Does Homeschooling Have a Negative Effect on the Lives of Students?

by Hind Alharmoodi

Abstract

Homeschooling is a form of education where parents are responsible for educating their children. With the increase in the rate of homeschooling, there exist several misconceptions about this practice, especially about its impacts on homeschooled students. After exploring the available research, in this paper, I argue that homeschooling does not have a negative impact on students’ lives. I support my argument by assessing homeschooled students’ socialization, examining their academic performance, and investigating their adjustment to adulthood. I also consider alternative arguments that contend that homeschooled students experience social isolation, lack independence, and are susceptible to child abuse. Overall, in comparison to traditionally schooled students, homeschooled students are not at a disadvantage in the aspects investigated. I conclude by acknowledging the importance of dispelling the misconceptions about homeschooled students and by providing solutions that may ensure the wellbeing of homeschooled students and increase the effectiveness of homeschooling.

 

Keywords: Homeschooling, socialization, academic performance, adjustment to adulthood, child abuse.

 

Does Homeschooling Have a Negative Effect on the Lives of Students?

          Homeschooling can be defined as an alternative method of education where parents teach their children in a non-school context (Neuman & Guterman, 2017). The practice of homeschooling has growing popularity; for instance, there was an increase in the number of homeschooled students in the United States in 2011, which was about five times the number in 1994, from 356,000 to 1.77 million (Ripperger-Suhler, 2016). Homeschooling is also present in other countries as the estimated number of homeschooled students is 75,000 in Russia, 80,000 in Canada, and 800 in Israel (de Beer et al., 2020; Neuman, 2019; Van Pelt, 2004). Despite the increase in the practice of homeschooling, it is still a controversial topic in many respects. 

          Having explored the available literature on the practice, I argue that homeschooling does not negatively influence the lives of students. I support my position with the following three arguments: first, I argue that homeschooling does not negatively impact children’s social development. Indeed, Medlin (2013) finds that parents focus on strengthening their homeschooled children’s socialization and reports that homeschooled students’ social skills surpass the benchmark. Second, I contend that homeschooling does not reduce students’ academic performance. Reviewing 14 peer-reviewed studies on students’ academic performance, Ray (2017) reports that most studies indicate that homeschooled students’ academic performance is similar or better than traditionally schooled students. Finally, I argue that homeschooled students can adjust to adulthood. With regard to students’ college journey, Ray (2013) concludes that homeschooled students have a good or sometimes even better college experience compared to other students. 

          I also consider alternative positions claiming that homeschooling negatively influences students. First, critics may argue that homeschooling results in the isolation of children from society (Evans, 2003). Second, homeschooling adversaries may suggest that parents do not work on nurturing their children’s independence (Reich, 2008). Finally, opponents may argue that homeschooling could conceal child abuse (Bartholet, 2020). While these positions have merit, I provide research-based evidence and scholarly points of view that potentially undermine these arguments. For example, the results of a study conducted by Chatham-Carpenter (1994) show that homeschooled students may not be socially isolated. Indeed, homeschooled students engage in various non-home-based activities and interact with people of diverse ages and backgrounds (de Carvalho & Skipper, 2019; Medlin, 2000; Van Pelt, 2004). 

          This paper is important because there exist several misconceptions about homeschooled students. Some of these misconceptions are discussed in this paper, such as homeschooled students are sheltered from the outside world and are isolated from society (Drenovsky & Cohen, 2012; Romanowski, 2006). It is important to dispel these misconceptions to first ensure that homeschooled students are treated equally to their peers. More importantly, since homeschooled students are successful on all counts, it would be detrimental to discourage this practice based on misinformation.

 

Misconceptions About Homeschooled Students

          In this section, I address three misconceptions held about homeschooled students. First, some people assume that homeschooled students are isolated from society. That is, they are confined to their homes with little interaction with the outside world. Second, opponents of homeschooling argue that homeschooled students are dependent on parental support. This misbelief may be the result of speculating that homeschooled students do not make decisions for themselves, but rather that they blindly abide by their parents’ doctrines. Finally, homeschooling adversaries postulate that homeschooling increases the risk of child abuse. This is a serious and urgent concern as they argue that that homeschooling could cover up child maltreatment. Although these positions are worthy of consideration, there exist research studies and scholarly views that challenge some of these claims. 

