This post summarizes our research review, which provides a critical analysis of Pennings et al. (2011, 2012). Click HERE to read a more in-depth version of the arguments presented.
In 2011 and 2012, the Canadian Christian think tank Cardus published reports on their study of adult graduates of Christian private schools in North America. (The 2011 publication focused on schools in the United States and the 2012 publication focused on Canada.) Though the authors of the report, Pennings and his team of researchers, did not set out to analyze homeschooling, best research practices required that some incidental data also be collected on homeschool graduates.
The Cardus publications relied on random samples of homeschool graduates whose responses to various surveys were weighted based on the number of respondents and then weighted again for a variety of demographic factors. As such, the Cardus survey is one of the only studies of a representative sample of homeschool graduates—and one of the only studies whose results can be applied to the larger population of all homeschoolers.
The major findings of the study relate only to religious homeschoolers (or, as defined in the study, homeschoolers whose mothers frequently attended religious services) in the US and Canada. The researchers found that homeschool graduates were less academically prepared for college and had less higher education than public school graduates; that they had a strict and legalistic moral outlook; and that they reported more feelings of helplessness and a lack of clarity about their life goals. In addition, American religious homeschool graduates reported more divorces and fewer children than public school graduates, as well as a lack of interest in politics and charitable giving; however, these characteristics were not shared by Canadian respondents.
Though the study lacked significant methodological flaws, its lack of focus on homeschooling limits the conclusions it allows us to draw. For example, the small sample size limited the number of statistically significant results. The researchers did not define ‘homeschooling’ or distinguish between different types (for example, umbrella schools, correspondence programs, etc); nor did they account for differences in the number of years children spent being homeschooled. The study was limited to religious homeschoolers and defined them by their mothers’ attendance at religious services—this may not be the most precise definition. The homeschool graduates who were surveyed were mostly in their late 20s, which may not have provided a complete picture of their lifetime outcomes.
If the study was more or less sound, the write-up was less so. For some reason, Pennings et al. chose not to report their statistical data in a meaningful way. The dozens of graphs they include in their publications are not labeled in units or with a scale on their y-axes. This makes it impossible to translate data from a graph into a statement like “Group X had 3.4 more children than Group Y.” At best, we can only say that “Group X had more children than Group Y.” Furthermore, though Pennings et al. describe performing significance testing and state that the p-values are represented on the graphs, this does not appear to be the case.
For these reasons it is difficult to draw any direct conclusions from this study. The soundness of the methodology makes some of its findings suggestive of larger trends, but the study’s lack of focus on homeschoolers and opaque methods for reporting data hinder its explanatory power. Apparently the authors plan to follow up on their previous study with one that more directly targets homeschoolers—hopefully this future study will illuminate some of the more murky aspects of Cardus (2011, 2012).
This post was originally published on Homeschoolers Anonymous. It is a list of 40 suggestions offered by members of the Homeschoolers Anonymous community in response to this question:
If you grew up in a bad or less-than-ideal family and/or homeschooling environment, what are things that people around you (other family, friends, community members, etc.) could have done to help you and make your life better, more tolerable, etc.?
As you read this list, think about ways you can help encourage and support homeschooled children in bad or less-than-ideal situations in your own homeschooling community. As you consider these suggestions, please also make sure to always report suspicions of abuse and neglect.
1. Compliment the child to the parents in front of the child.
Even if the parents shoot down the compliment, it might be one of the kindest things the child has heard about themselves in years.
2. Let them overhear you offer to include them in your own family events/outings.
Even if the parents refuse, it might offer the child hope for the future and give them a self-esteem boost.
3. Give them opportunities, however small, to express their own feelings or thoughts.
Tell them it’s ok to have feelings and thoughts, especially if they’re super repressed. Ask them if they have dreams, and if they don’t know how to dream, try to show them what it means to think about a future. Tell them about cool occupations, about sports, about music, about dance. That might seem like torture, if it’s something their parents won’t allow them, but maybe it will give them something to hang onto and look for in the future. Find ways to rekindle their inner fire.
4. Believe women who say they’re being abused.
Believe women who say they’re being abused, and support them in leaving their husbands. Don’t tell them to pray more, submit more, anything more. Help them get out, and help them and their kids through the transition.
5. Call children’s services if you suspect abuse or neglect.
Always call; what you see is only the tip of the iceberg.
6. If they come over to your house for some reason, a meal for example, don’t let them/ask them to help with dishes.
Don’t let them/ask them to help with anything, including table washing or sweeping — or anything housework related. Chances are they have a ton of that at home, and they think it’s their duty in life. Give them ice cream or start them a movie, or talk to them happily as you wash their dish for them. It might be really confusing for them. But it will be good.
7. Encourage them to dream of careers.
Encourage them to dream of careers beyond gender role ideals by remarking on what they’re good at. They’ll remember it for years and years..
8. Encourage them to dreambig.
My “adopted grandpa” was convinced that I would be chief justice of the supreme court one day. Now, since I didn’t go an ivy school that’s highly unlikely, but that was one of the few voices I heard other than my parents who actually took my goals seriously. In the broader homeschool community there was usually a, “That’s nice, she thinks she’s going to be something more than a stay at home mom,” subtext.
9. If you want to risk being entirely cut out of the child’s life, offer to lend parent-unapproved books and movies for cultural education.
Maybe give the cover reason of helping them understand more about the culture for witnessing to the “lost”. Then be careful not to shock them too much with your choice of material if they are not ready for it.
10. Attribute their successes and their great personality traits to them, and them alone.
None of this “your parents must have raised you right!” or “you must have great parents” or “[parents] did a good job on this one!” Let the kids know they deserve praise for their own accomplishments. They are not their parents’ puppets or pet dogs.
11. If a parent tells you they’re being harsh or strict with their children, don’t praise them for doing so.
Don’t praise them for doing so or encourage them to be even harsher or stricter. You don’t necessarily need to assume they’re wrong — not every parent is narcissistic like mine — but you should always keep in mind that the parent you’re talking to is a potential abuser.
12. Tell them that fun doesn’t have to be edifying.
Happiness is enough for its own sake. Harry Potter is awesome and will not lead you on the path to hell. Most people are pretty decent, even if they swear, do drugs, or talk about sex. You can befriend people who aren’t perfect. It’s okay not to be perfect — just being yourself is a form of perfection. Being human is the greatest gift we have. Kindness is the best guide for morality I’ve found. Watch Star Wars.
13. If there’s a way to communicate to home schooled kids that the outside world isn’t this awful place on the brink of collapse, do it!
Help them realize there is more than one way to live a happy, fulfilling life.
14. If you notice they don’t have a lot of friends, for the love of Pete, be a friend and help them make some!
Suggest music similar to what they already like/listen to so they can listen to it at work or in their car and give it back to you without being in trouble. Offer books they can read while they are on their lunch or smoke breaks, or in Sunday school.
15. If they are stressed out about family, do your psychoanalyzing silently.
It is very likely they’re being gaslighted at home and otherwise mentally/emotionally abused. Process in your own head. If you suspect something, ask around how to appropriately intervene. Don’t embarrass yourself or them.
16. Let them know it’s never wrong to question.
Truth will stand up under scrutiny. Question down to the foundations, and when you get to a wall of assumptions or tenets or axioms you can’t get past, ask yourself why. Question your beliefs and question the reasons for your beliefs. Question authority. That’s not a statement of rebellion, it’s a search for truth. Truth will always prevail, and if/when your beliefs come out whole on the other side, you’ll be that much stronger in holding them, because the hard questions are behind you.
17. If you have your own kids, invite just the kids over.
Befriend the parents if you can and then invite the kids over often. When they are with you, don’t ask them to do any work, let them sit at the table while you talk about parenting gently, being happy your kids are growing and making their own decisions, how to write a transcript, when to apply to college. Tall about anything the kid needs to get to college and anything to crack the ideas about harsh parenting and gender roles and submission.
