Home-Schooled…Or Truant? A Critical Look Into State Regulation

This was my final project for my English 101A class in college this last semester. I spent the entire semester researching the pros and cons of home schooling, and this was the result. It is perhaps the most researched piece of writing I’ve ever completed, and I am not only proud of it, but passionate about its subject. I consider it an unbiased analysis of home schooling, as it does not include my personal experiences. 

In 2003, the New Jersey police department was notified that a neighbor had caught a nineteen year old boy weighing just forty-five pounds searching her garbage for food. Further investigation found that his three younger brothers were also greatly malnourished, and that this report was not the first on his family’s history. Because these children were home schooled, New Jersey could exercise only minimal surveillance on or regulation over their situation or others like it (Huseman). In fact, laws regarding home school regulation vary so wildly from state to state that the quality of education it produces is inconsistent at best, despite that it has done nothing but increase in popularity since its original wake in the 1970’s (Ray 2).  Supporters of home schooling claim that it capacitates a broader education than conventional schooling can provide through its unique opportunities and schedule flexibility. Researchers argue, however, that significant evidence of home schooling resulting in average or subpar test scores, cases of abuse, and graduates unprepared for adulthood outweigh any potential advantages home schooling may offer.  Based on these findings, it can be concluded that home schooling is an inferior medium of education in comparison with conventional schooling.

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 3.4 percent of America’s student population were home-schooled in 2011. Of its participants, 91% cited their concerns about the environment of other schools as part of their incentive to take the education of their children into their own hands (Noel, Stark, and Redford). Home schooling families feel concerned that—in the fast-learning environment of conventional schools—the students who learn at a slower pace constantly struggle to keep up with their classes. Consider those with learning impairments, such as ADHD, or those who do not learn well through auditory lectures, but are instead visual or hands-on learners. Teachers who are responsible to educate large numbers of students do not have the time to give one-on-one attention to those who need it, while home schooling more easily can provide this. Situations such as these are common; in the U.S. Department of Education’s survey, 17% of participants cited special needs, and 15% percent also cited physical or mental health problems as reasons for choosing to home-school their children (Noel, Stark, and Redford). On the other end of the spectrum, some students learn at a faster rate than the conventional schooling environment tends to teach at, and feel frustrated that they cannot pick up the pace.

Home schooling is not, however, the only option available to special needs children or students behind or ahead of their class. There are public education programs created specifically for special needs children. Students unable to follow along with their class can get tutoring, and are—to begin with—placed in the grade they’re ready for. If necessary, they can also be moved to a class more appropriate for their learning level; likewise, students ahead of their class can be placed in higher grades. Granted these accommodations, there is no need to abandon the conventional schooling method.

According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, only thirteen states require home-schooling students to test annually, while eight others require less frequent testing. This leaves twenty-nine states unregulated, allowing children from kindergarten through high school to be home-schooled without outside accountability holding parents to any standard of education. In fact, some states are so negligent about home school regulation that they don’t require parents to report it (Barnett 341). The Gale Encyclopedia lists Alaska, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas as guilty of this. Such negligence has created an issue that stretches beyond just home education, blurring the numbers between those home schooling and those committing truancy. In 2003, a study conducted on the educational neglect present in home schooling found 1,708,764 American children existing in population numbers but missing from any reported school system (Kelly, Barr, and Wetherby 14). The studies that suggest approximately 1.77 million children are currently being home-schooled in America are only accounting for those reported; and while even these children are being inconsistently supervised, unreported students are provided with no supervision to verify the legitimacy of their education at all (Ray 2).

Surprisingly, it is home schooling families themselves who have perpetuated this state of inconsistency, as the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), America’s biggest home school advocate, has lobbied with them for decades in favor of complete parental control over home education. In doing so, they have worked against legislation that has attempted to protect the students who have fallen severely behind in their studies (Huseman). Because of the influence HSLDA currently has, home schooling regulations are unlikely to change in the near future. Apparently, this is preferred, as they insist such freedom enables students to work at their own pace, and that it gives parents the flexibility necessary to point their child’s education in the direction best suited for them (Carter 12). This, however, may not be a responsibility parents have any business carrying, since—despite that such a standard would never be considered acceptable for teachers in conventional schools—only eight states require parents to meet any educational standards beyond a high school diploma or GED (“Homeschooling”).

There are plenty of studies supporting the high level of education home-schooled students receive. A study conducted in 2009 found that while publically schooled students typically get 6.6 pre-college credits, and privately schooled students get 2.9, home-schooled students average 14.7 before high school graduation (Cogan 14). Additionally, Brian Ray’s study suggests that average home-schooled students have been shown to “score at the 65th to 80th percentile on nationally normed standardized achievement tests”, surpassing their conventionally-schooled counterparts, “whose average is the 50th percentile” (2).