 

Homeschooled Students Are in Isolation

          Opponents of homeschooling may argue that homeschooled students are isolated from society. For instance, Evans (2003) claims that homeschooling causes isolation while traditional schools provide an environment that offers opportunities to socialize. As such, the author suggests that homeschooled students lack interaction with people because they are not traditionally schooled. In agreement with Evans, Tilak (2012) argues that socialization requires peer contact, which is automatically present in schools. As a result, Tilak speculates that homeschooling cannot effectively account for peer contact. Overall, both authors suggest that homeschooling results in isolation since students are not exposed to socialization experiences that are spontaneously present in schools.

          In response to the argument that homeschooling leads to social isolation, research indicates that homeschooled students are not isolated. For instance, Murphy (2014) concludes that almost no study reveals that homeschooled students are in isolation. Indeed, the results of a survey conducted by Chatham-Carpenter (1994) demonstrate that homeschooled students are not in danger of experiencing isolation. Chatham-Carpenter formed this conclusion after finding no significant difference between the number of contacts of homeschooled and public schooled students. The survey finds that homeschooled students contact an average of 49 people per month. By contrast, public schooled students communicate with a mean of 56 people in a month. Such findings illustrate that homeschooled students are not in isolation. 

          In contrast with the notion that socialization requires elements found in institutional education, it could be argued that socialization is not limited to a school environment. For example, Romanowski (2006) suggests that there are various extracurricular activities and opportunities outside the home for students to socialize. Van Pelt (2004) corroborates Romanowski’s findings through a survey conducted on around 1,600 Canadian homeschooled students, which reveals that these students regularly participate in various extracurricular activities. Medlin (2000) adds that homeschooled students participate in activities, such as volunteering opportunities, scouting, and sports clubs. Overall, it appears that homeschooled students participate in activities that make up for the absence of exposure to socialization in traditional schools.

          Regarding the notion that peer contact is an essential element in socialization, Nelsen (1998) suggests that peer contact could limit the number of relationships a child may have. Nelsen asserts that homeschooled students are exposed to a vast range of people of various backgrounds and ages because socialization in homeschooling is not confined to peers in classmates. De Carvalho and Skipper (2019) further reinforce this argument by observing that students interact with a diverse range of people because of the nature of homeschooling. That is, homeschooling does not limit social interactions to people in a particular community, such as a school. De Carvalho and Skipper also report that the diversity in the social network develops a sense of acceptance in students. In addition, Chatham-Carpenter (1994) finds that while homeschooled students interact with people of different ages, students in public schools often interact exclusively with other students of their age. Overall, homeschooled students have a diverse social network denoting that the absence of peer contact in homeschooling does not entail that students lack socialization.

          By considering the findings suggesting that homeschooled students are not isolated from society, the claims put forward by Evans (2003) and Tilak (2012) may be debatable. Evans’ and Tilak’s claims raise concern because their arguments are based on personal opinions rather than empirical evidence. Furthermore, the findings discussed earlier suggesting that homeschooled students are not socially isolated challenge Evans’ and Tilak’s positions. As such, the authors may have formulated these claims as a result of insufficient knowledge about the experiences of homeschooled students. Consequently, this lack of awareness might have been one of the reasons behind the misconceptions formed about homeschooled students. Therefore, it is important to alert people that students are not disadvantaged because they are homeschooled.

Homeschooled Students Are Not Independent

          Some critics may argue that homeschooled students are not independent. For example, Evans (2003) speculates that homeschooled students are “… the captive of the orthodoxies of [their] parents” (para 4). That is, students do not have the authority to make decisions for themselves. As a consequence, homeschooling may hinder the development of children’s independence. Furthermore, Reich (2008) argues that homeschooling parents may not account for reinforcing a child’s minimalist autonomy. According to Reich (2002), minimalist autonomy is defined as one’s ability to critically assess daily life situations and opinions and to wisely take advantage of the opportunities and choices encountered to succeed in life. All in all, the claims put forward by Evans and Reich suggest that homeschooling impedes the development of students’ independence.