18. Tell the kids about other school experiences.
Even just seeing public schooled kids’ textbooks and homework in their car or laying around the house caused the beginnings of doubt for me. The program my mom used liked to say that homeschooled kids averaged 3 grade levels ahead of public school peers. Seeing homework revealed that wasn’t true. For me at least. Especially in math and sciences.
18. Check in on them regularly, personally or through your church.
We lived in three places where the churches we attended never checked on us. Like, we had one car and my dad had it all the time and no one once asked if we need help going to the doctor, grocery shopping, or if we wanted to have a play date or anything like that. A simple “Hey, do ya’ll have enough food to go on the table?” or “Would your kids like to come over and play?” would have been very nice.
19. Accept them.
Even if they are different, even if they seem a bit odd, shower them with acceptance. They need acceptance, not judgement.
20. Love them.
Listen to them like they matter because they might not get much of that. Simple little gestures like telling them it’s okay to be sad or saying ‘you can do it!’ ‘I believe in you’ or ‘I am proud of you’ can stick in their mind for years.
21. Remember to distinguish between the children and their parents.
If you homeschool for non-religious reasons, strive to distinguish between religious homeschooling parents and religiously homeschooled kids, rather than negatively lumping them all together as “religious homeschoolers.” With your own kids, try not to model contempt for those religious homeschoolers, especially not the kids, even if they proselytize or repeat views with which you strongly disagree.
22. Create opportunities for the children and their families to broaden their horizons.
Keep your own children safe and socialized with diverse peers, but when possible, consider organizing pluralist homeschool events at which religious homeschooling families will feel welcome. These can broaden the horizons of all kids involved and help break down the “us-and-them” of religious vs. secular homeschooling.
23. Challenge them.
Disagree with them in a kind way. Most these kids are parroting the same rhetoric they’ve heard for years. Say it’s not a sin to be gay, that atheists have the same capacity for morality, that liberal Christianity has a solid theological basis, that you don’t believe in a young earth and don’t think it’s necessary to maintaining faith. They’ll probably disagree with you, but it opens you up as someone who they might be able to ask questions they don’t already know the right answers for. It gives them permission to consider alternative view points, just knowing that someone they respect can have good reasons to think in a different way than the conservative noise machine. Speak Christianeese if you can, but let them know that you can have conversations where the bible is not the only authority. Tell them about the way other countries work ± it challenges our extremist rhetoric when other places make things like healthcare work.
24. If they have mental health struggles, encourage them to get help.
Let them know anxiety and depression have real causes, they are not sent by god or caused by the devil. If they struggle with those things, let them know they can ask for help from someone who won’t try to exorcise them.
25. Encourage them, period. Let them know it gets better.
I wish someone had told me that I would be able to make it on my own both mentally and physically because I was strong and capable. Give them hope that there is life beyond the prison they are in and that with enough determination and planning you are fully capable of escaping. Let them know that the life they have outside of their parents’ home is so much more beautiful and amazing than they can imagine and that although the road is hard it is worth every effort it takes to get there so don’t stop trying.
26. When appropriate and welcomed, show them safe physical affection.
If they aren’t uncomfortable with it (always ask first) give them hugs and pats on the back and warmth. My family was not a touchy family, more about rules and basic provision than affection or pleasure. I hug my mother perhaps three times a year, tops, and this has been the case since late elementary school when she stopped forcing me. I probably have an inclination to physical affection naturally, but this affection desert I grew up in definitely starved me painfully. It was awkward at first when I got to the age where friends started hugging me (when I got out of the conservative circle the first few times) but as soon as I acclimated my heart started opening up a bit, because of the affection suddenly available to me.
27. Encourage them to accept and love their bodies.
Everyone here has such amazing, positive suggestions and mine is going to sound really lame but here it is: Tell her she’s pretty and give her a reason that’s nothing to do with her home schooled outfit. When I was in the hospital having my appendix out at age 11, right before I went under, the doctor said “You have such gorgeous brown eyes. You’re going to drive the boys wild one day.” Throughout my years of homeschool depression, house church, frumpiness, everything, I clung to that doctor’s words like a teeny-tiny lifeline.
28. Teach them about consent.
It would be really helpful if you discussed things like consent and that it really is ok if you say no… and also how to contact a domestic violence center.
29. Only teach them about consent (and other such things) when they’re comfortable with it.
If they’re getting married or in a relationship, it’s ok to discuss sex/relationship related things. But if they’re creeped out or obviously feeling like you shared too much information, please stop for the time being.
30. Help them realize public school isn’t the Anti-Christ.
As a public school teacher, I try to talk to some of the folks about the cool, fun, educational, and wholesome projects and activities my students are doing at school or how advanced their learning is. I also try to give examples of how Christian kids in my public school are able to share their faith.
31. Counter-act the demands of exceptionalism.
Let them know it’s okay not to focus on “being a leader” or “changing the world” or “being a light.” You can just be you, have fun, play or read or watch TV all day, and you haven’t wasted one second.
32. Teach how to establish boundaries.
Encourage them to be careful of mentors who try to treat you like their child. We have broken relationships with our parents, so we crave these bonds, but it’s often the first red flag for someone who will try to control and spiritually abuse you. Get comfortable with being treated like an equal, it’s something you need to expect in relationships or you will get walked all over. You’re not better than anyone else, but neither is anyone else better than you.
33. Respect their boundaries.
If a child (teen, young adult) who is still living at home after their homeschooling career tells you “I really can’t talk about that” or “I am uncomfortable discussing that”, please for the love of all that is holy, drop it. Bring it up sometime later, but not the same day/week/month. There is a reason they asked you not to discuss it.
34. If they’re high schoolers, give them information about what they will need to finish.
If they’re high schoolers, give them information (or just implied indicators phrased as questions like “so have your parents written up your transcript yet?” if you’re being subtle) about what they will need to finish, have documented, etc. to go on to college or a particular career. Their parents might not know or care about this, or they might be actively obstructing it. There’s no way for the teen to know this if their social / internet / library access is censored. But they’re still the ones who will pay the consequences later in life.
35. Help them with resources to succeed.
Help or show them how to find the right resources and make good choices in housing, employment, and whatever else might be necessary to get out.
36. Help them prepare for the work place.
If you have a lucrative skill/trade, or one that looks great on resumes, offer to tutor them in it. (Example: Any computer skills, handcrafting items, foreign languages, etc.) Things like that will help them get out living on their own and buy them (literally) time to catch up on school if they need to, or earn money, before pursuing higher education on their own. Pitch it to the parents as extracurricular, and better yet as free. Lesson time would also give you time to connect with them, invest in them, and encourage them emotionally.
Also, teach them about finances: I wish someone had taught me how to work and save, instead of isolating me from money so that I didn’t learn to manage it.
37. Help them get breaks from their family.
If you have offered for them to stay over, find a reason like dog/cat/baby/house sitting. Let them know they can use your internet, cable and peruse your books. Offer food they can eat (if there are dietary restrictions, be mindful of those) and understand if their parents freak out and don’t let them do it. Start challenging those parents but maintain your relationship with the (teen/adult) child. Odds are, they’re stuck at home “care-giving” and have no outlet, especially if they are not working, but also if they are.
38. Stand up for them against their family.
One thing I wish someone had done was stand up for me. My dad used to grab me and spank me — hard — as a joke for “things he didn’t catch me at.” He still did this when I was a fairly old teenager. He sometimes did it in front of friends of his for a laugh and not once did anyone not laugh. Not once did anyone stand up for me. I wish they had. I regard those people as unsafe people now.
39. If you’re going to help them in a drastic way, actually be prepared.
If you offer a way out, be sure you have all the ducks in a row, because they likely have very little resources at their fingertips and cannot truly function as an adult “outside”. Think of them as being raised in “The Village” and finally being outside for the first time. They are going to need a safety net.
40. Don’t give up on them.
Stick around. If you sense that anything might be wrong, stick around and find out what it is and what you can do. Even if the family situation makes you uncomfortable, even if the parents hate you and creep you out.
Stay in the child’s life.
