The Impact of Schooling on Academic Achievement: Evidence From Homeschooled and Traditionally Schooled Students

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DOI: 10.1037/a0022697
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Although homeschooling is growing in prevalence, its educational outcomes remain unclear. The present study compared the academic achievements of homeschooled children with children attending traditional public school. When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers), the data showed that structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest that the unstructured homeschoolers are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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The Impact of Schooling on Academic Achievement:
Evidence From Homeschooled and Traditionally Schooled Students
Sandra Martin-Chang
Concordia University and Mount Allison University
Odette N. Gould and Reanne E. Meuse
Mount Allison University
Although homeschooling is growing in prevalence, its educational outcomes remain unclear. The present
study compared the academic achievements of homeschooled children with children attending traditional
public school. When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized
lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers), the data
showed that structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with
children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest that the unstructured homeschoolers
are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups.
Keywords: curriculum, education, homeschooling, reading, unschooling
The number of children being homeschooled in North America
is growing at an unprecedented rate (Arai, 2000; Barwegen,
Falciani, Putman, Reamer, & Stair, 2004; Brady, 2005; Cai, Reeve,
& Robinson, 2002; Jones & Gloeckner, 2004a, 2004b; Ray, 2010).
In the United States, best estimates place the homeschooling
population above 1.5 million children (National Center for Edu-
cation Statistics, 2008). Similarly, it has been suggested that ho-
meschoolers account for almost 1% of all Canadian children
(Davies & Aurini, 2003); however, it is likely that these estimates
are too conservative (Basham, Merrifield, & Hepburn, 2007).
In addition to religious convictions, dissatisfaction with the
public school system is the most prominent factor in the decision
to homeschool (Home School Legal Defence Association of
Canada, 2006; Mayberry & Knowles, 1989; Van Galen, 1987;
Welner, 2002). However, empirical research has not confirmed the
pervasive belief that homeschooled elementary children are ad-
vancing beyond their public school peers (Basham, 2001; see also
Cogan, 2010, for college students). Recent attempts have been made
to understand both the demographic characteristics and the ideological
underpinnings of the homeschooling community (Collum & Mitchell,
2005; Klein & Poplin, 2008; Merry & Howell, 2009; Van Galen,
1987); yet, at present, very few independent (i.e., nonpartisan)
studies have focused on the academic achievements associated
with home education. The aim of the current investigation was to
evaluate the efficacy of home-based education as measured by
standardized achievement tests in a small Canadian sample of
homeschooled and public school children.
The notion that homeschooling is superior to traditional meth-
ods of education can be traced back to a small number of highly
touted reports funded by the Home School Legal Defence Asso-
ciation (see Ray & Wartes, 1991, for review). Rudner (1999)
carried out one of the most influential reports. Rudner’s data
originated from an educational testing company that provided
standardized testing to homeschooling families. Prior to receiving
the final results, parents of over 20,000 children agreed to release
the test scores for evaluation. From this large sample, Rudner
reported that the homeschooled children were functioning at a
higher level than traditionally schooled children in every grade and
over all the curricular areas tested (reading, language arts, math-
ematics, social studies, science, and information services).
On first blush, the data reported by Rudner (1999) seem con-
vincing; however, key methodological flaws make interpreting the
results from this study problematic. First, only families who en-
listed the services of a privatized educational testing company
were approached to participate. In the year the data were collected,
it was estimated that between 70,000 and 120,000 children were
being homeschooled in the United States, yet only 39,607 used this
particular service (Rudner, 1999). Therefore, the families pursuing
standardized testing may have differed from the larger home-
schooling population in terms of either educational priorities or
financial status. The fact that the mean income of the families in
this study was higher than the national norms supports the latter
interpretation. In addition, only 52% of the families who used the
testing service agreed to participate in the study; thus, the parents
who were most confident in their children’s abilities may have
made up the majority of the sample.
In any study of this nature, it is difficult to rebut many of the
issues surrounding self-selection. Many homeschooling families
are not registered with the local governments or school boards
(Arai, 2000; Lines, 1991), and this effectively rules out the pos-
sibility of randomized sampling. Nonetheless, the effects of self-
selection in Rudner’s investigation (1999) may have been lessened
This article was published Online First May 30, 2011.
Sandra Martin-Chang, Department of Education, Concordia University,
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and Psychology Department, Mount Allison
University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada; Odette N. Gould and
Reanne E. Meuse, Psychology Department, Mount Allison University.
We thank Amanda Barrister and Jessica Chapman for their help in data
collection. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the McCain
Fellowship Foundation to Sandra Martin-Chang and from Natural Sciences
and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Odette N. Gould.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sandra
Martin-Chang, Department of Education LB-579, 1455, de Maisonneuve
Boulevard W., Montreal, QC, Canada H3G 1M8. E-mail: smartinc@
Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science © 2011 Canadian Psychological Association
2011, Vol. 43, No. 3, 195–202 0008-400X/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0022697
if a group of comparable children in public schools had been tested
to act as a comparison group. Unfortunately, this was not the case;
Rudner compared the scores of a specially selected group of
homeschooled children to test norms established with a general
population of public school children.
