Homeschooling in the United States is not the most relevant issue in the context of the institution of public education in the United States with the exception that of the parents that home-school their children, 74% cite dissatisfaction with academic instruction at schools and 91% are concerned with school environment. Additionally approximately 50% of these parents claim one of these two issues as the primary reason for their choice in homeschooling their children. As a result, the 3% of school-age children currently home-schooled are exposed to a unique education, bereft of standardized practices and traditional social dynamics. Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to interview several parents throughout the United States, whose methodologies, motivations, and results, offer an in-depth perspective on the philosophical and heuristic efficacy of the practice.
The rationale and degrees of homeschooling varied drastically, creating a very unique set of circumstances for each family. One family in Ohio discovered their son's advanced ability to read and felt that public education wouldn't adequately cater to his development. Conversely, one family living outside of Washington D.C. had enrolled their child in public education since Kindergarten, but his introverted disposition made it difficult for him to interact with teachers and students. His parents felt it best to limit his time at school to a few days, supplemented by a private tutor. Yet another family in Pennsylvania distrusted the social interactions their child would engage in at school, and felt it best for their daughter to learn at home in isolation, while allowing her to participate in team sports and other extra-curricular activities. A few families meanwhile chose to home-school their children in order to control their moral and religious instruction. It's important to note that the root of their motivations is their belief in the inadequacy of local institutions coupled with the notion that they can create a superior ecosystem at home because they would know what's best for their children.
Methods of Homeschooling
The most general method of homeschooling is the curriculum-based approach, reflecting those taught in public education. Families unsure of homeschooling or those who removed their children from the public system due to integration reasons often follow this approach. This allows the purchase of a package for a particular grade, containing all necessary materials from books, teaching guides, assignments, and assessments. These materials reflect the information taught at the corresponding grade level in public schools, and allow for students to transition back into public education, giving parents the flexibility for that option later on. Unit Study is another common homeschooling method, where a topic provides the context for learning. This can include from general topics like Europe to teach History, Geography, Social Studies, and Literature, to specific topics like Cars to teach Mathematics, Chemistry, and Physics. Unit Studies can be either chosen by the parent or tutor, but also driven by the particular interests of the child. Unschooling is a movement in education where children learn by pursuing their interests and parents merely encourage the child to explore and learn within the context.
Every parent I spoke with employed the method to some degree, but they all agreed that unschooling was extremely inefficient, especially if the child was to prepare for opportunities after their secondary education. Only one of the families I spoke with engaged in a strict curriculum-based approach, while the others consulted the appropriate grade-level curriculum, and used some combination of unit modules to navigate through the relevant topics. The fluid barrier between home and school also allowed parents to integrate technology into their children's lives at a personalized pace. Most of the parents found online content increased their children's engagement with learning, and have been exploring a variety of educational tools, depending on the topic being taught. The one exception to this diversity is the choice of foreign language tools, where remarkably all parents attested to the efficacy of Duolingo in terms of their children's engagement for learning. The variation of teaching methods increased when detached from the expected curriculum. Some parents enforced the learning of a musical instrument and engaging in physical activity, while others focused on community participation and religious service. Home-schooled children receive an educational experience that's unique and not easily quantifiable by the same metrics used to judge conventional education.
Addressing Homeschooling Efficacy
Surveys from 2011 show that academically focused home-schooled children score on average several grade levels above their public education counterparts, after aligning for socioeconomic backgrounds. This corroborates the study of 12000 home-schooled children in 2008 that showed home-schooled children outperforming the average by approximately 37 percentile points. One of the parents I spoke with claimed that their child who was struggling in school for a year found the same material easier to grasp at home, and was ahead of the curriculum six months later. Another family pointed out that the lack of formal structure allowed for their son to allot the appropriate time to subjects he struggled in, an opportunity that wouldn't be available to him at school. The same family also cited that the lack of competition and evaluation relieved a lot of pressure from their son to perform, allowing him to focus his efforts on learning and understanding the material rather than having his knowledge compared to those around him. It's interesting to note that this level of anxiety was coming from a 4th grade student. Overall, all of the families claim that their children are at least even if not ahead of the curriculum for all of the relevant subjects, reflected in their respective state standardized test scores.
One of the primary criticisms of homeschooling is social deprivation, contrary to research findings. The Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale demonstrates that the self-concept of home-schooled children is significantly higher statistically than that of children attending conventional school, implying that very few home-schooled children are socially deprived. The 2003 survey conducted by the National Home Education Research found that 71% of home-school graduates participate in community service compared to 37% of those from traditional education. Similarly, home-school graduates vote in drastically higher numbers, and more of them report they are happier and find life exciting. The families I spoke with stressed that they actively pursued social experiences for their children, and cited the the isolation from peer environment as a positive. Some of these include religious or community service, sports leagues and clubs, or just family and neighborhood friends. Furthermore, one family suggested that their daughter being surrounded, on average, by older people than public school has led to her maturing emotionally much sooner than they expected.
The most natural criticisms against homeschooling are substandard academic quality and social deprivation, but research on homeschooling has shown that at least at the surface, homeschooled children are both academically competitive and socially mature compared to their traditional school counterparts. However, homeschooling has the potential for development of religious and social extremism or parallel paradigms that don't fit cultural standards, due to the structure of the homeschooling system. Public education, despite its flaws, provides students with an organic diversity of experiences and connections. They interact with a multitude of educators, each with their unique teaching styles and influences. They feel the social pressures of adolescence, share and develop interests with peers, and have the opportunity to navigate through challenges and resolve conflicts. Homeschooling largely limits this to the environments prescribed by the child's parents.
All the parents I spoke with, while being supportive of their children, also influenced the majority of their experiences. In my conversations with parents, the first important thing to note was the strict control over people interacting with their children. One family gave a detailed description of how they decided if particular tutors and friends were appropriate based on their religious beliefs and social affiliations. After people, most of the parents also inadvertently introduced their children to hobbies they themselves valued, such as hiking, piano etc. Finally, parents raise their child with their own social and religious beliefs, and without diversity of the public school system, these beliefs remain unchallenged and their children don't have exposure to different ways of thinking. The criticism here is more philosophical in nature, rather than consequential. Homeschooling implicitly assumes that parents have their child's best interests at heart, and as the proxy for their child, have the right to enforce their beliefs. However, this leads to an inorganic and biased childhood experience for their children, with varied levels of freedom or exploration for self-awareness and growth.