Interestingly, a study observing the overall research ever conducted on home school achievement discovered that—due partly to poor state regulation—all data were gathered on the basis of self-selection. This means that, while every participant might achieve high scores, all that has been proven is those confident enough in their skills to participate in a study are well-educated; it ultimately fails to take into account those who opted not to participate (Martin-Chang, Sandra, Gould, and Meuse 195). In an attempt to find a more valid sample, researchers compared the performances of publically-schooled students to home-schooled students. Their findings show that while home-schooled students with a well-structured regimen scored higher than the publically-schooled students, home-schooled students with unstructured regimens scored significantly lower (195). Additional studies comparing the remarkably high scores of home-schooled students to publically-schooled students have been conducted not only on the basis of self-selection, but through a means of self-testing, where the students were proctored by their parents, and the researchers were informed of the test results. Opposing this is a study conducted on volunteering students, which shows that “when the tests are given by a trained assistant, the scores of homeschooled children and public school students do not differ” (Martin-Chang, Sandra, Gould, and Meuse 196). This shows that, because the scores of all the participating students were within a similar range, there is no academic reason to prefer home schooling over the conventional method.

Arguments for and against home schooling extend beyond just education; a child’s emotional and general well-being are also taken into account. The U.S. Department of Education’s survey shows that 64% of its participating parents claimed home schooling better-enabled them to teach their children religious studies, and 77% cited that it increased their ability to provide moral instruction. Common concerns pertaining to these issues include protection from prematurely presented sex-education, opportunities to experiment with substance-abuse, student-bullying, peer-pressure, and social anxiety (Carter 21).

It is estimated that 83% of all girls attending schools in America suffer some kind of harassment, as do 79% of boys (“Bullying Rates and Statistics”). Correlating with this is the American suicide-rate amongst teenage students, which is a frightening 4,400 deaths per year related to cyber-bullying alone. Home schooling claims to fight these numbers by eliminating the emotional trauma students can suffer in the wake of a student-governed environment, instead grouping parents and students together to better censor a child’s socialization.

These are not issues schools have failed to give attention to, however. Private schools allow for more religiously tailored educations, and often have stricter rules that eliminate substance-abuse and modify the presentation of sex-education. Likewise, the concepts of abuse and trauma are non-unique, and are not restricted to just the school environment. Lack of regulation by the state has played a key role in this. Emotional neglect and abuse have been detected among home-schooling families, as was the case when two children, pulled from their school to be home schooled, were found dead by officials months later, hidden in their parents’ freezer (Stafford 5). While it is clearly not home schooling itself that causes tragedies like this, the states’ relaxed attitude toward home schooling makes it an attractive option for people with abusive tendencies. This directly contradicts the widely agreed-upon idea that home schooling provides a safer atmosphere than conventional schools. The facts speak for themselves: In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 754,000 child abuse cases, 1,537 ending in fatalities. Of these numbers, Tyler Barnett, a researcher for the Brigham Youth Universities Education & Law Journal, speculates that 81.3% of these victims’ abusers were their parents (345). He goes on to point out that, because teachers are the number one reporters of child abuse, “Although some homeschoolers worry about abuse at school, the traditional school setting provides protections that are often not otherwise available to homeschooled children” (344). Furthermore, between 1990 and 2004, 116 crime-related deaths have been specifically linked to home schooling, and—due to the lack of regulation among states—the number of abuse incidents not resulting in death is likely higher (Barnett 343).

Certainly not all home-schooling families experience abuse; especially given its inconsistently-researched and widely-unaccounted for participants, there is no way of providing accurate representation of the ratio between well-educated, well-taken care of students and their less fortunate counterparts. What is commonly known to be true about home-schooling families, however, is their proneness to emotional and social neglect. The home schooling community has not failed to protest this, arguing that all home schooling students have at least the same opportunities as conventionally-schooled students to plug into social activities, whether through classes, sports teams, clubs, or summer camps (Carter 18). They further argue that home schooling programs provide flexibility, enabling students to shape their routine to the degree that is most comfortable (Burman 137).