A further concern with Rudner’s (1999) study involves the
standardization of the testing situation. Rudner compared the
achievement scores of the homeschooled children with the norms
obtained from large representative samples of American children.
However, the method of administration may have differed system-
atically between the groups. In the homeschooled population, the
child’s parent often administered the tests (see also Kunzman,
2009). In contrast, when the norms were established, the children
were tested by professionals. To equate adherence to the standard
testing procedures and the level of comfort and support given to
the children, it would have been optimal if all students had worked
with trained test administrators. Indeed, other research has shown
that when the tests are given by a trained assistant, the scores of
homeschooled children and public school students do not differ.
For example, as part of an unpublished doctoral dissertation,
Delahooke (1986, as cited in Ray & Wartes, 1991) administered
the Reading, Spelling, and Arithmetic subtests of the Wide Range
Achievement Test—Revised to children enrolled in a private
school and children receiving homeschooling. Children from both
groups were tested in their homes by a trained experimenter. Under
these circumstances, no differences were reported between the
performance of the children who were attending private school and
those who were educated at home.
Despite the limitations of Rudner’s (1999) study, one finding in
particular suggested that homeschooling may offer advantages
above and beyond those experienced in traditional public school.
Rudner compared the academic achievement of children who had
been exclusively homeschooled with children who had first at-
tended traditional school before switching to a homeschooling
program. Here, the homeschooled children who had started their
education in public school could act as a comparison group for the
children who had been exclusively homeschooled. Although it is
possible that the decision to homeschool may have resulted from
academic difficulties encountered in school, the use of a compar-
ison group nevertheless minimised several of the methodological
issues discussed above. Therefore, it is interesting that the data
showed that children who had been exclusively homeschooled had
higher overall achievement scores than children who had first
attended traditional public school.
A large-scale study has recently replicated and extended
Rudner’s (1999) original investigation. Ray (2010) collected data
from 11,729 participating homeschoolers across America, Guam,
and Puerto Rico. His findings fit nicely with previous reports
showing that the scores of homeschooled children were higher
than the standardized norms across all subtests. In addition, Ray’s
data set revealed many interesting correlations between academic
achievement and the students’ home environment. Homeschoolers
who obtained the highest scores came from high-income families
with university-educated parents, who invested at least $600 each
year (per child) on educational materials. Student success was also
associated with higher amounts of overall “structure” in the home-
schooling program and greater amounts of time engaged in formal
instruction (e.g., lessons).
However, Ray’s (2010) study was subject to many of the same
limitations as Rudner’s (1999). Specifically, the population com-
prised only those homeschoolers who used the services of aca-
demic testing companies. In addition, many of these parents earned
higher incomes than the general population. The sample was also
exclusively self-selected; it was estimated that the questionnaire
return rate ranged between 11% and 19%, and the participating
parents may have differed systematically from those who chose
not to participate in the study. Finally, the homeschooling parents
proctored many of the tests, and Ray failed to include a public
school group for comparison. (The results of the homeschooling
sample were compared with the 50th percentile from the standard-
ized norms.)
Barwegen et al. (2004) have recently narrowed the focus to ask
why the scores of homeschooled children might differ from those
in public school. Following the recent trend of examining the
positive impact parental involvement plays on children’s educa-
tional success (Feuerstein, 2001; Heymann & Earle, 2000; Hill &
Craft, 2003; Hill & Taylor, 2004; Lee & Bowen, 2006), Barwegen
et al. (2004) proposed that the elevated test scores of home-
schooled children in previous research may have reflected greater
parental involvement rather than general educational superiority.
To examine this possibility, they circulated questionnaires mea-
suring perceived parental involvement to 127 public high school
seniors. Results showed that students with high perceived parental
involvement (e.g., having high expectations, input into course
selection, etc.) had significantly higher standardized scores than
students with low perceived parental involvement. In addition, the
scores of traditionally schooled teenagers with highly involved
parents did not differ significantly from those reported from ho-
meschooled students.
The conclusions drawn by Barwegen et al. (2004) are intriguing.
However, these authors were unable to compare the amount of
perceived parental support between the homeschooled and public
school groups because they did not administer any questionnaires
to children who were homeschooled. Therefore, it is not possible
to make direct comparisons between the two groups of students.
Furthermore, they did not administer the tests of academic
achievement themselves. Like Rudner (1999) and Ray (2010),
Barwegen and colleagues used data obtained from private compa-
nies. Thus, the self-selective nature of the homeschooled sample
and the uniformity of the testing situations remain problematic in
the Barwegen et al. work.
In light of the paucity of empirical investigation into the effects
of home education, the purpose of the current study was to com-
pare the academic achievements of homeschooled children with a
similar group of children attending public school. This study is
unique for several reasons. First, unlike previous work in this area
(e.g., Cogan, 2010; Ray, 2002, 2010; Rudner, 1999), we did not
rely on self-reported measures or data gathered by a third party;
rather, each child in the present study was administered standard-
ized tests under controlled conditions by a trained experimenter.