           Neuman (2019) interviewed 19 adolescents who have been homeschooled in order to learn about their perspectives about homeschooling. Most of these interviewees, aged between 16 and 22 years, report that they were given a choice to select the subjects they wanted to study. It has been noted that homeschooled adolescents valued this freedom of choice. Furthermore, the researcher quotes one of the interviewees, “I think it [homeschooling] gave me true independence and maturity at a relatively young age, both in terms of self-awareness and in terms of how I conducted myself in the big world…” (p. 572). This interviewee also reported that independence and self-concept are acquired because homeschooled students are exposed to a wide variety of experiences at an early age. As such, the independence of homeschooled students appears to be encouraged in homeschooling.

           Meanwhile, de Carvalho and Skipper (2019) interviewed three homeschooled girls and their parents to learn about socialization from their point of view. One of the significant findings of the study conducted by de Carvalho and Skipper is that parents involve their children in planning their day. For instance, when asked by her mother what she wants to do during the day, an interviewee named Sophie suggested playing on the trampoline. Although Sophie thought that her mother would disapprove of her suggestion, her mother arranged a group of friends to satisfy her daughter’s desire. Overall, the homeschooled girls find that the freedom of choice they have is an advantage of homeschooling.

           The studies conducted by Neuman (2019) and by de Carvalho and Skipper (2019) suggest that children’s independence seems to be nurtured in homeschooling. The studies find that the independence of homeschooled students may result from various experiences they undergo that help them learn more about life and themselves. Furthermore, the studies highlight that homeschooled students have a significant degree of freedom of choice. They also report that parents offer their children the opportunity to plan their program. These results illustrate that parents do not impose authority over their children, but rather they encourage their independence. 

 

Homeschooled Students Are Subjected to Child Abuse 

          Some critics argue that homeschooling could increase the chances of students experiencing child abuse. More specifically, Bartholet (2020) argues that homeschooled students are subject to abuse because parents can easily inflict harm on their children and avoid Child Protective Services (CPS) intervention. Bartholet supports her position by reporting that most child abuse cases are identified by school employees, suggesting that maltreatment of homeschooled children is not likely to be detected. In addition, Knox et al. (2014) reveal that 13 out of 28 child abuse cases under study were removed from school by using parents’ right to homeschool. The authors thus agree with Bartholet and show that homeschooling is used as a method to cover up the mistreatment of a child.

           Given this research, it is possible that homeschooling may provide a cover for child abuse. While it is important to account for this risk, Goodpasture et al. (2013) argue that the practice of homeschooling is not the primary factor behind the lack of detection of child abuse cases. The authors instead suggest that these cases may occur as a result of shortcomings in the services provided by the CPS responsible for ensuring children’s well-being. In other words, it is not home-schooling itself that brings about child abuse but the very structure of detection instead. The authors point out that, in North Carolina, current meetings between the CPS and homeschooling families are not required to be in the families’ homes. As such, they propose improvements on the existing CPS system, specifically in North Carolina, to ensure children’s health and safety by visiting homeschooling families in their homes. Furthermore, Hamilton (2020) suggests that homeschooled students should undergo regular health checkups to ensure their well-being. Such solutions could increase the supervision of homeschooled students and address the issue of child maltreatment in homeschooling. 

 

The Effect of Homeschooling on Students

          To support my position that homeschooling does not negatively influence students’ lives, I investigate the socialization, academic performance, and adjustment to adulthood of homeschooled students. First, the socialization of homeschooled students is evaluated on the basis of the students’ social skills and self-concept levels. Second, the academic performance of homeschooled students is discussed by learning about the ways of delivering education in homeschooling and research-based results of the academic achievements of those students. Finally, the adjustment to adulthood of homeschooled students is examined by assessing the students’ college performance and civic involvement in society.

Assessing the Socialization of Homeschooled Students  

           The first aspect examined to evaluate the effect of homeschooling on students is socialization. While Medlin (2000) acknowledges that the term socialization could have several meanings, the author explains that the socialization in the context of homeschooled students could reflect their social activity, social skills, or social exposure. Durkin (1995) defines socialization as the process of acquiring the behaviors and knowledge that enable a person to be an effective member of a community. As such, the socialization of homeschooled students could be assessed through several criteria, such as social skills and self-concept.