In response to such an argument is the simple fact that—while all of these opportunities may have the capacity to create a well-versed curriculum for a student’s daily regimen—these are options, not requirements. Furthermore, according to a report conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003, options are all they are, as it was estimated from gathered data that approximately 80% of home-schooling families participated in no outside activities (“Homeschooling”). This means that the vast majority of those home schooling rely on mere textbooks and online research to make up the core of a student’s education. Protesting this are Randall Curren and J. C. Blokhuis, researchers on the validity of home schooling, who point out, “There is a world of information available online and elsewhere, but access to information does not constitute an education. Understanding and judgment are required to distinguish information from disinformation…” making the point that a student may not have the judgement or learning skills necessary to teach themselves without an educated professional guiding them (5). Moreover, such a closed-off environment can, especially at such a critical age-range, significant socially and emotionally handicap the growth of a child’s learning.

This neglect—while representing an unacceptable low standard—is still understandable, as parents taking upon themselves not only the responsibilities of parenting but also teaching carry an admirably heavy burden. Given that being a parent is a full-time job—and, 70% of the time among mothers, it’s only their unpaid one—it is arguably too emotionally- and time-consuming to also adequately home-educate one’s children (Goldstein).

Academic fundamentals aside, the biggest purpose behind any education is commonly considered to be the turning out of citizens who are competent to make the future world go round. Home school advocates argue that home education does this best by personally catering to the learning environment, which enables a child to explore not only the history and science of life, but how to be successful at it.  For instance, students who attend conventional schools arguably cannot always find the additional time necessary to learn how to change a tire, write a check, drive a car, manage a household, and grocery-shop on a tight budget right out of high school, while home-schooled students have a much higher likelihood of doing so. Admittedly, it may be true that conventionally school students do not always graduate with possession of such skills. However, there is still time for them to be acquired after graduation without any real loss.

Home-schooling families will often boast that their child’s self-discipline and personal responsibility—which aided their ability to acquire such skills in the first place—are due largely to the direction of their education being placed chiefly in their hands. They go on to condescend conventional school systems for doing such planning for them, despite that whether a student—or even their parent—is capable of knowing what educational route is best for them is highly questionable. In retrospect, it can be no wonder that there have been such poor results of home-schooled graduates.

Certainly America’s education system is not in the best shape, but the students it turns out are still comparatively more prepared for adulthood than the majority of home-schooled students. One reason for this can be found in the student diversity of a conventional school, which provides exposure to varying values, lifestyles, and opinions, challenging students to further their emotional and intellectual development (“Homeschooling”). Without exposure to different belief-systems, home-schooled students may simply adopt their parents’ values without first obtaining the critical thinking skills necessary to challenge or develop their own sets of ideas. In some cases, this is exactly what parent’s want, teaching their children to mistrust public institutions and their accompanying influences, arguing that too big an emphasis on education is being made (Goldstein). In cases like this, a favorite response among home-schooling parents of the conservative variety tends to be, “Some parents simply prioritize getting our children into Heaven over getting them into Harvard” (Flax).

Regardless, many supporters of home schooling insist that it produces well-rounded adults, tipping their hat towards researchers such as Joseph Murphy, whose study on the development of home schooling found that home-schooled students were socially well-adjusted, had good leadership skills, possessed confidence, and had well-developed communication- and living-skills by the time they were adults (263). With studies like this, what often isn’t taken into account is whether the effects being claimed are actually outcomes of home schooling. Without this study being conducted during its participants’ upbringing, there is no way to prove the correlation between these students’ educations and their success as adults later in life. In addition, given that this study must have been conducted on the basis of self-selection, the outcomes expressed cannot represent 100% of the home-schooled population.

Another under-developed quality expected of a well-rounded adult that is often not addressed until adulthood is a student’s ability to appropriately interact with people of different ages. Amanda Witman, home-schooling mom, explains in her article that, because they are not segregated by grade, home-schooled students are presented with more opportunities to interact and build relationships with people of all ages, especially adults, while “social learning in a group of same-age children” does not provide this same advantage (Witman).

The validity of this argument is dependent on the social situation of each family, as social opportunities within home schooling vary greatly. It’s also inaccurate to assume that a conventionally-schooled student’s social life—while already active—is limited to just school. A conventionally-schooling family is just as responsible to provide healthy social environments for their children as home schooling families are.

Directly contradicting the claims made by Joseph Murphy are researchers Rosalyn Templeton and Celia Johnson, who, in their book on home schooling, discuss the concerns those from the outside looking in have expressed, who say that “homeschool learners may not be well prepared for the world of work and may lack time management, organizational, motivation, collaboration, and/or study skills needed to succeed as a professional,” in comparison to conventionally-schooled students (298). This evidence, when held to the same standard of assumed self-selection, cannot speak for 100% of home schooling families either. It does make the point, however, that not all home schooling families are created equal, and that there are home schooling families adhering to standards on both ends of the spectrum.

