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Homeschool Spells Success: the Connection between
Homeschool and Superior Achievement
Dana Hilton
Western Governors University

This paper explores the correlation between homeschooling and student outcomes by drawing upon research that indicates that the homeschool movement has created a generation of students who are uniquely prepared to excel in academic competition, higher education, and in the wider world and who, by extension, are poised to surpass their traditionally schooled peers

Keywords: homeschool, John Holt, Raymond Moore, unschooling, educational testing, outcomes

Homeschool Spells Success: the Connection between
Homeschool and Superior Achievement
Homeschooling, by its very nature, is a personal business: students receive personalized instruction in their own homes. But in recent years, homeschooling has moved into the public consciousness through the achievements of exceptionally gifted students of home schools. In her article “Homeschooling: Back to the Future,” educator Isabel Lyman cites one of the earliest examples of the success potential of contemporary homeschool students when she describes the 1997 victory of homeschool student Rebecca Sealfon at the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee (1998). According to Lyman, Sealfon’s success helped author homeschool’s move from the educational fringe to the mainstream (1998). Fourteen years later, Jeffery Blitz’s documentary film Spellbound brought homeschooled students’ journey to the National Spelling Bee into America’s multiplexes and homeschooling further into the mainstream (2002). Homeschool students’ ability to spell such obscure words as quinquevir and seguidilla[->0] captured people’s imagination and raised questions about the comparative advantages of a homeschool education (Blitz, 2002). Certainly a handful of students’ achievement cannot be used to characterize accurately the relative merits or advantages of the homeschool experience. After all, statistician Kurt J. Baumann, uses U.S. Census data to claim that some two million students were homeschooled in the year 2000, the most recent year for which census data are available (2001). Researcher Stacy Blellick put the number at more nearly 1.5 million based in 2007 on a survey by the US Department of Education (2008). Despite the disparity of their final numbers, both Baumann and Blellick paint a picture of a large and, presumably, diverse movement. Neither diversity nor scope of homeschooling prevents the drawing of conclusions about the outcomes of homeschooling. A substantial body of research indicates that the homeschool movement has created a generation of students who are uniquely prepared to excel in academic competition, higher education, and in the wider world and who, by extension, are poised to surpass their traditionally schooled peers. Given the size and diversity of homeschool, it is important to establish a background and statistical understanding of the movement before considering the specific successes of these students versus those of their traditionally schooled peers.
Lyman bifurcates contemporary homeschooling into two movements: one tinged by Evangelical Christianity and spearheaded by former Christian missionary and academic Raymond Moore, and one marked by the pedagogical theories of philosopher and professor John Holt coupled with liberalism or 1970s-style counterculturalism (1998).
Lyman goes on to explain that Moore’s acolytes seek to couple moral or religious instruction with more academic topics (1998). In his article “As Home Schooling Surges, the Evangelical Share Drops,” journalist Dan Gilgoff quotes a popular voice of this movement. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, criticizes the public school system saying “The government has eliminated God from the classroom and too often replaced Him with an anti-life, anti-family curriculum that misses life's deepest meaning” and goes on to posit homeschooling as the best alternative to this perceived shortcoming of the public system (2009).
Holt, according to Lyman, was suspicious of the affects of rote or structured learning on young people and sought to foster natural curiosity through a student-directed practice that came to be known as “unschooling” (1998). Educator Sandra Martin-Chang and her colleagues expand upon Lyman’s definition by describing parents who teach math with trips to the grocery store and social studies with discussions of popular television programs (2011). Lyman claims that the unstructured and highly individualistic nature of this pedagogy made it uniquely appealing to parents involved in the anti-authoritarian movements of the 1970s (1998).
It’s a mistake, however, to consider homeschooler equally split between these two educational theories or, even, between Evangelical and non-Evangelical. Gilgoff explains that homeschooling, over the past 30 years, has been a predominantly Evangelical movement (2009). Blellick’s research indicates that, in 2007, 83% of homeschooling parents did so, at least in part, to provide religious instruction (2008). Clearly more students have been homeschooled for religious reasons than for any other, but Blellick goes on to explain that this single statistic is only a partial picture of the face of homeschooling (2008). Other reasons for homeschooling discovered by the US Department of Education survey include: concern about student safety, dissatisfaction with the quality of education or instruction, concern about student disability, desire to travel, and interest in a non-traditional instruction method (Blellick, 2008).
Blellick’s data detail the gradual decrease of the religious share in the homeschooling movement (2008). Due to methodology, however, this survey does not indicate the specific religious faith of homeschoolers (2008). According to Ian Slater, a spokesman for a Christian-led homeschool advocacy group, evangelicals make up just over one half of homeschooling families, while Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute puts the figure at 70% (Gilgoff, 2009). The reasons for this shift are likely complex. Gilgoff suggests that it is, at least in part, attributable to the success of homeschooled students and growing acceptance of homeschool education in academia and the workplace (2009). Ray characterizes this shift saying that the first wave of homeschoolers was ideologues who chose home education despite uncertain educational outcomes or uncertain academic and professional acceptance (Gilgoff, 2009). The perceived success of homeschoolers in this first wave has paved the way for the less ideologically driven and more academically inclined homeschool families of today (2009).
Have homeschool students truly achieved the success attributed to them by Ray and others and how do these successes compare to those of homeschool students’ traditionally educated peers? There are three main areas in which this perceived success will be considered: academic competition, higher education, and post-school success.