Second, we included a carefully selected comparison group. Un-
like our predecessors who focused mainly on either homeschooled
students (Collum & Mitchell, 2005; Ray, 2002, 2010; Rudner,
1999) or traditionally schooled students (Barwegen et al., 2004),
we worked with both children who were homeschooled and chil-
dren attending public school to allow for direct comparisons be-
tween the two groups. Finally, the present study was conducted by
an independent research body that has no ties to homeschooling
Families were invited to participate in the study through an-
nouncements posted in the community, sent by e-mail, and broad-
cast on the radio. Interested parties contacted the researchers to
schedule home appointments. Potential candidates were screened
during telephone interviews to ensure that the children in the
homeschooled group had not attended public school (from Grade
1 onward) and that children in the comparison group had not been
homeschooled. Five families were excluded from the study be-
cause they were combining elements of both types of education
(e.g., unschooling every Tuesday and Thursday, but sending their
children to school during the rest of the week). We recruited
children from two Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick). In total, 74 children (37 homeschooled and 37 public
school) between the ages of 5 and 10 years participated in this
study. A matching procedure was used so that each homeschooled
child was paired with a similar-age public school child living in the
same geographical area. Like the children receiving homeschool-
ing, the children attending public school came from a very heter-
ogeneous group; they were selected from a number of different
school boards that adhered to widely different curricula.
The homeschooled group consisted of 20 boys and 17 girls with
a mean age of 7 years 11 months (range 5 years 5 months to 10
years 8 months). Likewise, the public school group contained 21
boys and 16 girls with a mean age of 7 years 11 months (range
5 years 7 months to 10 years 6 months). The mean difference in
age between the two groups was 2 months (range 0 to 5 months
). As would be expected, a ttest showed that the groups did not
differ in terms of age, t(72) 0.012, p.99.
All of the mothers in the homeschooled group and all but one of
the mothers in the public school group were married or living in
committed relationships. Children from the homeschooled group
came from families with an average of 2.8 children (SD 1.1,
range 1– 6) and children from the public school group came
from families with an average of 2.25 children (SD 0.7, range
1– 4).
Data regarding maternal education and family income are listed
in Table 1. As shown in Table 1, the majority of children in both
groups came from homes where the mother had obtained a college
diploma or university degree (homeschooled 65%, public
school 54%). However, children in the public school sample
were more likely to have mothers who had completed postgraduate
training (homeschooled 11%, public school 30%).
Mothers were also asked to indicate their family’s yearly in-
come by selecting the appropriate category from a list of income
ranges. All but two of the mothers reported family income, and
these data are listed in Table 1. The mode income for both groups
was between $20,000 and $40,000 (for the homeschooled group,
41% chose this category; for the public school group, 32% chose
this category). However, the median income for the two groups
was slightly different. For children from the public school group,
the median category was $40,000 to $60,000; for the home-
schooled group, the median income category was $20,000 to
$40,000. The difference in income may have reflected the fact that
62.2% of the homeschooled children had mothers who reported
leaving the paid workforce after the birth of their children, com-
pared with only 16.2% of the children in the public school group.
Homeschooling Subgroups
Although we had originally planned to carry out a simple
comparison of the academic achievements of homeschooled and
traditionally schooled children, speaking with the participating
families made it clear that our homeschooled sample comprised
two distinct subgroups. Although the reasons to homeschool and
the methods used by individual families are highly variable
(Davies & Aurini, 2003; Kunzman, 2009; Winstanley, 2009), the
parents could be divided by how much they identified with the role
of “teacher.” The majority of the homeschooling parents reported
that they “often” or “always” used premade curricula or structured
lesson plans to teach their children. This group adhered loosely to
a “school-at-home” methodology (Taylor-Hough, 2010), where
the parents/teachers set out clear educational goals for their chil-
dren and offered structured lessons in the form of either purchased
curricula or self-made lesson plans (often some combination of
both). The main defining characteristic of this subgroup was that
the parents viewed themselves as important contributors to their
children’s education.
The parents of a sizable minority of children in the home-
schooled sample answered “rarely” or “never” to using premade
curricula and structured lesson plans. These parents identified
more with the pedagogical view that education is gained via the
natural consequences of the child’s day-to-day activities (Taylor-
Hough, 2010). For example, “. . . having classical CDs playing in
the background gets listed as ‘fine arts,’ watching an episode of
Little House on the Prairie counts as history, and figuring out how
much they can buy with $2.00 at the gift shop qualifies as the day’s
math lesson” (Kunzman, 2009, p. 320).
To preserve this division within the homeschooling population,
we used the mothers’ responses to the questions regarding curric-
ulum and lesson plans to create “structured” and “unstructured”
Table 1
Sample Descriptors as a Function of Schooling Group
Demographic variable
Public school
Mother’s highest educational attainment
High school 4 5
Some university or college 2 4
University degree or college diploma 20 24
Professional or master’s degree 6 4
PhD 5 0
Family income ($)
Unreported 2 0
10,000 0 0
10,000–20,000 3 4
20,000–40,000 12 15
40,000–60,000 4 11
60,000–80,000 7 3
80,000–100,000 6 3
100,000 3 1
homeschooling subgroups (see also Ray, 2010). The resulting
groups contained 25 children who were taught in a structured
environment and 12 children who were not. Although the unstruc-
tured homeschooled group was small, we report the group char-
acteristics below for descriptive purposes.