It will take a long time for them to come to trust you, but once they do you can be an invaluable lifeline. Let them know that they can always come to you. If anything really concerning comes to light, call CPS. If nothing happens, call CPS again. I had someone in my life who was an “outsider” and for the most part a stranger, but she instantly grasped that our family was messed up and could see how unhappy I was. The four most important things she did for me were: 1.) Offer me a free place to live (I was 18 so that was an option). 2.) Convince my mom that I needed to see a therapist. 3.) Tell me over and over and over again that I was pretty and talented and could do anything I wanted. 4.) Listen.
As I grew to trust her I poured out my whole story for the first time, and she listened and offered genuine sympathy. She also let me know that yes, my mom really was abusive and that my situation was not normal. She affirmed and validated all my feelings.
This timeline highlights a trend toward loosening oversight of homeschooling over the past two decades. While most major changes are included, this timeline is a work in progress and is more complete from 2011 to the present than it is before these years.
Arizona SB 1348
The legislature repealed the state’s assessment requirement.
Alaska SB 134
The legislature created a minimalistic homeschool statute which exempted homeschooling parents from all requirements, including notification, instruction, and assessments.
Arkansas HB 1157
The legislature retained the state’s testing requirement but did away with minimum scores. Students’ test scores were no longer used to assess their individual progress and were instead aggregated and released in an annual state report on homeschooling.
New Mexico SB 374
The legislature repealed the state’s assessment requirement.
Connecticut HB 5535
A bill which would have required annual notice and created an assessment mechanism failed to pass.
Texas SB 586
A bill which would have required homeschoolers to register with the state commissioner of education failed to pass.
Utah SB 59
The legislature did away with the homeschool statute’s provision allowing school districts to ask homeschooling parents for records of instruction or evidence of academic progress.
A bill which would have required parents withdrawing their children from school to obtain permission from a committee, and parents filing their annual notice of intent to include proof that their children were tested, failed to pass.
A bill which would have required annual medical exams for homeschooled students, created annual notification and assessment requirements, and prohibited students under supervision of the DYFS from being homeschooled failed to pass.
The legislature loosened requirements for homeschooling high school students, no longer requiring parents homeschooling through a church-related school to register their children or have them tested, and no longer requiring those homeschooling through the local school district to have a bachelor’s degree when homeschooling a high school aged student.
A bill which would have required homeschooling parents to register either with the local school district or with the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools and would have required all students to be tested annually failed to pass.
A bill which would have made it possible for the California Department of Education to maintain a list of homeschooled students, and required fire inspections of homeschool families' homes, failed ot pass.
The legislature reduced the number of years during which parents are required to submit their children's assessments from annual to grades three, five, eight, and eleven; removed language preventing parents from administering their children's tests themselves; removed the requirement that parents have a GED; and made notice one-time rather than annual.
“If there had been more oversight, my mom may have been able to get more motivated to get organized and give me and my sisters the education we needed. My sisters and I would not be in the very difficult place we are right now because of being under educated.”
My parents decided to homeschool me and my 2 younger sisters because they believed it was the will of god. California law only requires parents to notify state or local officials of the intent to homeschool. No testing or further assessment is required.
I believe my parents’ decision to homeschool was motivated by fear that my sisters and I would be exposed to the world too soon. My parents were very big on letting their kids be kids, which is good—except we were never challenged and we weren’t ready for adulthood. I do believe my parents had good intentions with sheltering us, and they’ll say to this day they don’t regret their decision to homeschool. However, I regret being homeschooled immensely.
I was about 10 or 11 when my mom started homeschooling me and my sisters, and it actually started out okay. My mom started out excited and organized; however, she quickly ended up becoming neglectful. I was a month from being 12 when my life-long sick brother died. We were all grieving. My mom would spend hours at a time in her room and sometimes all day. My sisters and I pretty much did whatever we wanted all day.
My mom had severe anxiety. Her motivation to educate us went in cycles; she would try to get organized and would talk about her plan for the school year, but she never followed through. She was obviously overwhelmed. Not only were there were 3 of us in different grades, but my sister is dyslexic. The pressure of having to juggle all of our educations must have been extreme. I also think my mother expected us to be more motivated and teach ourselves. But how many kids want to do school/homework over playing and talking?
When I was 13, my family and I moved to Florida. Florida law requires assessment with some exceptions. My mom said she put me and my sisters in an umbrella school, which is basically homeschooling through a private school. I actually recently asked my mom what umbrella school we were in, but she doesn’t remember.
Through all the curriculum we started, I don’t think we ever finished one. As a teen, I remember reading through almost my whole psychology book and trying to teach myself multiplication a few times. That’s how often I did school. My self-esteem was very low. Many times I felt too stupid to even try and I felt like my parents didn’t care anyway.
As a teenager I was depressed. Doing nothing day after day, having nowhere to go, and having no real direction in life only made me feel more hopeless. I had a lot of goals for adulthood about future careers and college, so I’d often feel depressed about being nowhere near my goals, and many times I would try to talk to my parents about feeling stupid and under-educated. They would just blame me for not doing my school work and, more times than not, my mom would say “Well, sorry I’m such a bad mom.” Then I would have to spend the rest of the conversation reassuring her that she was a good mom. My intention was never to make her feel like a bad mom. I needed someone to push me and believe in me. To this day I still feel like my parents gave up on their children because they didn’t believe in us.
Sometimes when I would get worried about not being ready for college, my mom would tell me that I was on a “different path.” I guess it was supposed to make me feel special, but I wanted to be ready for college. I wanted to choose my own path.
When I was 18, and my church friends graduated, my mom threw me a graduation party, which made me feel guilty because I know I had hardly done any school since 4th grade and I was not even close to where I needed to be. I expressed feeling guilty to my mom about having a party when I’m not really graduated, and getting gifts and money from my friends and family. She replied, “But you do have a diploma.” For a second, I got my hopes up and said, “Really?? Where is it?” Then she got mad at me because I couldn’t just take her word for it. I never saw a diploma. But what was worse is I felt like everyone at the party knew I wasn’t really graduated. Like everyone could see right through.
Not only do I not have a diploma, I don’t have any records of anything about my homeschooling. I don’t know how my mom did it. She managed to get us through our teenage years without having us analyzed by a teacher or tested. I even contacted someone at the Florida Department of Education to see if they would have any record of what umbrella school I was in, but they couldn’t help me. So, basically I have zero proof that I was homeschooled.
When I was 18, I got a job as a preschool teacher aide/afternoon teacher specifically so I could afford getting a high school education. With the money I earned, I signed up for a school that could get me a diploma in 6 months or less, which I would find out too late that it was a scam. The very little work the school sent me was very easy. Then I got the diploma, I cried tears of joy. It took me several months to realize I’d been scammed. I should have known because I didn’t learn anything from that school.
I’ve let go of a lot of bitterness against my parents, although I’ll admit that once in a while it still hurts a little. I love them and I understand that my mom and dad were grieving and my mom had severe anxiety. The thing is, they had 3 kids that they neglected in a big way.
Today my education is my own responsibility. I’m 23 and I have to learn elementary math, just so that I can qualify for high school. Not being properly educated (yet) makes being successful much harder, but I can’t let what someone else did to me in the past determine what I do now. As easy as it would be, I can’t spend my life playing the blame game. I am determined to succeed in my goals.
If there had been more oversight, my mom may have been able to get more motivated to get organized and give me and my sisters the education we needed. My sisters and I would not be in the very difficult place we are right now because of being under educated. More oversight would’ve helped not only educationally but also, in my family’s case, emotionally. I believe having motivation to get out of bed and a daily goal of doing school would’ve given my mom, my sisters, and I more purpose.
Sierra S. was homeschooled in California and Florida, 2002-2009, grades 4 to 12. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.
Suppose John Smith Construction Inc. is building a bridge near your home. They file a safety report with the local government, showing they have passed all requirements with flying colors and that the bridge is structurally sound. Then you find out that the safety inspector who wrote the report was an independent contractor hired by John Smith Construction Inc.—John Smith’s brother-in-law. You further find out that the local government will accept the report at its word, and doesn’t ask for copies of the original measurements or any other documentation. How safe will you feel driving over that bridge?