         The first criterion in evaluating homeschooled students’ socialization is social skills. Medlin (2013) conducted a meta-analysis on studies measuring homeschooled students’ social skills using the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS). This system assesses students’ behaviors that allow them to effectively engage with other people. In addition, the social skills analyzed in the SSRS include cooperation, assertion, and responsibility. After examining the studies, Medlin finds that the social skills of homeschooled students exceed the standard level. The standard level of social skills, which is used as a benchmark in the SSRS, is based on a national average of 4,000 traditionally schooled students. However, when the social skills of homeschooled students are directly compared to that of traditionally schooled students, Medlin reports inconsistent results. Overall, while Medlin concludes that homeschooled students’ social skills are above the average, the author could not arrive at a reasonable settlement regarding homeschooled students’ social skills when directly contrasted with those of traditionally schooled students. 

          Murphy (2014) corroborates with the conclusions of Medlin (2013) by conducting a meta-analysis of research investigating homeschooled students’ social skills. Murphy explores social skills different from the ones examined by Medlin, and they include leadership, communication, social anxiety, and confidence. Based on the results analyzed, the author finds positive results in favor of homeschooled students noting that their social skills are similar or higher than those of traditionally schooled students. Based on the level of social skills of homeschooled students, it could be deduced that homeschooling does not have a negative influence on, and indeed might even contribute to, students’ socialization. 

          The second criterion in assessing homeschooled students’ socialization is self-concept. Simons et al. (2012) define self-concept as the impression a person holds of oneself. Witt (2000) affirms that a child’s interaction with others develops self-concept. As such, self-concept could aid in measuring the socialization of homeschooled students. By conducting a meta-analysis, Medlin (2000) and Murphy (2014) find no significant differences between homeschooled and traditionally schooled students’ self-concept. In fact, in some cases, Medlin and Murphy point out that the self-concept levels of homeschooled students are higher than those of traditionally schooled students. 

          Taking a closer look at one of the studies investigating students’ self-concept, Shyers (1992) compared self-concept levels among homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. Shyers uses the Piers-Harris Children’s Self Concept Scale and notes that this scale has been one of the most effective reflectors of children’s self-concept. The author finds that both groups of students scored above the mean self-concept level and reports no significant differences between those groups. Consequently, the researcher concludes that students’ self-concept levels are not affected by the form of education received. Therefore, when socialization is evaluated in terms of self-concept, it could be deduced that homeschooling does not negatively affect homeschooled students’ socialization. 

 

Academic Performance of Homeschooled Students

          Academic performance is one of the aspects considered in this paper to investigate whether homeschooling negatively affects students’ lives. There are many methods of delivering productive education in homeschooling that could have a hand in the students’ academic performance. For example, Wichers (2001) implies that one of the reasons behind the effective academic outcomes of homeschooling may be the implementation of the one-to-one tutoring method between the parent and child. Furthermore, Ripperger-Suhler (2016) suggests that parents have the accessibility to adapt comprehensive curriculums in educating their children. Lubienski et al. (2013) add that homeschooling enables parents to modify a proposed educational plan based on the child’s ability and requirements. These three methods, among others, could contribute to delivering quality education in homeschooling.

          With regard to research-based results on homeschooled students’ academic performance, Ray (2017) conducted a meta-analysis to learn about homeschooled students’ academic performance. Ray examines 14 peer-reviewed studies that compare homeschooled and traditionally schooled students’ scholastic levels in several areas, such as literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, and listening. Out of these 14 studies, the author reports that 11 articles illustrate that homeschooled students’ academic performance levels exceed traditionally schooled students. In addition, the author finds that one study indicates similar academic performance between homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. Regarding the remaining two studies, Ray observes that they report inconsistent results. Some of these inconsistent results are in favor of homeschooled students, while others are against homeschooled students. The author notes that these two studies examined students at or below 10 years of age. Consequently, Ray reports that the researchers recognize that results may alter with time since the participants of the studies were young. Therefore, it could be deduced that homeschooled students’ academic performance is similar or better than that of traditionally schooled students. 