The structured homeschooled group contained 13 boys and 12
girls, with a mean age of 7 years 10 months (SD 1 year 8 months;
range 5 years 5 months to 10 years 6 months). Overall, 84% of
these children had a mother who had attended an institution of higher
education (college or university) and came from families with a mean
of 3.12 children (SD 1.39). The mode and median income for the
families of children in the structured homeschooled group were in the
$40,000 to $60,000 range.
The unstructured group contained five girls and seven boys,
with a mean age of 8 years 1 month (SD 1 year 6 months,
range 5 years 6 months to 10 years 8 months). Overall, 91.7%
of these children had a mother who had attended an institution of
higher education and came from families with a mean of 2.75
children (SD 0.75). The mode and median income for families
in the unstructured homeschooled group were in the $20,000 to
$40,000 range.
Demographic questionnaire. Mothers participating in the
study were asked to fill out a demographic questionnaire pertain-
ing to family structure (marital status, number of children in the
family, etc.), parental education, parental employment, and house-
hold income. Two additional questions were also given to the
homeschooling parents regarding curriculum use. The mothers
were asked, “How often do you use a premade curriculum?” and
“How often do you use some form of structured lesson plans?” The
mothers responded to the last two questions by selecting one of
four choices on a scale ranging from never to very often. The
groups formed from the ratings on this variable had strong face
validity in terms of both the teaching environment in the home and
the attitudes expressed by the parents.
Academic achievement. As in previous studies (e.g., Ray,
2002; Rudner, 1999), “academic achievement is considered to be
the formal demonstration of learning (including knowledge, un-
derstanding, and thinking skills) attained by a student as measured
by standardized academic achievement tests” (Ray, 2010, p. 5).In
the present investigation, all of the subtests were taken from the
Woodcock–Johnson Test of Achievement A Revised (Woodcock
& Johnson, 1989) and were administered by the principal inves-
tigator. The Woodcock–Johnson is a frequently used standardized
test of educational achievement (Baker, Mackler, & Sonnenschein,
2001). It is an untimed test that requires children to answer
questions of increasing difficulty until six consecutive items are
The seven subtests from the Woodcock–Johnson were selected
to measure aptitudes from a wide breadth of areas. The Letter–
Word Identification test is a measure of real word reading. It
contains 57 questions that progress from naming easy to very
difficult items. The Passage Comprehension test uses a cloze
procedure to measure comprehension. Children are presented with
43 passages and asked to provide an appropriate word that is
missing from the text. In accordance with the standardized instruc-
tions, the children were not given any assistance when reading the
passages. The Word Attack test is a measure of pure decoding. It
contains 30 nonwords that children are asked to read aloud ac-
cording to conventional spelling–sound conversion rules. The Sci-
ence test taps into scientific knowledge by asking 49 questions
pertaining to biology, physics, and chemistry. Likewise, the Social
Science test contains 49 questions regarding vocations, geography,
history, and politics; and the Humanities test contains 45 items
regarding literature, music, art, and popular culture. Finally, the
Calculation test contains 58 items in ascending order from simple
number identification to complex algebra.
The majority of testing took place in the children’s homes (n
71), although in three cases, an alternative location was requested
by the participants (home of a friend n2; mother’s private office
n1). All of the tasks were administered during the last half of
the academic year (February to June) and took place during one
45-min session. The testing sessions for homeschooled children
and public school children were distributed equally across this
time period.
The mother– child dyads were seated in two adjoining rooms of
the home (e.g., living room and dining room, or kitchen and living
room). In families with multiple young children, two researchers
administered the tasks and a third research assistant occupied the
siblings with quiet games (e.g., colouring, cards). Precautions were
taken to ensure that the child was near enough to the other
members of the family to establish a high level of security, but
separated enough to create a private, distraction-free work area.
The children received the subtests in the following order: Letter-
Word Identification, Passage Comprehension, Calculation, Sci-
ence, Social Science, Humanities, and Word Attack. The mothers
filled out the demographic questionnaire while their children were
being tested.
Ideally, we would have obtained large enough samples to carry
out three-way comparisons among structured homeschooled chil-
dren, unstructured homeschooled children, and children attending
traditional public school. However, we were able to gain access to
only 12 participants who fell into the unstructured category; con-
sequently, our main analyses contain only the children in the
structured homeschooled (n25) and public school (n37)
groups. Nevertheless, because the current investigation marks the
first attempt at testing even a small sample of children receiving
unstructured homeschooling, we have included the mean scores for
the unstructured group along with some exploratory analyses at the
conclusion of the Results section.
Our primary goal was to determine whether the standardized
scores of children who attend public school differ from children
who are taught with a structured homeschool program. However,
the age spread of our participants sometimes rendered the raw
scores difficult to interpret. For example, if it was discovered that
a child was reading at a Grade 3 level, the first question that was
asked was whether the child was enrolled in Grade 1, 3, or 5; in
other words, was the child achieving above, equal to, or below
grade level? To rectify this problem, we transformed the raw
scores in each of the seven subtests into difference scores by
subtracting the child’s predicted grade level from his or her actual
grade level (both predicted and actual grade levels were derived
from the Woodcock–Johnson scales). Therefore, a positive score
indicated the number of years a child was functioning above grade
level, whereas a negative difference score indicated that the child
was not meeting grade level standards.