Unfortunately, most states that require homeschooled students to have portfolio reviews rely on this exact system—the parents choose and pay for their own evaluators, who may be relatives or friends, and the school district that receives the evaluations takes them on faith without ever looking at the portfolios themselves. The result is a system that invites corruption. At stake is not bridge safety, but children’s educations.
We have been covering Pennsylvania’s HB 1013 since last February. (See HB 1013 and Accountability and HB 1013 Is Bad for Homeschooling.) In a nutshell, the state’s current homeschool statute requires parents to first create a portfolio of their child’s work and have it evaluated by a certified teacher or other qualified individual, and then turn both that portfolio and the written evaluation in to the local school district for review by the superintendent. HB 1013 would remove the superintendent’s review, requiring parents to turn in only the written evaluation. We have had several homeschooling parents email us surprised that we oppose HB 1013 when it only removes what they argue is a redundant extra step. Because accountability for portfolio evaluators is included in our policy recommendations, we feel it is worth taking the time to explain why this extra step is not only not redundant but actually critically important.
Portfolio evaluations by teachers or other individuals play a role in homeschooled students’ assessments in 10 states. Evaluators are usually certified teachers, though some states may also allow other professionals or individuals who have taught in private schools but may not be certified to serve as evaluators. In each of these 10 states, the parents choose the evaluators, and they also pay them. There is no required training for being an evaluator, and in all states except for Pennsylvania there is nothing to ensure that evaluators are doing their job. In other words, there is nothing to prevent an evaluator from pocketing the parents’ money and signing off on their children’s portfolios without even glancing at them. And as we will show, this absolutely does happen.
Conflict of Interest
In some cases, portfolio evaluations are conducted by relatives or close friends, who will likely feel pressure to sign off on the students’ portfolios regardless of their quality. As Kierstyn King remembers:
My home state, Florida, required an annual portfolio review by a certified teacher. We had one portfolio review done by a teacher who was a neutral third party, and she started asking me questions about my education that year. My mom became upset and we never went back. Instead, one of my relatives who is in the adult education field and has been a certified teacher for as long as I can remember “reviewed” our portfolios for us. I say review lightly, because no thorough review was expected or given—if that had been the case, my math and my siblings’ writing and reading comprehension skills would have been noticed. Instead, we presented our portfolios, and they were signed off on without a glance.
No state specifies that portfolio evaluators should not be relatives or close family friends. As a result, in too many cases, those trusted to look over homeschooled students’ portfolios to determine whether they have made sufficient progress have major conflicts of interest. This may not be ethical but it is completely legal.
The Financial Incentive
The fact that the evaluators are paid by the parents can also create a problem. As Teresa M. remembers:
At the time my parents were homeschooling us in the state of Ohio a certified teacher was needed to sign off that the children were being educated. They were supposed to look over the last year’s work to verify. The woman who did ours was also a member of our church and homeschool support group and never even looked at the stuff mom brought her, which wasn’t much. I even remember mom commenting that ‘P only cared about her check clearing.’
Homeschool alumni have reported hearing their parents and others sharing the names of the evaluators who go the easiest and ask the fewest questions. This creates a financial incentive to have a reputation for being an easy evaluator, someone who doesn’t look too closely.
Homeschooling communities’ tendency to close ranks around their own also contributes to these problems. In the wake of the passing of HB 1013, a homeschool alumni from Pennsylvania wrote this:
I do not know what would have become of my education if HB 1013 had passed while I was still a homeschooled child. I suspect that our already fragile standards would have plummeted. While I can imagine my evaluator raising the alarm (privately, of course, to my parents) if I were literally unable to perform basic addition, it’s more difficult to imagine her refusing to approve us to continue homeschooling. After all, she was one of us, and saw homeschooling as a moral imperative, not just an education option. More than likely, she would have admonished us to do better and signed the forms. Even if she hadn’t, what would have prevented us from simply finding another person to sign?
During the annual review itself, my evaluator went through my portfolio and read selectively. She glanced at the grades my mother had given me on the tests we chose to include, and maybe read through one of them in detail. It would have been blindingly easy to fake our way through an evaluation. All we would need were a couple of inflated tests. Without the superintendent review, an already easily-corruptible process would have had no teeth at all. We could count on our evaluator to put in some effort because her license was on the line if the school board contradicted her review. If nobody had checked her work, how could we trust her to check mine?
It is a common practice for a homeschool parent who has a teaching certificate or otherwise qualifies to be an evaluator to conduct portfolio evaluations for other homeschooling families in her community. Many homeschooling parents feel the need to prevent outside intervention in homeschooling families even when there are concerns and to make sure homeschoolers look good regardless of the cost to the children in question. As a result, homeschool parent evaluators are likely to sign off on every portfolio, including those with severe deficiencies.
Yes, But Is It Common?
By now the problem should be obvious. Without accountability, there is nothing to stop an evaluator from signing off on a homeschooled student’s portfolio without looking at it, or to prevent an evaluator from signing off on a portfolio they know is substandard. How often does this happen? The Testimony of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators gives us some idea:
Under current law, the school district receives the evaluator’s report and student portfolio. We work to provide the parents with appropriate feedback that is designed to assist them in their role as their child’s teacher. . . .
We view this work as a core responsibility, not just because it is the law, but because we think it helps those parents who choose home schooling and protects those children whose parents may not have the best motives in mind. It is not unheard of for a few parents to use the home education law as a way to have their child avoid discipline, truancy charges or other consequences. We urge you to leave the accountability and oversight provisions of the home education law as is. We believe the relatively minor burden placed on parents and school districts to assure that appropriate education is being provided is worth the price. We do not know how many home schooled students will be harmed should their direct oversight be removed.
We do know from the last public report on home education issued by the Department of Education that, of the 22,136 students who were home educated in 2006-07, 14 had affidavits returned by the superintendent, 108 were identified by the evaluator as having inappropriate educational programs, and 228 were identified by the superintendent as having inappropriate educational programs. In 2006-07, 12 formal hearings were held regarding inappropriate programs.
While the responsibility of reviewing the evaluators’ reports and students’ portfolios each year is extra work for school districts, it is work that goes to the core of what we have sworn an oath to do. It is work that is appropriately assigned to us. By removing the requirement that student portfolios and evaluations undergo an annual review by the superintendent, home education students would no longer be subject to independent, unpaid review of each student’s academic progress. . . . We strongly oppose removing the responsibility of the superintendent to review the annual evaluation and portfolio and instead place this responsibility solely with the paid evaluator.
While evaluators identified 108 inappropriate educational programs for the 2006-2007 school year, superintendents located 228 additional inappropriate educational programs that evaluators had signed off on. These evaluators may have been friends or relatives, or they may have been more interested in getting paid than in properly carrying out their responsibilities, or they may have had more concern for the reputation of the homeschooling community than for the education of the community’s children. That the portfolio review system needs accountability is verified both by the testimony of homeschool alumni and the records kept by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
We need a system of accountability for portfolio evaluators. Whether it be a conflict of interest or the financial incentive or a desire to close ranks and keep other homeschoolers free from outside intervention at all costs, evaluators have many reasons to be less than honest in their evaluations—and it is the children who suffer. Evaluators should not be able to sign off on insufficient progress without having to worry about getting caught. Many homeschooled children rely on portfolio evaluations to ensure that they receive an education, and when evaluators fall down on the job it is these children’s education that suffers. When evaluators are not held accountable, parents are not held accountable, and when parents are not held accountable there will be homeschooled children who receive substandard educations.
At this point, there is likely no stopping HB 1013, as it is unlikely that the current governor will veto the bill. What we can do is raise awareness about the importance of accountability for portfolio evaluators. We would not allow a construction company building a bridge to hire and compensate their own safety inspector. Why would we think this system any less given to corruption when applied to homeschooling? Accountability is important whatever is at stake, whether bridge safety or children’s education.