As stated above, student victories in national academic competitions have helped to move homeschool from the educational fringe to the cultural mainstream (Lyman, 1998). The Homeschool Legal Defense Assocation, a homeschooling advocacy group, cites several examples of student success in national competitions (“Homeschoolers shine at,” 2003). In May of 2003, for instance, a homeschooled eight-grader became to the second consecutive homeschool student to garner first prize in the National Geography Bee. A few days later, another eight-grade veteran of hommeschool finished second in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee (“Homeschoolers shine at,” 2003). The HLDA's president, Michael Smith, calls these students emblematic of the sort of academic success enjoyed by homeschool students ("Homeschoolers shine at," 2003).
Statistics seem to bear out these claims made by Smith and others. To wit: although homeschooling students consititue a mere 2% of students in the United States, a whopping 12% of 2003's National Spelling Bee finalists were homeschooled (“Homeschoolers shine at,” 2003). Although the correlation between homeschool and success at the Geography Bee, is less strong--5% of finalists in 2003 were homeschooled--the event's youngest winner, ten year old Calvin McCarter, was a homeschool student (“Homeschoolers shine at,” 2003).
Educators are perhaps rightly supsicious of these successes. Homeschooling parents do have a grea deal of control over cirriculum. Are homeschooled student who garner such exceptional honors merely "one-trick ponies" who spend their entire school days studying long lists of spelling words or pouring over map details to the exclusion of other academic pursuits? Answers to this question are difficult because of a lack of a well-constructed study of such homeschooling families. But some research does suggest that the competition preparation is part of a more holistic homeschool program. Smith claims that he is unaware of any homeschooling family within his organization who has chosen homeschooling solely as a means to success in these competitions (“Homeschoolers shine at,” 2003). In an interview with the National Geographic's World magazine, Parnell McCarter, father of Geography Bee-winner Calvin, says that "I think people feel that homeschoolers can sit at home 10 hours a day studying one subject to prepare for these kinds of competitions. Nothing could be further from the truth" (“Homeschoolers shine at,” 2003). Smith expands on McCarter's explanation saying "Parents create their homeschool program to adapt to their child's strengths, weaknesses and interests. To compete at the national level, the child must have an intense amount of personal motivation, whatever kid of school that child attends" (“Homeschoolers shine at,” 2003).
The 2002 documentarty Spellbound provides an intimate portrait of homeschooling and traditional schooling families whose students are pursuing top honors at Scripps-Howard. Homeschooled students April DeGideo and Nupur Lala spend about the same amount of time preparing for the spelling bee as their traditionally schooled peers, so no time advantage of homeschool versus traditionally schooled students is apparent (Blitz, 2002). Furthermore, the film does not demonstrate a correlation between homeschooling families and parental involvement in bee preparation (2002). DeGideo, a homeschool student, studies independently. As does the publicly schooled Harry Altman. Both students' parents express dismay at their child's drive and talent at spelling and claim the child has far exceeded their own abilities and their ability to instruct (Blitz, 2002). Speller Neil Kadakia, on the other hand, is a student at a traditional school but receives intensive and personalized at-home instruction from his father in preparation for the bee (2002). Ashley White enjoys similarly intensive coaching but hers comes from her English teacher at the public high school she attends (Bllitz, 2002). This film demonstrates how difficult to it is to attribute spellers' success to a single educational method or factor.
Both Klicka and Moreau make arguments that fill in the blanks left by Blitz's film. Moreau, an educator and journalist, discusses the success of homeschool students in college life and attributes it to homeschool students' acquisition of self-motivating and self-monitoring skills (Moreau, 2010). Klicka expands this argument by citing a 1997 survey by Irene Prue of Georgia Southern University that found that professional educators’ opinions of homeschooled students is largely positive, specifically where motivation and study skills are concerned (2006). Blitz’s film demonstrates that these advantages are not unique to homeschool students, so, although one must acknowledge the role of academic competition in the mainstream cultural acceptance of the homeschool movement, we must consider other assessments (2002). Perhaps the most important marker of homeschool student success is college acceptance. As Lyman discusses, when the homeschool movement was in its earliest days college acceptance was an uncertain for students (1998). With time, these concerns have been ameliorated. Perhaps ameliorated is too mild a word: according Rebecca Winters writing in Time magazine, 26% of homeschool students who applied to the 2004 class of Stanford University were accepted (2000). This rate is more than double the acceptance rate for traditionally schooled students. College Board, a college admission advisement organization, advises homeschooled students that they may face special challenges—including difficulty securing non-parental academic references—but face no genuine disadvantages (“Home-schooled students and,” 2011). An aggregator of homeschool-friendly colleges and universities lists scores of schools that have accepted homeschooled students, including members of the “Seven Sisters,” including Sarah Lawrence, large state schools like Kansas State University, religious but non-evangelical universities like Knox and St Francis Xavier, and, even, Harvard University (“Private & homeschool,” 2010). The gates of America’s universities are no longer closed to the homeschooled student. This growing acceptance is, according to Klicka, attributable to the superior accomplishments of homeschooled students (2006). Klicka cite a number of studies in support of this claim, including a 1994 comparison of scores on an unnamed standardized test that places homeschooled students in the 80th nation-wide percentile and a 1999 comparison of homeschooled and traditionally schooled students SAT scores that showed homeschoolers scoring an average of 67 points above their peers (2006). Finally, Klicka cites several studies that, when considered altogether, demonstrate homeschool students are as well academically prepared as their peers and typically posses greater skills at critical thinking, self-governance, and time management (2006). Winters’ research substantiates Klicka’s over all assertion (2000). She writes that homeschool students who took the SAT in 2000 scored an average of 81 points above their peers, and she goes on to describe homeschoolers as having “won over admissions officers” with their accomplishment both prior to and during college (Winters 2000). The question of students’ ultimate success outside of academia is more difficult to gauge. The first generation of homeschoolers began their schooling in the 1970s and thus are members of Generation X and are, by now, only in their 30s and 40s (Lyman, 1998). Lyman’s work illustrates some of the initial difficulties these students experienced with the admissions process, so these now adult homeschool veterans can hardly be held as emblematic of the success enjoyed by later homeschoolers (1998).