As shown in Table 2, the children who received structured
homeschooling were superior to the children enrolled in public
school across all seven subtests. To gain a broad perspective of the
level of standardized achievement in each group, we conducted a
multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) that included the
scores from all seven Woodcock–Johnson subtests. The
MANOVA was deemed appropriate because multiple dependent
measures were providing indicators of educational achievement
(Grimm & Yarnold, 2000). Thus, all seven subtests were used as
dependent variables, and schooling group (public school and struc-
tured homeschool) was the independent variable. The MANOVA
confirmed that the general level of standardized achievement be-
tween the two groups differed significantly in favour of home-
schooling, Hotelling’s Trace .362, F(7, 54) 2.79, p.015,
.27. When follow-up ttests were carried out using p
.05 as the criterion, all variables except the comprehension mea-
sure showed a significant superiority for the structured home-
schooled group. When the Bonferonni correction was applied (i.e.,
using p.007 as the criterion), the Letter–Word, Word Attack,
and Social Science variables were significantly different between
the two groups despite the relatively small samples involved. The
effect sizes are presented in Table 2. Using Cohen’s convention
(Cohen, 1988) that a medium effect size is approximately
and a large effect is
.14, all the variables showed a medium
or strong effect.
The MANOVA described above was recalculated to account for
the slight variations in income level across the groups. The income
level covariate was not significant at either the multivariate level
or with any of the seven dependent variables (F1 for all but one
variable). The adjusted means and the follow-up ttests showed the
same pattern of results as described above (effect sizes differed by
.02 at most). Thus, even when the groups were equated on income,
the structured homeschooled group had overall superior standard-
ized scores compared with the public school children. Second, the
MANOVA was recalculated using mother’s educational attain-
ment as a covariate. Again, the pattern of findings was not af-
In conclusion, when comparing the test scores of the children
attending public school and children receiving structured home-
schooling, it becomes clear that the latter group has higher scores
across a variety of academic areas. Moreover, there is no evidence
that this difference is simply due to the family’s income or the
mother’s educational attainment.
Exploratory Analyses
The existence of a distinct group of children whose parents did
not use lesson plans or prepared curricula (unstructured home-
schooled children) led to a series of exploratory analyses. Owing
to the small number of individuals in the unstructured home-
schooled group, we conducted simple ttests comparisons on each
of the Woodcock–Johnson subtests separately.
In the first set of analyses, the unstructured homeschoolers were
compared (n12) with the children attending public school (n
37). As depicted in Figure 1, the children in public school had a higher
mean grade level for all seven measures compared with the unstruc-
tured homeschoolers (mean differences ranged from 0.64 for the
Calculation test to 1.67 for the Reading Comprehension test). Given
the small sample size, none of the comparisons were statistically
significant using the Bonferonni correction on criterion (p.007).
However, it should be noted that the effect sizes for four of the seven
variables (range .06 to .13) are considered medium to large using
the Cohen (1988) convention: Letter–Word, t(47) 2.26, p.03,
.10; Comprehension, t(47) 2.62, p.01,
.13; Social
Science, t(47) 1.91, p.06,
.07; Science, t(47) 1.80, p
.06. Neither family income nor mother’s educational
attainment was a significant covariate, and the presence of these
covariates did not affect the pattern of results.
In the second set of analyses, the unstructured homeschooled chil-
dren (n12) were compared with the homeschooled children taught
from a structured curriculum (n25). As shown in Figure 1, children
in the unstructured group had lower scores on all seven academic
measures compared with the structured homeschooled group. The
mean differences between the two groups were pronounced, ranging
from 1.32 grade levels for the Calculation test to 4.20 grade levels for
the Word Attack test. The ttests comparing the two groups were
significant (using p.007) for five of the seven measures, and effect
sizes were large in all cases: Letter–Word, t(35) 4.13, p.001,
.33; Comprehension, t(35) 4.15 p.001,
.33; Word
Attack, t(35) 2.56 p.015,
.16; Science, t(35) 3.07, p
.21; Social Science t(35) 4.22, p.001,
Humanities, t(35) 2.43, p.02,
.15; Calculation, t(35)
3.88, p.001,
.30. When these analyses were repeated with
family income as a covariate, it was found that income was significant
for two of the measures (Reading Comprehension and Social Sci-
ence). However, the independent variable remained significant when
the covariate was applied, with structured homeschooled children
having higher grade levels than the unstructured group for all seven
dependent variables. Mother’s education was not a significant cova-
riate and did not affect the impact of schooling style on children’s
grade level.