Please join us in promoting accountability for portfolio evaluators.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Coalition for Responsible Home Education Executive Director Rachel Coleman issued the following statement regarding the passage of House Bill 1013 by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives:
“Today, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has sold out homeschooled children. By removing superintendents from the evaluation process, they have removed a critical level of accountability, leaving too many homeschooled children at the whim of neglectful parents and derelict evaluators.
“Homeschooled children have the right to an education. Pennsylvania’s current homeschool law — one of the best in the country — protects this right with a two-step process. First, parents put together a portfolio of their child’s progress and have it evaluated by a teacher or other individual. Second, both the portfolio and the evaluator’s written report are submitted to the school district for additional review. This ensures accountability for portfolio evaluators.
“This accountability is critical because portfolio evaluators are selected and paid by homeschool parents, and are frequently relatives or friends of the family. Further, homeschooling parents often shop around for the evaluators with the lowest standards. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators has reported that inadequate homeschool educational programs are twice as likely to be identified during the superintendent review stage than during the initial evaluation stage.
“This measure is part of the Home School Legal Defense Association’s mission to systemically weaken homeschooling oversight state by state, sacrificing the interests of homeschooled children on the altar of parental convenience. Homeschool alumni from Pennsylvania have told us that Pennsylvania’s homeschool law improved the quality of education they received. House Bill 1013 removes this safeguard of educational quality and leaves children open to educational neglect. We urge Gov. Tom Corbett to support Pennsylvania’s homeschooled children and veto HB 1013.”
The Coalition for Responsible Education is a national organization dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices. For more information, contact Ryan Stollar at email@example.com or (617) 765-7096.
If you’re considering homeschooling, now is likely an exciting time of research and questions. For many families, homeschooling provides a positive and child-centered educational option that meets children’s needs and furthers their interests. Like these families, you may find that homeschooling works well for your family. However, it is important to remember that homeschooling is not for everyone, and to bear in mind that in some cases homeschooling can go badly and be a painful experience, particularly when parents aren’t prepared for the day-to-day realities of homeschooling. As an organization founded and run by homeschool alumni, we’ve seen both experiences first-hand!
Our home is to guide you through some of the issues involved as you consider homeschooling. The better you understand what will be asked of you—and what you need to know to homeschool effectively—the better prepared you’ll be to handle bumps along the way and provide your child with the support they need. Whether or not you decide to homeschooling, we wish you and your child all the best on your educational journey.
1. Research Time!
The decision to homeschool should not be made lightly or on the spur of the moment. Do some research, speak with homeschoolers in your area, and consult your child about their wishes. Homeschooling is not for everyone. In fact, some studies have suggested that more than a third of homeschooling parents decide to stop homeschooling after the first year. If that’s you, it’s okay! Your focus should be on what is best for your child, yourself, and your family.
If you are considering homeschooling because you feel your children’s public school is not serving their interests, make sure you consider all of your options before making your decision. In addition to homeschooling, there are also charter schools and private schools, and in some cases you may be able to transfer your child to another public school in your area.
Rather than viewing homeschooling as an escape from traditional schooling or a particular problem you have encountered in public school or elsewhere, try to view it as a positive educational option which has the potential to benefit your child and your family. We find that parents who approach their children’s education with a view to providing the best possible experience for their child have more successful outcomes than those who homeschool out of fear, reactionary thinking, or a desire to control their children’s environment.
If you are withdrawing your child from school in order to homeschool, talk to your school or district administrators about their requirements, including those for re-enrolling later on if you need to. It is also a good idea to ask what programs they make available to homeschoolers, such as athletics or individual course enrollment at the high school level. If your school district has a homeschool liaison, they may be able to point you to local homeschool co-ops or groups. We find that homeschooling families benefit from having a positive relationship with their local school district, if possible.
3. Take Your Responsibility Seriously
In most states, there are few legal safeguards in place to ensure that children who are homeschooled are making academic progress. This means that, as a homeschooling parent, you will be largely on your own, without someone to let you know if there is a problem; if your children have disabilities; or if a given educational approach is not working for them. Make sure you are comfortable bearing this responsibility yourself. If you live in a state with no external accountability, it may be a good idea to seek out other sources of accountability, such as partnering with another homeschooling family for feedback and advice or asking a friend who is a teacher to look over your children’s progress and give you suggestions.
If you are homeschooling a high school-age student, make sure you understand your state’s requirements for high school graduation. In states that do not have specific requirements for homeschoolers, it is usually a good idea to look at public schools’ graduation requirements. College admissions officers are used to seeing certain things on a high school transcript, including a certain number of years of in various subject areas, and meeting or exceeding these requirements in your homeschool will help ensure your children’s success as they enter college or the workforce.
Admissions officers and potential employers evaluate homeschool alumni differently than other children, giving more weight to letters of recommendation and transcripts than to grades. For that reason, it’s important to make sure that your children have access to mentors and teachers other than yourself. Some colleges do not accept letters of recommendation from family or religious leaders, so being part of a varied community is important. In addition to serving as possible references, having other adults in their lives as role models and mentors may also encourage your children and boost their self esteem.
Remember also that by homeschooling you are removing your children from the system of regular medical care and screenings which is incorporated into public schools. Public school children are regularly screened for hearing and vision impairment, dental problems, and other chronic conditions, and teachers are trained to notice symptoms of learning disabilities, mental illness, eating disorders, etc. Schools also require children to receive the appropriate schedule of vaccinations. Without these automated systems in place, the responsibility falls solely to you to make sure your children receive regular, appropriate medical care.
4. Locate a Support System
If possible, we encourage parents to meet other homeschooling families before making their decision to homeschool, and, if possible, to join a state or local homeschooling organization once you begin homeschooling. Bear in mind that each organization has its own culture. You may need to explore a bit to find one that is compatible with your goals and outlook.
When the modern homeschooling movement began in the 1970s and 1980s, many parents had conflicts with their local school districts over homeschooling. This led some homeschoolers to develop a distrust of the school system and schooling in general. However, in the current environment of school choice, homeschooling has become increasingly accepted as one of an array of educational options. Homeschooling has been legal in every state for over 20 years, and fears of persecution are due more to the community’s self-reinforcement than to any actual threat. If you find yourself in a homeschooling community where a sense of fear predominates, we suggest widening your social support system to include non-homeschooling families to keep a sense of perspective.
There are additional support systems available to interested homeschooling parents as well. Some states may allow children to be homeschooled through “umbrella” schools, small private or religious schools that enroll homeschooled students and may provide guidance or support. There are also a growing number of cyber charters and other online programs that may be of interest in homeschooling parents looking for outside support. If you are interested in a high level of support, you may also want to talk to your local school district: a growing number of public schools are allowing enrolled students to be educated by their parents at home with resources and accountability (and, in some cases, curriculum) provided by the school.
5. Create an Academic Plan
Homeschooling does not have to mean replicating a school setting in the home. Many homeschooling parents recommend taking some time off of formal education when you first begin homeschooling and spending time reading to your children, taking them to museums and historic sites, participating in community events with them, and fostering their love of learning. Trying to do too much too quickly can lead to burnout and frustration. Nevertheless, you do want to have a plan.
As you begin looking around at different curriculum options and educational approaches, you may be overwhelmed by the multiplicity of options. Make sure to do your research, and be ready to switch program or approach as needed. In a recent article for CRHE, homeschooling mother Karen Goltz emphasized the importance of being flexible in searching for the curriculum and approach that works for your children. As you look around at what’s available, don’t forget that there are an increasing array of online resources and virtual school options as well.
Most homeschooling parents create an outline of planned studies and educational goals for each child at the beginning of each school year. This could include what curriculum will be used for math, an overview of what the year’s science education will look like, and a list of what music lessons or extracurricular activities the child will take. You should also think about how you want to evaluate your child’s progress at the end of the year—whether you do that informally yourself, or with a standardized test, or by having a teacher or another outside adult review your child’s progress to provide extra perspective. You may need to update your the plan you create as you find what does and doesn’t work for your children, but having an outline to start with will help you stay on track to meet educational goals.
