standardized tests don’t accurately predict future academic success. Studies have shown that SAT and ACT test scores do not correlate with how well a student does in college.
I’d wager to say that they are even poorer predictors of how student’s perform following college.
It’s completely fine if you decide to homeschool based on excellent homeschooling statistics. It’s tough to jump into something so huge without a little reassurance! But I hope that you, too, in the next several years will find that the other benefits of homeschooling matter far more.