In conclusion, our exploratory analyses suggest that the unstruc-
tured homeschooled children generally score below their expected
Table 2
Follow-Up t Tests Comparing Children’s Difference Scores (as
Shown in Grade Levels) in the Public School and the Structured
Homeschooled Groups
Public school
Test M SD M SD t(60)
Letter–Word 1.38 1.89 3.11 2.36 3.20 .002 .15
Comprehension 1.58 2.04 2.56 1.95 1.86 .068 .06
Word Attack 1.61 3.80 4.89 4.91 2.90
.006 .13
Science 1.37 1.75 2.61 2.31 2.41 .019 .09
Social Science 0.59 1.32 1.59 1.24 2.97 .004 .13
Humanities 0.005 1.58 0.99 2.14 2.11 .039 .07
Calculation 0.27 1.27 0.94 0.92 2.29 .026 .08
ttest for equal variances not assumed is reported. Levene’s test for
equality of variances was nonsignificant for all other variables.
grade level on the standardized test, and that even with this small
sample, performance differences are relatively substantial. What is
more, our exploratory analyses strongly suggest that the children
who are being taught at home in a structured environment score
significantly higher than the children receiving unstructured home-
schooling. Furthermore, it does not appear that the differences
between groups are simply due to either the family’s income or the
mother’s educational attainment.
It has been stated that “if parents choose to homeschool because
they are looking for increased academic achievement as measured
by standardized tests, the research shows that any method of
homeschooling will most likely raise their child’s test scores above
those of their traditionally schooled counterparts” (Taylor-Hough,
2010, p. 6). The data presented here provide evidence that both
support and modify this claim. Our results suggest that structured
homeschooling may offer opportunities for academic performance
beyond those typically experienced in public school. Moreover,
the design used in the current study suggests that the benefits of
structured homeschooling cannot be accounted for by differences
in yearly family income or maternal education. Although we made
efforts to ensure that the two groups were drawn from similar
populations (as evidenced by the fact that the mode was the same
for both variables), mothers’ education and median income were
slightly higher for the public school group. It should be noted,
however, that this would have been expected to bias the study
against finding a homeschool advantage. This was clearly not
the case. The results showed that the structured group outscored
the traditionally schooled children on the composite of the
Woodcock–Johnson subtests.
The findings presented here focus on the patterns of relative
differences found between the groups. The fact that the home-
schooling community is relatively ill defined renders random
sampling of this population a near impossibility. Thus, it is likely
that the parents who felt the most passionately about either the
importance of education or about their child’s abilities were the
ones most comfortable in volunteering to participate. If this were
the case, the scores of the children in the structured homeschooled
group may be somewhat inflated. And yet, there is every reason to
believe that the relative differences between the groups might be
accurate because, in the present study, all three groups were
self-selected. Indeed, the fact that the students in the public school
group achieved above grade level performance on many of the
Woodcock–Johnson subtests supports the notion that they also
might have been made of an elite group of children; nevertheless,
the children who were homeschooled with a structured curriculum
outperformed the public school children on the test. This finding
also underscores the importance of including carefully selected
comparison groups in educational studies because while the
disparity between the structured homeschooled group and the
public school group was large, it would have appeared much
larger if the structured homeschooled children had been com-
pared with national norms as has been standard practice (e.g.,
Ray, 2010; Rudner, 1999).
The evidence presented here is in line with the assumption that
homeschooling offers benefits over and above those experienced
in public school. This advantage may be explained by several
factors including smaller class sizes, more individualized instruc-
tion, or more academic time spent on core subjects such as reading
and writing (Duvall, Delquadri, & Ward, 2004; Duvall, Ward,
Delquadri, & Greenwood, 1997). Ongoing research is currently
Letter Word
Word Attack
Social Science
Structured Homeschool, n = 25
Public School, n = 37
Unstructured Homeschool, n = 12
Difference Scores in Grade Levels
Figure 1. Academic achievement as a function of group and Woodcock–Johnson subtest.
exploring these possibilities. However, our results also show that
the homeschooling community comprises subpopulations and sug-
gest that the clear advantage of homeschooling may be limited to
situations where parents create structured environments, at least in
terms of performance on academic tests.
With regard to the unstructured homeschooled sample, all of the
mothers indicated that they “rarely” or “never” used structured
curricula or premade lesson plans and the mothers of nine children
also described themselves as “unschoolers” when discussing their
approach to education. The term unschooling embodies the notion
of self-directed learning on the part of the child—free from teach-
ers, textbooks, and formal assessment (Holt, 1964). Although the
decision to homeschool and the decision to unschool involve
parents exercising their rights to assume the primary responsibility
of educating their children, the two groups deviate radically in
their views of the parent-as-teacher and in the use of preset
curricula. It has been estimated that approximately 150,000 chil-
dren in the United States were being unschooled in 2005 (Tamura
& Gutierrez, 2006). However, the academic effects of this practice
are largely unknown. Our data suggest that this group is being
outperformed on academic tests both by the traditionally schooled
and the structured homeschooled groups. This pattern of results fits
nicely with Ray’s (2010) report, where three variables of interest
were positively associated with student achievement on academic
tests: greater structure in the program, more funds spent on edu-
cational materials (e.g., textbooks, tutoring), and more time spent
in “structured learning time” (defined as “time during which the
child is engaged in learning activities planned by the parent; it is
a time during which the child is not free to do whatever he or she
chooses,” Ray, 2010, p. 19). It is important to note that Ray also
found that students enrolled in a full-service curriculum did not
perform any differently from those who were not. This concurs
with the view that it is not critical whether the materials are
purchased or self-made, the pivotal factor seems to be whether the
child is mentored by a knowledgeable “teacher” in tasks that
specifically target culturally important skills (including activities
such as reading and arithmetic).