6. Develop a System for Record-Keeping
Keeping good academic records is important for your child’s future. If you enroll your child in a public school after some years of homeschooling, you may be asked to document your child’s academic level; if you homeschool your child through high school, you will need to create a transcript documenting your child’s completion of standard high school requirements. If you don’t keep records of your child’s education, no one will.
During the school year, keep records or your child’s progress. At the end of the year, create a portfolio of materials, including book lists, writing samples, math papers, workbooks, and any year-end assessment. It is a good idea to create a digital copy of this portfolio, and you may also want to upload it to any cloud-based service you may be using. We have heard from homeschooled students whose records were lost due to a fire or flood, and a computer crash can lead to the loss of documents that are not backed up.
7. Think Beyond the Dining Room Table
Most homeschooling parents integrate education at home with a variety of co-ops, extracurriculars, tutoring, or classes. Many homeschooling parents seek outside help on subjects they find challenging to teach, especially when they are homeschooling high school aged children. Some school districts allow homeschooled children to take individual classes at their local high school, and in some states community and state colleges offer classes at discounted rates for students of high school age.
If one of your children has disabilities, you may need to locate therapists or other specialists to assist you in educating your child. Homeschooled children are entitled to special needs testing through their local school districts, and school districts in some states also make therapy or other services available to homeschoolers. There are other options, though, as well, such as therapy offered at local rehabilitation centers.
Some academic subjects are difficult to teach well in a homeschooling setting. Homeschooled children tend to be weaker in math and science than other children—it is difficult to replicate a science laboratory at home, and many parents have phobias surrounding math—and some subjects like foreign language are challenging or impossible to learn without access to an expert. Be proactive about seeking outside help on these subjects from tutors, college classes, internships or apprenticeships, etc.
8. Take Socialization Seriously
Social interaction is critical to children’s development and well-being. School serves as a primary center for social interaction for many children; children who are homeschooled access social interaction in other settings. Many homeschooling parents find social opportunities for their children in co-ops, clubs, classes, community centers, houses of worship, field trips, or park dates. Additionally, many homeschooled children play with children in their neighborhood and have playdates like other children.
Social interaction is an important human need and must be taken seriously. In an article for CRHE, homeschool graduates Rachel Coleman and Sarah Evans discussed their childhood experiences and the importance of social interaction. Asked what advice they would give to homeschooling parents, they offered the following:
RACHEL: Please remember that every child is an individual. What works for one child may not work for another. Listen to your children, especially as they move toward their teen years. Ask for their input and incorporate it into your lives and into your homeschool plan. If your child is feeling lonely or would like more friends, find activities, a club or a co-op or a sport, to enroll her in. . . .
SARAH: Social interaction is really important. I remember hearing many homeschool parents laugh at the “socialization” question, but the truth is, it’s not something to laugh about. There was one year in high school, where I became really depressed because I hardly had any friends in my social circle—or I only saw them once a week. While the rest of my siblings all had a large number of friends in the homeschool circle, there weren’t many my age, and my parents overlooked the importance of this. . . .
Socialization is about more than just social interaction. Social scientists define socialization as “the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, and character traits that enable them to participate as effective members of groups and society.” Socialization involves learning social norms and gaining the ability to navigate our society. As explained in another article, “If a social scientist says a child is ‘not well-socialized,’ what she means is that he lacks some age-appropriate skill which he will find necessary to be an effective member of society.” You are preparing your child for his or her potential future roles as a romantic partner, parent, employee, boss, friend, and mentor. Make sure your child has the opportunity to build the skills he or she will need in these roles.
9. Center Your Child’s Needs
One of the best things about homeschooling is that you can create an educational environment that fits your child rather than fitting your child into an educational environment that may not suit them well. But this also means you have to be vigilant and willing to change your approach if you find that what you are doing is not working. This involves listening to your child and asking for their feedback.
In addition to being your children’s teacher, you are also their parent. Your children need your unconditional love regardless of their academic success. They need free time to play. They need friends and mentors outside of their family. They need privacy, responsibility, and freedom.
Listen to your children when they tell you about their needs, both academic and otherwise. If homeschooling is not fulfilling those needs, be willing to consider other options. If your child would rather not be homeschooled, listen to their reasons and ensure that they are part of the decision-making process. If your child is unhappy with a certain aspect of homeschooling, spend some time brainstorming solutions with them. Listen to your child.
10. Think Positively!
Giselle Palmer, a homeschool graduate with over a decade of experience as an elementary school teacher, offers these words to homeschool parents:
First of all, congratulations! What an incredible task you have chosen to undertake! In my mind, there is little that compares with the joy and excitement of teaching young people—watching their minds work, seeing the lights come on as they grasp a new concept, enjoying the electric atmosphere of a classroom filled with engaged students, and most of all, standing back and looking on with pride as I see them taking pride and ownership in their work and extending the ideas beyond what we have learned in class.
Most of all, enjoy this time with your children. Encourage them to press on when things are difficult, and get excited about your teaching, so your students will catch your enthusiasm and become eager learners themselves! Have a wonderful time experiencing the delights of learning with your children and making memories you will all treasure.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Coalition for Responsible Home Education Executive Director Rachel Coleman issued the following statement regarding the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai:
“In its decision to honor two key figures in the fight to empower children, the Nobel Committee has signaled that children’s right to an education is a critical battleground in the global struggle for justice. CRHE’s belief in this same important global cause is what drives our efforts to promote and protect the educational rights of homeschooled children.
“Pakistan and India are not the only places where children’s right to an education is not guaranteed. There are children in the United States today who are being deprived of an education through laws that enable homeschooling parents to legally neglect their children’s educational needs. In some cases, homeschooled children have been subject to gender-based educational discrimination or exploited for their labor. CRHE believes that safeguarding children’s right to an education is critical to ensuring their access to an open future, no matter what country they live in.
“I am excited that the Nobel Committee has chosen to bring attention to this crucial issue. Like Malala Yousafzai, many young homeschooled Americans are struggling today to have their educational needs met. This award should inspire Americans to guarantee that all homeschooled children have access to an education.”
In a previous post, we explored data pointing to a homeschool math gap. What comes next? What can homeschooling parents learn from this information? In this article we use stories from homeschool graduates to examine the things that hold homeschooled students back in math, and to explore what can help them succeed. Our goal is to put a personal face on the homeschool math gap, and to give current and future homeschooling parents pointers on what can go wrong—and what can go right.
We should start with a few caveats. First, we know that public schooled students, like their homeschooled counterparts, can and too often do receive a deficient math education. We are addressing homeschooled students specifically, because that is what we do—we advocate on behalf of homeschooled students and work to bring their interests into the conversation. Second, we are aware that math can be done well in homeschool settings and that some homeschooled students can become especially proficient in math. We will turn to some of these individuals’ stories in the end of this article as we look at what helped them succeed.
We asked a focus group of homeschool graduates whose math education was subpar to tell us about their experiences, and to pinpoint the pitfalls they experienced. The information in this article comes from this focus group. In the last section we will cover the input we received from a smaller focus group of homeschool graduates who consider their math education especially excellent.
Many of the homeschool alumni in our focus group reported that their parents’ lack of math knowledge hindered them from being effective teachers. Some recounted not asking for help when they needed it because their parents didn’t know the answers either. In some cases their parents simply gave up. Some alumni reported that their parents became angry when they did not immediately grasp mathematical concepts, or interpreted their failure to learn as a sign of disobedience.
Rebecca: My mom’s narrative was that I was just more of an “English” person . . . . However, maybe it was that I wouldn’t ever ask my mom for help with math because she didn’t know how to do it either? . . . I think she just was unable to teach high school math and blamed me for lack of skill instead of helping me.
Acacia: The math I should have been learning was more than my mom remembered how to do.