These initial students of homeschools, as Gilgoff explained, were more likely to be driven by ultra-religious or other non-mainstream ideologies (2009). Klicka’s research suggests that homeschool students are more likely to attend similarly ideological colleges, such as Bob Jones or Oral Roberts Universities (2006). This tendency is substantiated by the listing of homeschool-friendly universities which, although as diverse as described, does skew toward Bible colleges and Christian liberal arts schools (“Private & homeschool,” 2010). The bearing of this sort of education is inadequately documented. Additionally, as Baumann’s statistics demonstrate, homeschool students generally have mothers who do not work outside the home (2001). It is not a logical leap to consider that a substantial number of female homeschool students, especially those who are Evangelical Christians, may opt out of the workplace in favor of childrearing. This creates another difficulty in assessing success of homeschool graduates.
Instead of substantial statistics or longitudinal studies, we have only the reasonable assumption that academic success and, perhaps, the soft skill inculcated by homeschooling may offer advantages in both employment and advancement.
Before one can reasonably conclude that homeschool students surpass the successes of their traditionally schooled peers, one must look closely at the characteristics of students. Blellick points out that homeschooled students are more likely to be Caucasian, to be middle to upper middle class, to live in a two-parent home, and to have parents who are highly involved in the educational process (2008). These factors are generally strong predictors of academic success (Blellick, 2008). Thus, although strong data supports the claim that homeschooled students’ accomplishments excel those of their traditionally schooled peers, it is problematic to draw far reaching conclusions by simply comparing the mass of homeschooled students to the mass of traditionally schooled ones.
In their 2011 study, The Impact of Schooling on Academic Achievement: Evidence from Homeschooled and Traditionally Schooled Students, Sandra Martin-Chang, Odette N. Gould, and Reanne E. Muese attempt a compilation and synthesis of data on educational methods and their impact on learning and student success that has not yet been attempted on any significant scale. They carefully engineered a deceptively small study that controls for factors such as geographical background, parental educational levels, household income and then compared one-to-one homeschooled and publically schooled students (Martin-Chang, 2011).
. The study also eschewed self-reportage, a method employed extensively by previous researchers. The study was conducted in Eastern Canada in 2010 and used a self-selected sample of both homeschooling and traditionally schooling families. From among initial respondents two groups were arranged for comparison: s homeschoolers and traditional schoolers. The groups had seventeen members each, twenty boys and seventeen girls with a mean age in each group of about seven years. Within the homeschool group there was a subset of non-structured homeschoolers. Structure versus non-structure in homeschooling was self-reported by mothers of study participants based on a questionnaire they were given. Structured homeschool environments used curriculum and established educational benchmarks for students. Unstructured homeschools were more likely to employ non-traditional methodologies, like watching and discussing an episode of Little House on the Prairie in lieu of traditional history instruction. Of homeschool students studied, 25 learned in a structured environment. The remaining twelve learned via unstructured methods (Martin-Chang, 2011). Students were given seven tests from the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement. All tests were given in the students’ home with their mothers and any siblings awaiting testing waiting quietly in adjoining rooms. Testing lasted forty-five minutes (Martin-Chang, 2011). When the tests were scored, homeschooled students had an overall higher score than their traditionally schooled peers. But when results were broken down by homeschool method, the students who received structured homeschooling scored highest, followed by the traditionally schooled children, followed by the students who received unstructured homeschooling (Martin-Chang, 2011). A number of conclusions can be drawn from this study. Chief among them is that if students are withdrawn from public schooling to receive more vigorous instruction at home, they likely will and will likely demonstrate advanced competencies. But the performance of the students of unstructured homeschools—most of whom self-described as “unschoolers,” presumably in the mold of John Holt and his adherants—in these tests reminds readers not to pain the successes of homeschoolers with too broad a brush. Martin-Chang et al do caution that many unschoolers may well catch up to their peers as their self-directed educations progress. Thus, it seems a mistake to assume that unstructured homeschooling is automatically means poorer educational outcomes based on the data this study produces (Martin-Chang, 2011). An additional caveat to those who would uncritically accept these results is that the sample size used was quite small. Although the structure of the study was quite sound, it is somewhat problematic to make far-reaching assumptions based on such meager data. (Martin-Chang, 2011) Fortunately, the previously discussed data--including college acceptance rates, academic competition outcomes, SAT and ACT test scores, et cetera--substantiate the findings of Martin-Chang and her colleagues. Although we cannot conclude that homeschooling is an automatic guarantee of student, there is a strong and indisputable link between homeschooling and the success most parents desire for their children.

