Parent-led home-based education continued to be common, if not the norm, for most of the time for most children’s lives through the nineteenth century. Things changed quickly, however, during the late 1800s and into the twentieth century. Homeschooling was nearly nonexistent, perhaps only 13,000 schoolchildren in the United States by the 1970s.1 Then a stunning change began around the early 1980s such that just over 2 million students in grades K to 12 were estimated to be homeschooled in the United States during the spring of 2010.2

Much of public opinion is very positive toward this private educational practice. However, genuinely curious people and ideological skeptics and opponents of homeschooling continue to ask questions about home-based education. Research continues to answer some of these basic questions.

Academic Achievement: How Do They Score?

Major nationwide studies and multiple smaller-scale studies are consistent in their findings that the home educated are performing above average in terms of academic achievement. The most recent nationwide study (conducted by Dr. Brian Ray and the National Homeschool Education Research Institute) found that home-educated students in grades K to 12 were scoring well above public-school students in all subject areas—reading, language, mathematics, social studies, and science—on standardized academic achievement tests.3 Ray’s findings are in concert with those of the preceding nationwide study done by Dr. Lawrence Rudner.4 In repeated studies, home-educated students typically score at the 65th to 80th percentile on nationally normed standardized achievement tests. This is 15 to 30 points higher, on average, than public-school students, whose average is the 50th percentile.

Questions About Achievement Research

A number of valid questions arise about research on homeschool student achievement. For example, do only the children of wealthier parents do well? No, regardless of the homeschool family’s income, they tend to score well above the public school average. In public schools, however, income is strongly correlated with student achievement.

Second, do home-educated children of certified teachers do better than the others? No, the teacher-certification status of the parents has very little or no relationship to the students’ scores. While nearly all public-school teachers have government teaching certificates and only about 10 percent of homeschool parents have ever had such certificates, homeschool students consistently outperform public-school students.

Home-educated students whose parents are high school graduates (with no additional formal education) are scoring above the general national average on achievement tests. On the other hand, public-school students with similarly educated parents score below the national average.

A fourth question is this: Are only the “best homeschool students” being tested and therefore the “average score” is high? It is difficult in social science research, such as that on homeschool families, to be sure that perfectly representative samples are involved. There are several pieces of evidence, however, that the finding of high achievement applies to the population in general. For example, in Ray’s nationwide study, he found that both students whose parents knew their scores before participating in the study and those who did not know their scores were performing well above average.5 Furthermore, in states where all homeschool students are required to be registered with the government and be administered academic achievement tests, their scores have consistently been well above the public-school average.6

These findings naturally lead to one more question about research on achievement: Is government control related to high academic achievement? Research has repeatedly shown that there is no correlation between the degree of state regulation or control of homeschooling and homeschool students’ achievement.7 Many have argued that the government needs to regulate this form of private education to make sure children learn. No research evidence supports this claim. Home-educated children in states with low regulation score just as well as those in high-regulation states. Regardless of high or low regulation, their scores are above the public-school average. Furthermore, research by Dr. Brian Ray and Dr. Bruce Eagleson found no relationship between the degree of state control over homeschooling and home-educated students’ scores on the SAT college-entrance exam.8