Does homeschooling really work?

If, by now, any people doubt that homeschooling is an effective means of educating people during childhood, then they haven’t been paying attention. The eldest son of David and Micki Colfax drew attention to the benefits of homeschooling by attending Harvard University in the early 1980s, causing headlines such as “Goat Boy Goes to Harvard.” Grant, the goat boy, was followed to Harvard by two of his younger brothers, Drew and Reed.1

Since then, homeschoolers have appeared as winners of national spelling and geographic bees. Alexandra Swann, who is now in the mortgage-loan business, earned her Master’s degree when she was sixteen.2 LeAnn Rimes is a popular singer. Jason Taylor is a defensive end for the Miami Dolphins. These gifted people have all benefited from the freedom of homeschooling.

But what about run-of-the-mill children? What about parents who aren’t certified teachers? What about parents who didn’t attend college? Don’t these conditions cause risky homeschooling situations? Are the parents jeopardizing their children’s futures by removing them from an environment developed, organized, and staffed by professional educators? How can ordinary people compete with a professional organization?

Every fall at the University of Iowa the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development conducts a talent search. Elementary students from around the country register to take the talent search test.

In 1998 Brian Sponcil, a network administrator with the Belin-Blank Center, was curious about one of the bubbles on the registration forms: the bubble in question asked if the child was homeschooled. Mr. Sponcil wanted to know how the homeschooled children fared compared to the other applicants. He found that,

“The EXPLORE tests scores for the home-schooled children are higher across-the-board than the test scores for private and public school students.3”

In the spring of 2001 he revisted the question of whether or not homeschooled children score well on their test4. They found the homeschoolers still outperformed the private and public school students.

Every day ordinary people homeschool their children and do it successfully. Patricia Lines, the Discovery Institute’s senior fellow who specializes in education concerns5, reports,

“Significantly, a handful of studies suggest that student achievement for homeschoolers has no relation to the educational attainment of the homeschooling parent. This is consistent with tutoring studies that indicate that the education level of a tutor has little to do with the achievement of the tutored child. One explanation might be that the advantages of one-to-one learning outweigh the advantages of professional training.”

Academically, homeschooling is a proven success.

But is this the whole story? Do all homeschooled children attend Harvard? Why don’t we see more chart-topping musicians who were homeschooled? Why aren’t major league sports teams inundated with players who were able to concentrate on their sport instead of diluting their time with other activities?

One answer to this questino could be that many homeschoolers have different objectives than public schoolers. Homeschooling parents may start out ‘schooling for success,’ but, during their homeschooling journey, the emphasis may shift from outcome to process. What began as a quest for ‘academic excellence’ turns into an appreciation of being together, sharing life, and developing deeper ties to each other than is commonly seen in contemporary families. What begins, perhaps, because of dissatisfaction with a teacher changes to an appreciation of how time spent together without competing requirements develops into an easy, warm friendship between parent and child. With friends one accepts them as they are and for who they are. Friendship does not have one party with an agenda out to mold and change the other. If the child does not have college as a goal, or fame and fortune, homeschooling parents often respect that choice. We aren’t all stage mothers.



1. David and Micki Colfax, Homeschooling for Excellence, 1988, Warner Books

2. Alexandra Swann, No Regrets, 1989, Cygnet Press

3. Brian Sponcil, “What a Difference a Bubble Makes,” Fall 1998, Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, University of Iowa

4. Brian Sponcil and Damien Ihrig, Home-Schooling: Research Revisited, Spring
2001, Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, University of Iowa

5. Patricia Lines


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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