Byline: Thomas Washburne
Time magazine in the summer ran a story that asked, "Is Home Schooling Good for America?" The article caused quite a stir among home educators for a variety of reasons, but the aspect of the article that raised eyebrows the highest was the question posed on the cover. A look at the evidence suggests home-schooling is better for America than even its strongest proponents realize.
Home-schoolers are accustomed to questions. Most home-schoolers would say they have spent a great deal of time answering questions, beginning with their own: Is it legal? How many people are doing it? Do I have the ability to teach my children? Can we make the sacrifices necessary to accommodate the time commitment? Will my children be weird? These questions start the moment the home-schooling journey begins, and they appear, at least to one in the middle of the trip, to have no end.
Fortunately for those starting the journey, many of the questions have been answered. Those of us who home-school owe much to the work of modern home-schooling pioneers who wrestled with the questions and answered them definitively.
"Yes, it is legal," and "Yes, it can be done," are answers that can be asserted with confidence because of the hard work and sacrifices of many. Every generation must confront its own issues, however, and the current generation of home educators will, sooner or later, have to confront squarely the question raised by Time.
The question no longer extends to the quality of home education. Most Americans concede that home-schooling is having extraordinary success in educational achievement, and for good reason.
Studies by Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, have found that on average, home-schoolers outperform their peers across all subjects on national standardized achievement exams. In one 1990 study that used a random sample of more than 1,500 families from one home-schooling organization, the home-schooled students, on average, scored in the 80th percentile or higher. That means that 80 percent or more of students who took the exams scored lower than the home-schooled test takers. The largest data set ever used to evaluate the progress of home-schooled students looked at the scores of 16,311 youngsters across the country on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Home-schooled youngsters ranked in the 79th percentile in reading and the 73rd percentile in language and math. On such tests, the 50th percentile is the national average: Half of all test takers fall below the 50th percentile and half above it.
Interestingly, the amount of money spent per child and the parents' level of education were of little significance, as was the level of government regulation of the home schools.
Clearly, from the establishment's perspective, the issue of whether home-schooling is good for America transcends the issue of academic achievement. The question now is often put in terms of the quality of the citizen being graduated and the effect home-schooling has on America's confidence in its public education system. This shift is in itself a bit perplexing. …