Shae: My math experience had a lot to do with the fact that my dad was supposed to teach me that subject in middle and high school. He had anger issues, and would yell at me and my sister if we got problems wrong or didn’t comprehend concepts. Because of that, I resisted doing math in order to delay the anger. . . . I feel like I learned other subjects proficiently because my mom made sure I learned those subjects.
Jerusha: [My] parents gave up teaching me algebra. Mom couldn’t teach it and Dad didn’t have time or patience to explain it.
Bethany: It didn’t help that my parents used Roy Lessin’s spanking rituals when we were disobedient which included my not trying. My mother had a short temper and yelled, screamed, and cried when I didn’t get math. My father wasn’t able to teach me math because he never got it himself. . . . Later—much later—I was tested at a local College. I tested 5th grade level for math and I was 26 years old.
Jai: My mom would look at the [problems] I got wrong, spend about 5 minutes looking over the book and then tell me to go find my older siblings because she didn’t have time to re-learn it in order to help me. I had to take one remedial math class in Community College 6 years later in order to get up to Algebra 1 speed.
Katharina: I was fine with math until geometry—I have a bit of difficulty with spatial reasoning, in life as well as in mathematics. . . . So all the shapes just made me reflexively really nervous! My mom is the same way and I didn’t have access to any adults who could explain it well.
We can draw a variety of lessons from these stories. Responsible homeschooling parents need to either teach themselves the material, along with effective teaching strategies so that they can teach it, or seek out tutors or classes for their children. Parents who don’t feel strong in math need to seek out those who are to serve as their children’s teachers and mentors. It’s also important for parents to ensure that their own frustration with the occasional difficulties of teaching not bleed over to the teaching itself. Homeschool parents need to be careful that their own limitations do not limit their children.
The Limits of Self-Teaching
Some alumni reported that their parents expected them to learn from a textbook or worksheets without any help or guidance at all. In many cases this led to frustration or to a failure to fully understand the concepts.
Savannah: My mother gave me workbooks to go through on my own, which were not well-done . . . . Though I am a perfectionist, the lack of quality teaching, lack of resources to go to for help, and habit of parents to push it under the rug and just explain it away as me just not being good at it, meant I ended up never mastering any mathematical concepts.
Anna-Brit: [From] fourth grade onward, I was given Saxon math textbooks with no other help, which worked well enough until trig and calculus. I missed some key concepts with calculus, and no matter how many times I patiently reworked problems and looked at old lessons, I could never get them to come out right.
Liz: Around junior high or so, when it was time to switch to Saxon Algebra 1/2 or 1 or something, math suddenly became super hard for me. . . . Mom didn’t have time to work on math with me any more at this point, or go over the thousands of problems I missed per lesson, so I struggled on through Algebra 1 in Saxon by myself (pretty much the one constant of school during those years was that I HAD to spend a couple of hours a day “doing math”). . . . My senior year, I worked my way through a geometry and a consumer math textbook with no help, and didn’t understand that either. With incredible optimism, I tried to test out of freshman algebra before my first year of college and unsurprisingly failed that test.
Jessica: Around 9th grade I begged for algebra, it was the only higher math I knew about, I literally did not know there were things called geometry, trigonometry, calculus . . . . My mom ordered Saxon Algebra 1 and the answer key, handed them over and that was my class. I was motivated, I wanted to go to college, I loved science and wanted to have the background in math, but that wasn’t enough to teach myself algebra. I gave myself a placement test a few years ago and my math was at a 6th grade level. I couldn’t even pass the GED practice test.
It’s worth noting that sometimes self-taught math can work. Breanne, a participant in the focus group, wrote that she struggled with teaching herself math but ultimately succeeded. Jeffrey, a homeschool alumnus who received a good math education, gave reasons he feels he was successful in teaching himself math.
Breanne: My mom helped with math in elementary grades, but in high school I was just given Saxon books to teach myself. She’d grade the tests. It took me a long time to do math every day because I had to work hard for it. . . . I did end up with A’s and B’s though, because I actually cared about learning.
Jeffrey: I taught myself Calc I and learned it well. . . . [W]hen you write a terrible paragraph, you might not ever figure out how bad it is on your own. But when you get a math problem wrong, you usually can compare it to the answer and immediately find out that it’s wrong. Not that this makes math easy, but it is a significant factor helping self-taught math to be more doable.
Breanne may have learned the material, but she nevertheless described her self-taught math education as a “struggle.” And while Jeffrey was able to use an answer key to figure out the concepts, this is not always possible. In my own experience, the answer key rarely gives any information about how the answer was arrived at, and it’s that process that is so important when learning math. Similarly, different people have different learning styles.
Homeschool parents should not assume that their teenagers will be capable of teaching themselves Algebra or Calculus out of a textbook. Many students need a parent, tutor, or teacher to provide guidance and motivation, especially for a subject like math. Parents who plan to have their children work through a textbook should make an effort to learn the material alongside their children, answering questions and explaining concepts as they go along.
Other options include hiring a math tutor (or arranging a trade with a homeschooling parent who is particularly good at math), or finding a class. In some states homeschooled children are permitted to take one or two classes at their local public high school without enrolling full time. In other states community colleges are open to high school students at a discounted price.
When children attend school, they will likely have a range of teachers that vary in quality. Their teacher one year may be terrible at math or may even tell them that they’re bad at math, but the teacher they have the next year may work to inspire them. For some homeschooled students, however, a parent who dislikes math or discourages them from pursuing the subject may be the only math teacher they ever have. This means what a homeschool parent tells their children about their math ability or about the necessity (or lack thereof) of math takes on an oversized importance.
Some alumni in our focus group reported being actively discouraged from pursuing math by their parents. In some cases this was fairly general—the alumni were told that math was unimportant anyway, or simply that they weren’t good at math—but in other cases it had a gendered aspect.
Rebecca: [My mom] also discouraged me from wanting to study [math] by talking about how useless it was, and that practical math for cooking would be better for me anyway.
Melissa: My mother wasn’t good at math and told me I wasn’t very good at math either.
Jennifer: I was told over and over again from about 3rd grade forward [that I wasn’t good at math] by one or both of my parents. Oh my gosh it made me want to quit altogether.
Jessica: I was in public school from first through fourth grade. My lowest grades were in math,but still ranged in the 90s to a low of 88. For some reason my mom took this to mean math was my weakness. She repeated this to me almost daily my first year of homeschool. She even had me start off in a fourth grade math book to help me “catch up”. I was bored out of my mind by all the divide and check.
Jerusha: [My parents] said I wouldn’t need [math] as a housewife anyway.
Heidi: My mom finally stated that, “Hey . . . what do you need algebra for anyway? You are a girl,” and that was that. At the time I felt happy and relieved. After all, I was going to marry and have babies happily forever after . . . what did I need it for?
Breanne: Mom always said [that] girls’ brains aren’t wired for math. That made things worse, it felt like my struggling was futile.
Homeschool parents need to be aware of the oversized input their feedback has on their children’s math motivation and ability. Parents who don’t like math themselves need to be careful not to pass that on to their children, even accidentally. Children need to be inspired to thoroughly pursue each subject as they search for things they like and are good at. Giving children a negative outlook concerning math closes doors that should remain open.
Some children have learning disabilities. Unfortunately, while teachers are trained in recognizing learning disabilities and providing intervention, many homeschool parents may not understand that they are dealing with a learning disability until much too late. Homeschool parents need to educate themselves in warning signs that may point to learning disabilities and be willing to have their children tested for learning disabilities should such signs appear. Once a learning disability is identified, parents need to provide support and look for resources.
Bethany: My learning disability got in the way of my ability to learn math. . . . For a short time when I was in grade school, I had a specialist teach me math and I performed well. . . . He seemed to understand me and my dyslexia. He had me doing math above my grade. I fell behind again when I was homeschooled. Later–much later–I was tested at a local College. I tested 5th grade level for math and I was 26 years old. I went to the class they held as the lowest one could take in college. I felt deep shame. . . . Like my earlier learning specialist, they seemed to get my brain. I aced the class. . . . The bottom line was that I require explanations and practice that are more suited for my manual brain.