As opponents imagine, the worst case scenario for a home school graduate is to have received an education that failed to do its job. Because of lacking regulation, it is impossible to accurately assess how many times this has occurred, but the hundreds of horror stories shared by home school alumni on websites, such as Homeschoolers Anonymous, suggest that these situations are not rare.  Deep concern for students with such poor educations as these ought to be shared by all of society, as the knowledge and skill acquired during their upbringing impacts their lifelong prosperity as much as it does the world’s future (Curren and Blokhuis 3).

Due to limited evidence that home schooling has potential to provide a student with a sufficient education, there are arguably special cases where home schooling is the better option for students. However, there is currently not enough state regulation on it to protect the educational rights of home-schooled children with unstructured school regimens or unhealthy family dynamics. Overall research points to unsatisfactory results emphatically suggesting that—despite its booming popularity—home schooling, executed improperly, is an inferior educational method to conventional schooling. Its inconsistency and lack of regulation results in academic struggle, emotional neglect, and a failure to prepare its students for the responsibilities of adulthood. Therefore, it is a decidedly impractical project for the majority of parents to pursue, given not only its lack of accountability, but a parent’s possible lack of qualification. This is especially true for the 70% of mothers who have jobs in the workforce, and the one-third of all children in America raised by a single parent (Goldstein). As Dana Goldstein put it so well, “Surely, this isn’t the picture of a nation ready to ‘self-educate’ its kids.”

Works Cited

Huseman, Jessica. “Small Group Goes To Great Length To Block Homeschooling Regulation.” Pro Publica (2015): 29. Points of View Reference Center. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Ray, Brian D. “Home Education Reason and Research: Common Questions and Research-Based Answers About Homeschooling.” NHERI Publications. February 2009. Page 2. Web PDF. 9 October 9, 2015.

Noel, A., Stark, P., and Redford, J., and U.S. Department of Education. “Statistics About Nonpublic School in the United States.” n.p. 2.ed.gov. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Non-Public Education, last modified 9 June 2015. Web. 9 October.

“Homeschooling.” Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law. Ed. Jeffrey Wilson. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 625-631. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

Barnett, Tyler. “Pulling Back The Curtains: Undetected Child Abuse And The Need For Increased Regulation Of Home Schools In Missouri.” Brigham Youth Universities Education & Law Journal 2 (2013): 341. MasterFILE Premier. Web 13 Nov. 2015.

Kelly, Philip, Robert Barr, James Wetherby. “Educational Neglect & Compulsory Schooling: A Status Report.” Center for School Improvement & Policy Studies. 2004-2005. p. 14. PDF. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Carter, Diane. “The Normal Homeschooler: How Parents Of Home-Educated Children Use Communication To Shape Identity.” Conference Papers—National Communication Association (2007): 1. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

Cogan, Michael. “Exploring Academic Outcomes of Homeschooled Students.” Association for Institutional Research in the Upper Midwest. 2009. Page 14. Web PDF.

Martin-Chang, Sandra, Odette N Gould, and Reanne E. Meuse. “The Impact Of Schooling On Academic Achievement: Evidence From Homeschooled And Traditionally Schooled Students.” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 43.3 (2011): 195-202. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

“Bullying Rates and Statistics.” n.p. nobullying. Modified 19 October 2014. Web. 9 October 2015.

Stafford, Katrease. “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic—And Rules?” Detroit Free Press. 01 Jun. 2015: 5. SIRS Issues Researcher.

Burman, Jenny. “Class Dismissed.” Cincinnati Magazine 48. 12 (2015): 86. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

Curren, and Blokhuis. “The Prima Facie Case Against Homeschooling”. Public Affairs Quarterly 25.1 (2011): 1–19. Web. Accessed Dec 12, 2015.

Goldstein, Dana. “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids.” Slate.com. 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Murphy, Joseph. “The Social And Educational Outcomes Of Homeschooling.” Sociological Spectrum. 34.3 (2014): 263. SocINDEX With Full Text. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

Flax, Bill. “Want To Tell The State To Stick It? Homeschool Your Kids.” Forbes.com. 22 Jan. 2013. Wen. 13 Nov. 2015.

Witman, Amanda. “What About Socialization?” homeschool. 2 June 2014. Web. 9 October 2015.

Templeton, Rosalyn, and Celia E. Johnson. “82. Homeschool Learne.” 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Ed. Thomas L. Good. Vol. 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2008. 297-306. 21st Century Reference Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

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