Schools play several important roles, including socializing fu-
ture citizens and fostering peer relations between children
(Barakett & Cleghorn, 2008). However, the main focus of the
current investigation was to compare the scores of children
schooled at home versus those children attending public school on
a standardized test of academic achievement. Although the evi-
dence provided here is preliminary, it suggests that structured
homeschooling may advance the development of academic skills
(as measured by standardized tests) beyond what is experienced by
attending traditional public school. The fact that the public school
children were achieving above grade level expectations on many
of the Woodcock–Johnson subtests suggests that this discrepancy
did not stem from the poor performance of the public school
children but rather resulted from accelerated progress in the chil-
dren receiving structured home-based education. The same cannot
be said for the children whose mothers “rarely” or “never” used
structured curricula or lesson plans; the unstructured homeschool-
ers in this sample achieved the lowest scores throughout testing
and fell below grade level in four of seven subject areas. This
raises the question of whether a similar pattern would be observed
with larger sample sizes, and if so, whether the children receiving
unstructured homeschooling would eventually catch up, or even
surpass, their peers given ample time.
This highlights two limitations of the current investigation that
should be addressed in future work. First, obtaining access to an
adequately sized sample is an obstacle when studying homeschool-
ing. The homeschooling community in general, and the unstruc-
tured community in particular, tend to be relatively self-contained.
As one self-identified unschooling mother explained, “I think
unschoolers by definition will be less inclined to want to partici-
pate in an education study.”
On a related issue, when discussing
the degree of structure implemented in homeschooling, other re-
ports (e.g., Ray, 2010) used a 7-point Likert scale ranging from
very unstructured to very structured. In future studies, it would be
interesting to investigate the relationship between level of structure
and academic performance, using, for example, a correlational
approach. However, the small sample used here did not allow this
more in-depth approach. If at any point in time homeschooling
becomes more regulated, or if more homeschooling families
choose to register with the local public authority, randomly invit-
ing a larger sample of families to participate and obtaining a more
sensitive measure of “structure” would be optimal.
In summary, the increasing popularity of homeschooling is at
odds with the dearth of scientific research being conducted in this
area. As argued by Isenberg (2007), “Despite its size, scarce data
on homeschooling have impaired our understanding of even the
most basic questions” (p. 387). Practical restraints such as the
heterogeneity of the population and difficulties in obtaining ade-
quate sample sizes make homeschooling a challenging field of
study. Nevertheless, further inquiry is required if parents are to
make informed decisions regarding the education of their children.
Moreover, identifying the best practices associated with different
types of education may facilitate teaching in both traditional and
homeschool settings. As such, we hope that our findings act as a
catalyst for further investigation into the benefits and limitations
associated with different types of home-based education.
Quoted with permission from parent.
Quoique l’enseignement a` domicile par les parents soit de plus en
plus re´pandu, les re´sultats e´ducationnels de cette approche restent
incertains. Cette e´tude compare l’acquisition des connaissances
scolaires d’e´le`ves dans des programmes d’enseignement a` domi-
cile avec celle d’e´le`ves inscrits a` l’e´cole publique conventionnelle.
Quand on a divise´ les e´le`ves recevant l’enseignement a` domicile
en deux groupes : ceux dont l’enseignement e´tait base´ sur des
plans de lec¸on me´thodiques (enseignement a` domicile me´thod-
ique) et ceux qui ne suivaient pas de plans me´thodiques (ensei-
gnement a` domicile non me´thodique), les donne´ es ont re´ve´le´ que
les e´le`ves recevant l’enseignement a` domicile me´thodique avaient
des notes standardise´es plus e´leve´es que les e´le`ves de l’e´cole
publique. Des analyses exploratoires donnent a` penser que les
e´le`ves recevant un enseignement a` domicile non me´thodique ont
les notes standardise´es les moins e´leve´es des 3 groupes.
