What is it homeschooling? How much has it been growing throughout the years? Are homeschooled students smarter or more socially-award than others attending public or private schools? Let’s take a look at these issues more carefully.

Homeschooling Definition And Its Recent Growth

A homeschooling definition is about educating a child (or children) at home (and often in other spaces such as museums and outdoors) rather than sending them to school. It is usually conducted by a parent or a tutor who adopt less formal ways of educating.

According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of American kids being homeschooled went from 850,000 in 1999 to 1.7 million in 2016. Today, there are about 2.5 million homeschool students in grades K-12 in the US. It is also growing in other places too, such as in the UK, with estimates of 60,000 kids being homeschooled and a significant YoY growth.

There’s some of heterogeneity across students being homeschooled. In the US, they can either belong be part of minorities or (69%) non-Hispanic White people. Some come from poor families (20%, US data) while their parents hold different academic degrees, politicals views, and religious beliefs. The reasons behind each homeschooled student are different – so what thrives parents or the people in charge of children’s education?

Why Homeschooling? The Reasons For An Education Out Of The System

According to Ray’s systematic review, a bunch of different factors are involved. Keeping kids safe and away from “drugs or negative peer pressure” or the “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at schools” are some of them.

Others have to do with the desire to provide moral instruction or religious instruction. For other educator parents, homeschooling is a way of letting kids learn at their own pace. A way of teaching they discover the areas they are more passionate about rather than a one-size-fits-all approach where everyone is taught the same and each individual’s innate skills aren’t explored.

Others might live away from schools with lack of transportation. And surely, there are negligent parents too who just don’t care. But how effective is homeschooling really when done responsibly? Don’t kids become socially-awkward as they lack socialization? Do homeschooled kids perform worse or better than their public school peers?

There’s Little Evidence That Homeschooled Students Perform Worse

In Ray’s literature review, in 11 of the 14 peer-reviewed studies, there was a definite positive effect on achievement for the homeschooled students (across different ages and races/ethnicities).

Focusing on some of these studies, it seems reasonable to establish a relationship between the support 5 to 10-year-olds get and their performance: which improves the more structure they have at home. Moreover, in 1999, around 2100 K-12 homeschooled had to be evaluated in some states in the US, scoring above average. In a 2006 study favorable to formally schooled children showed that 30 4-6-year-olds had better literacy levels compared to those homeschooled.

Despite not having explicitly used or presented effect sizes, most studies seem to show homeschooled have as good or sometimes better academic performances compared to traditional students. But how does it then work regarding the development of emotions and social skills?

Do Homeschooled Kids Have Social Skills Less Developed?

Regarding social and emotional development, there are also a significant number of studies (13 out of 15, according to Ray’s literature review) showing positive outcomes for homeschooled students. Again, 10 of these studies didn’t explicitly use or present effect sizes.

A 2006 study from the National Study of Youth and Religion found homeschooled adolescents 13-17 y.o.) were less likely to get drunk. A study from Adkins (2004), cited by Medlin, also assessed students’ emotional intelligence. The quality of interpersonal relationships, social responsibility, and empathy, problem-solving, reality testing, and flexibility were measured using a Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory methodology. The result? “On no scale have homeschooled children scored significantly lower than the norms.”

Another study by Reavis and Zakrinski (2005) showed both homeschooled and “conventional” children (ages 9-13) had the same number of close friends and that their friendships “were of similar quality”. Moreover, homeschooled were found to have higher self-esteem and more positive interpersonal relationships. However, let’s take into consideration one of this study’s limitations: the sample of homeschooled children was small: only 16.

Best To Wait For Further Studies

There seems to be no room for excessive concern regarding some of the main concerns on homeschooling: academic achievement and social development of social skills. However, it’s still hard to speak with certainty about these issues – not only due to the fact that some studies are from the past century but also because there’s a complex reality that’s hard to consider broadly and accurately evaluate.

For instance, there’s no K-12 cross-age study besides Smedley’s (1992) – where 10,000 children were part of his sample. More studies like this one would allow drawing better and more accurate conclusions. Also, questions of children who have always been homeschooled compared to others who have then switched to regular school (or the other way around) mean conclusions need to be carefully drawn as they had different experiences throughout their education.

In the long-term, according to NHERI, studies have also shown the relative success of home-educated who later became adults. However, when assessing the impacts of homeschooling, it’s also crucial to carefully focus on what are the desired outcomes of one’s education. When it comes to social behaviors and soft skills, for instance, do we want to grow kids who have no fear of speaking out loud and sharing their opinion straight ahead? Or would it be best if they were able to mindfully listen to what others say to be sure they add value as they speak? Americans and Japanese would probably disagree here. Also, as the job market changes and AI and automation take over, it’s crucial that social skills and creativity – harder skills to be automated – are developed to give future job-seekers some competitive advantage.

One thing is pretty clear: there are many dysfunctional education systems with unmotivated teachers using old learning methods despite being known that storytelling and playing are quick and effective ways of learning. In some schools, there’s violence and threats, lack of control in playgrounds and not everyone is able to live close to schools or drop-off kids: making homeschooling an appealing choice. More studies are definitely needed to assess under which conditions kids learn best; and what “best” and “success” mean as well.

[Image credits to father on Shutterstock]