Works Cited
Bass, D. (2007). Colleges courting homeschoolers. Carolina Journal Online, Retrieved from

Bauman, K. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Disvision. (2001). Home schooling in the United States: trends and characteristics (53). Washington, D.C.: Retrieved from

Blellick, S. Department of Education, Institute for Educational Statistics. (2008). 1.5 million homeschooled students in the United States in 2007 ( NCES 2009–03) Retrieved from

Blitz, J. (2002). Spellbound [DVD].

Gilgoff, J. (2009, January 9). As homeschooling surges, the evangelical share drops. Us News & World Report, Retrieved from

Home-schooled students and college admission: your unique approach to the process. (2011). Retrieved from

Homeschoolers shine at national competitions. (2003, May 30). Retrieved from

Klicka, C. (2006, September 6).Homeschooled students excel in college. Retrieved from

Private & homeschool friendly (sic) colleges and universities. (2010). Retrieved from

Lyman, I. (1998, January 7).Homeschooling: back to the future?. Retrieved from

Martin-Chang, Sandra; Gould, Odette N.; Meuse, Reanne E. (2011, May 30). The impact of schooling on academic achievement: Evidence from homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue Canadienne des Sciences du Comportement, pp. 1-8

Moreau, M. C. (2010, June 21). Homeschooling perks include easy college acceptance. Jacksonville Homeschool Examiner. Retrieved from

Winters, R. (2000, September 11). Homeschoolers: from home to Harvard. Time Magazine, Retrieved from,9171,997902,00.html

In recent years, there have been many highly public examples of homeschoolers who made great academic achievements.
a) Rebecca Sealfon in the 1997 National Spelling Bee brings a fringe movement into the public consciousness. (Lyman, 1998)
b) Spellbound (Blitz, 2002)
2) Isolated instances of gifted children or an exemplification of the advantages of the homeschool experience?

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...When the Great Melting Pot Stopped Melting WGU – LAT1 Donna Vaughn May 17, 2010 In recent years the number of illegal aliens in this country has grown. The social and economic impact of this has given rise to the current debate on what to do. American citizens are demanding their government take action; the problem lies in what action to take. Everything from mass deportation to total amnesty is being argued. While it is not American policy to allow foreigners the status of legal residents or even citizenship when they enter illegally, extremes such as total amnesty or mass deportation may not be the answer either. America is a melting pot in which many cultures have peacefully come to make their lives as American citizens. The issue of illegal aliens has divided this nation which is in need of unity and consistency in law enforcement. Research shows that in order to reduce illegal immigration, the American government must enforce the current laws, secure the American Mexican border, eliminate the magnets that attract illegal aliens (such as: employment, anchor babies, social services) and offer no tolerance for criminal activity. Understanding the Problem Many people enter this country through the American Mexican border and usually can do so unchallenged. By not securing the southern border, America has left an opening that anyone can come through. It is not just illegal aliens that cross that border. America is exposed to entry by terrorists, drug......

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