          Taking a closer investigation of the academic performance of homeschooled, Ray (2010) conducted a study on homeschooled students in the United States. Ray used the Iowa Test of Basic Skills Test (ITBS) and the California Achievement Test (CAT) to assess the scholastic levels of homeschooled students. In particular, ITBS evaluates fundamental skills vital to the academic development of a student, such as reading, mathematics, science, and social studies. The results of the study show that homeschooled students scored at least 80th percentile on the tests, which is considered above the score attained by public school students. As such, it seems that homeschooling does not impede the academic development of homeschooled students.

Homeschooled Students’ Adjustment to Adulthood

          The final aspect examined in this paper to support my position on homeschooling is the adjustment to adulthood of homeschooled students. Adulthood is a broad term that incorporates numerous experiences and various challenges a person encounters. In this paper, the adulthood of homeschooled students is assessed by their college performance and civic involvement. 

          The college performance of homeschooled students is one of the criteria used in discussing the students’ adjustment to adulthood. Murphy (2014) and Ray (2017) conducted meta-analyses that assess the college performance of homeschooled students. The assessment measures in these meta-analyses include grade point average (GPA), scores in entry exams, anxiety levels, and involvement in extracurricular activities. Murphy concludes that the college performance levels of homeschooled students are similar and, in some cases, better than those of traditionally schooled students. Meanwhile, Ray found that the results of 11 out of 16 scholarly research studies report that homeschooled students are performing better in college than traditionally schooled students. In addition, Drenovsky and Cohen (2012) report that homeschooled students tend to positively reflect on their college experience. Drenovsky and Cohen also find no significant differences in the confidence levels in college between homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. These research findings show that the college performance of homeschooled students is at least similar, or even better in some cases, than that of traditionally homeschooled students. Therefore, it could be concluded that homeschooling does not have a negative effect on the college performance of students.

          The second criterion used in examining the adulthood of homeschooled students is civic involvement. Based on a meta-analysis, Murphy (2014) concludes that home-educated adults participate in community-related responsibilities more than the remaining population. Indeed, Ray (2004) finds that 71% of home-educated adults are involved in community services, while only 37% of the general public participate in these activities. These services include voting, signing petitions, and participating in protests. Ray also reports that home-educated adults are up to date with recent events and accept diverse opinions of others, suggesting that they appear to have an open mind. Overall, these findings illustrate that homeschooled students are much more involved in community activities and perform well in real life.

Conclusion

          Many controversies exist as to whether homeschooling has a negative influence on the lives of students. These controversies may be merely based on misconceptions and lack of insight about homeschooled students’ life experiences. As such, it is important to know what research demonstrates about homeschooled students in order to assess these misconceptions. By exploring this research, it becomes clear  that homeschooling does not negatively affect the students’ lives.

          In support of this position, I explored three aspects of the lives of homeschooled students, which are socialization, academic performance, and adjustment to adulthood. Research suggests that the socialization of homeschooled students is not substandard as they acquire relevant social skills. Furthermore, findings demonstrate that homeschooled students have similar self-concept levels to those of traditionally schooled students. In terms of students’ academic performance, studies show that homeschooling could result in productive scholastic outcomes. As a consequence, the academic performance of homeschooled students tends to be similar, and in some cases superior to, that of traditionally schooled students. With regard to homeschooled students’ adult lives, they appear to have successful college experiences. Additionally, studies show that homeschooled students effectively engage in community responsibilities.

          Opponents may argue that homeschooling has adverse effects on students’ lives as it may lead to social isolation, lack of independence, and child maltreatment. However, research shows that homeschooled students participate in many extracurricular activities and interact with a diverse range of people indicating that they are not socially isolated. Considering the argument on students’ independence, parents work on nurturing their homeschooled children’s independence by giving them the freedom to choose and involve them in the decision-making process of daily-life situations. Despite the increased risk of child maltreatment associated with homeschooling, research scholars have proposed various solutions to the process of detecting child abuse that may diminish these risks.

          In spite of the existence of several noteworthy positions against homeschooling, it appears that homeschooling does not have a negative influence on the lives of students. To further ensure the well-being of students, homeschooling could be regulated to a certain degree where the physical and psychological health of students, along with their academic performance, could be monitored regularly. By dispelling the stereotypes that underestimate the potential of homeschooled students, those students could be recognized as effective members of a community like any other individual. As a result, experiences could be shared between individuals in a society, and unity could be strengthened in the community. 

 


 

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