Mots-cle´s : le programme d’e´tudes, l’e´ducation, homeschooling, la
lecture, le non enseignement
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Received July 9, 2010
Revision received December 20, 2010
Accepted December 21, 2010
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  • Thesis
    Full-text available
    Kotiopetus on Suomessa laillinen tapa suorittaa oppivelvollisuus. Kotioppijan kotikunta on velvollinen valvomaan opintojen edistymistä, mutta tarkempia ohjeita edistymisen valvontaan ei ole olemassa. Tässä tutkimuksessa selvitetään millaiset oppivelvollisuuden edistymisen valvontamenetelmät ovat tarkoituksenmukaisia, auttavat parhaiten tutkivaa opettajaa valvontatehtävässä ja soveltuvat opetus- ja oppimismenetelmästä riippumatta kaikkien kotioppijoiden oppivelvollisuuden edistymisen valvontaan Suomessa. Tutkimuksen kohteena ovat unschooling-oppijat, sillä heidän oppivelvollisuutensa etenemistä on vaikeinta valvoa nykyisillä, koulumaiseen opiskeluun perustuvilla edistymisen valvonnan menetelmillä. Tutkimuksessa tuotettua haastattelu-, havainnointi- ja kyselyaineistoa sekä kirjallista aineistoa tarkasteltiin Rousseaun kasvatusajatusten, Vygotskyn kulttuurihistoriallisen teorian ja lähikehityksen vyöhykkeen, Ryanin ja Decin itsemääräämisteorian, Illichin ja Freesen koulukriittisten ajatusten sekä tutkivan oppisen ja kehittävän arvioinnin teorioiden valossa. Tutkimuksen perusteella unschooling on tiedonhankintakykyä, kriittistä ajattelua ja asiantuntijuutta kehittävä tuloksellinen lähestymismenetelmä oppimiseen, mutta nykyisin käytössä olevat valvonnan menetelmät eivät sovellu unschooling-oppijoiden edistymisen valvontaan. Tutkimuksen tuloksena havaittiin, että keskustelu ja portfolio ovat perusteltuja, tarkoituksenmukaisia ja toimivia valvonnan menetelmiä. Ne soveltuvat kaikkien kotioppijoiden oppivelvollisuuden edistymisen valvontaan opetus- ja oppimismenetelmästä riippumatta. Yläkouluikäisten kohdalla valvontamenetelmiin vaikuttaa päättötodistukseen vaadittava numeroarviointi. Merkittävimmiksi valvonnan toimivuuden kriteeriksi kohosivat joustavuus ja yhteistyö tutkivien opettajien ja kotiopetusperheiden välillä. Kehittämistarpeista tulivat esille erityisesti väärinkäsityksiä aiheuttava käsitteistö sekä jatkuvasti lisääntyvän kotiopetuksen myötä tarve yksinkertaistaa ja yhdenmukaistaa oppivelvollisuuden edistymisen valvonnan käytäntöjä laatimalla valvontaa varten selkeämpi ohjeistus, joka mahdollistaisi erilaiset opetus- ja oppimismenetelmät sekä yksilölliset oppimispolut. Valvonnan kehittämisessä tulisi keskittyä siihen, että yhdenmukaistamalla menetelmiä huoltajien ja tutkivien opettajien tehtävä helpottuisi. Valvonnan ensisijaisena lähtökohtana on oltava lapsen yksilöllisyys sekä lasten oikeuksien toteutuminen ja turvaaminen, joka toteutetaan rakentavassa yhteistyössä kotioppijoiden huoltajien ja opetusviranomaisten kanssa.
  • Thesis
    Full-text available
    Au Québec comme ailleurs dans le monde, de plus en plus d’enfants et d’adolescents vivent leur éducation hors de l’école, pour diverses raisons et de différentes façons. La non-scolarisation (ou unschooling) est située à l’extrême du continuum des pratiques éducatives extrascolaires, faisant fi de contraintes généralement perçues comme essentielles, telles que le respect du programme de formation établi par l’État. Voici une définition de ce mode éducatif: La non-scolarisation n’est pas de la scolarisation. Les enfants et les adolescents qui vivent cette alternative éducative ne se voient pas imposer d’aller à l’école ni de réaliser à la maison des tâches de type scolaire. Plus spécifiquement, ils ne se voient pas imposer de curriculum prédéfini, de devoirs, ni de tests pour mesurer leurs progrès. Ils ont plutôt la possibilité de poursuivre leurs intérêts et d’apprendre de la manière qui leur est propre. Néanmoins, cela ne signifie pas qu’ils ne suivent pas de cours de forme traditionnelle ou n’utilisent pas de matériel associé au curriculum officiel, si tel est leur choix (Gray et Riley, 2013; Holt et Farenga, 1981/2003). Bien que le concept d’unschooling ait émergé au cours des années 1970 aux États-Unis et qu’il concerne aujourd’hui des milliers de jeunes, moins d’une dizaine d’études scientifiques portent sur cette réalité éducative hors du commun et aucune n’a été menée au Québec. À notre connaissance, une seule enquête concerne le point de vue d’adultes non scolarisés (unschoolers) relativement à leur expérience éducative (et ce, à l’aide d’un questionnaire en ligne). La question générale de cette étude est donc la suivante: quel(s) sens des adultes québécois ayant vécu la non-scolarisation donnent-ils à leur expérience éducative? Les objectifs de recherche sont : 1) de décrire le point de vue d’adultes ayant vécu une période de non-scolarisation (unschooling) au cours de leur enfance et/ou de leur adolescence relativement à leur expérience éducative et à leur devenir, selon leur témoignage; 2) de mieux comprendre l’expérience de la non-scolarisation (unschooling), à partir du point de vue d’adultes l’ayant vécue. L’approche phénoménologique a été retenue afin de donner la parole à cinq participants, via des entretiens non directifs. Les résultats de cette analyse phénoménologique (non généralisables) explicitent trois quiddités de la structure de ce phénomène éducatif, soit l’être non scolarisé, la famille non scolarisante et le rapport au monde de la personne non scolarisée.