Melissa: There is no doubt based on what I do on a day to day basis that I am fairly mathematically inclined, though I think it’s possible I have some kind of learning disability since I can be a bit slow at times to pick certain things up. Based on kids I’ve worked with I think I may have dyspraxia, which would explain why I suddenly seemed so skilled once I had access to computers, since people with this disorder have trouble with writing out equations and that kind of thing.
Jennyfer: I have dyscalculia. My private school couldn’t deal with it, the public school in the area would have put me in the special ed holding tank, so I was homeschooled due to it. I was never able to achieve more than 5th grade, even with lots of tutoring. They eventually just gave up.
Some children are homeschooled due to learning disabilities. In these cases, parents hope to give their children better than what they were receiving in the local public schools. But doing this isn’t easy, and requires a lot of effort and the willingness to look for a new solution when one thing isn’t working. Homeschooling parents of children with learning disabilities need to be careful not to give up before they have sought out and exhausted the resources available.
Choosing a Curriculum
Homeschool parents have a variety of math curriculum available to them, and can easily shop around online or at homeschool conventions. Parents need to work to educate themselves on best practices and ensure that they thoroughly review each curriculum they choose. Some alumni in our focus group spoke of using curricula or math programs that simply did not work for them.
Melissa: My mother’s version of math education was . . . not good and mainly focused on memorization, which never stuck anyway. My mother said I had to do them over and over again because “you won’t always have a calculator.”
Liz: Eventually, Mom purchased this program at a homeschool conference called “Algebra VideoText”, where the instructor explained everything on VHS tapes and there was a hotline to call if you had problems. For the rest of high school I slogged through that program by myself, dutifully watching all the videos and completing the modules, and eventually “completed” it, without understanding much of what was being presented or retaining it at all. The help-line guy was MEAN (“What’s the matter with you? This is basic! There’s no reason you shouldn’t understand this!’) and after a while, I quit calling him.
Once a curriculum has been selected and purchased, homeschool parents need to pay attention to whether or not it is working for their children. This can be more difficult when a child is working more independently, but should be possible through frequent communication and through working through a curricula alongside a child. Homeschool parents need to be willing to changed their curriculum plans when a given program is not working.
Then Came College
In many cases, homeschooled students who struggle with math may have the ability to do well but not the interaction or resources they need to excel. This was the case for a number of alumni in our focus group, who were eager to speak of their experiences in college, where having a class and a teacher turned things around for them.
Jerusha: I tested into a remedial class and loved it. Turns out I’m really good at learning algebra from a teacher.
Jai: I had to take one remedial math class in community college six years later in order to get up to Algebra 1 speed, but I had a teacher that was amazing and spent time to answer my questions and look over my work with me.
Katharina: Having a teacher and college tutors really changed things for me.
Liz: The math course I had to take in college was what my mom called “math for dummies,” but I did OK in it because there was an actual teacher who explained stuff. I think I got an A.
Acacia: The summer before I entered public high school, I had to go to Sylvan Learning Center to catch up on everything I missed, even though I was relatively good at math and picked it up way faster than they expected.
Unfortunately, while many homeschool alumni who previously struggled with math may find themselves able to succeed with an actual class and teacher once in college, this does not mean that their deficient homeschool math education does not shape their future and their career choices.
Melissa: I LOVED science, so I wanted to be good at math. But I didn’t have a good background in math or how to study it, so I floundered once I got to school in high school and ended up giving up on my dreams of being a scientist. In college I was finally able to take some remedial classes, but still didn’t quite catch up. By accident I ended up doing tech for a living, which I do OK at, but I feel I regularly get passed up for promotions and have hit a ceiling because of my deficient background.
Anna-Brit: There was 110 point gap between my critical reading and math scores on my SATs. I ended up minoring in statistics in college, but fear of the prerequisite four levels of calculus prevented me from majoring in it, to my shame.
Liz: To this day, I stay far away from math. Maybe I would be good at it if I’d had some actual instruction, I don’t know.
Heidi: I went on to conquer statistics for my Bachelors and am now happily working on my Masters. But to pass the algebra I got help from everyone I could think of . . . school tutor, my drummer from worship team, and my baby brother who also put himself through school.
Savannah: This experience [failure to teach myself high school math from a textbook] has ingrained my fear and hate of all things math and science related, and in turn pushed me away from higher education in embarrassment of my skills.
Final Focus Group Thoughts
While experiential learning can often be extremely helpful, it should not be a replacement for more academic study of math. There is only so much math that can be learned from cooking, or from balancing checkbooks. For most children, higher-level math like algebra will require more than experiential learning.
Jerusha: One year my “math” was to make an answer key for an antiquated book on arithmetic for agriculture. I think it was used by the Amish. Balancing my parents’ checkbooks, paying the bills, and keeping my dad’s business ledger also counted as math.
In some cases, children’s success in other areas may mean that their parents do not notice their struggles and deficiencies in math. Parents need to be proactive and pay close attention to their children’s progress in math.
Katharina: I do remember feeling quite defeatist in high school, and my poor math skills were the reason I never finished my chemistry course either, too much math…but as my outstanding strengths were in verbal reasoning/writing, it never occurred to me or my mom to address those deficits, you know?
Finally, while a deficient math education can hold young adults back and make their lives more difficult, some will push through in spite of it all.
Savannah: I have turned a new leaf and am in my first ever math class (remedial college course) catching up with things I never knew! I am determined because I am sure once I am able to understand it from a qualified teacher, I will cease to be so unnerved!
And now we turn briefly to our smaller focus group of homeschool alumni with good experiences. Our main focus in this article has been how things can fail, so we want to finish with a brief picture of how things can go well
Emilie: My mom was passionate in teaching all subjects, and mathematics was no exception. In elementary school, she used a conceptual math curriculum which we worked through together using manipulatives and other various real life examples to understand arithmetic. We were not tied to this curriculum, however, as we found its algebra book confusing. For algebra and geometry we carefully switched to another program that was well-reviewed and also emphasized conceptual understanding. For my last two years of high school, I took Precalculus Algebra and Trigonometry, followed by Calculus I and II at the community college, as they were beyond my mom’s expertise. The teaching I received there was excellent and allowed me to take Calculus III and Differential Equations as a freshman. (My younger sister also took calculus-based physics and an introductory engineering class while still in high school.) Mathematics may not have been my mom’s favorite subject, but it ended up being mine, and she opened all the necessary doors for me and my siblings to explore it.
Nathan: I was mostly self-taught from Saxon textbooks, my parents weren’t in a position to teach me anything advanced. I joined a MathCounts team made up of other students from our regional group. There was one engineer dad in the group who really accelerated our progress, and some of the other parents were really good at teaching us to assess every problem from a logical perspective and find not just the solution, but the best, fastest path to that solution. Everybody on that team was a total math dork by the end. We even took turns teaching each other on occasion (with supervision), because it helped us solidify the concepts in our own minds AND helped us all pick up things that the others were good at, which improved both our math skills and our ability to optimally function as a team during the cooperative portions of the competition.
Isaac: In retrospect, I think the mathematical education provided by my parents was highly successful. I think there are two particular aspects of my math instruction that were unique and provided immense benefit. First, my parents had a strong emphasis on understanding my learning style and providing curricula tailored to me. My parents were not tied to a single textbook and were attentive to my feedback, as well as maintaining their own assessments and backing them up with external standardized tests. Second, my parents stringently insisted that I absolute master a concept before moving on. I was able to take Algebra early, but struggled with the abstract concepts and was required to re-take the entire course. With a different curriculum and another semester to work on the material, I began to thrive and even enjoy the concepts. Having now worked with professional mathematicians, I see some of my parent’s weaknesses; they could have focused more on enabling independent discovery as a child and answering my sometimes more probing questions in deeper ways. However, they recognized their limitations and sought professional external math instruction after Algebra, which was also superlative and placed me in the very beneficial relationship with math I enjoy today.
Strong levels of parental involvement, a willingness to change curriculum to suit a child’s learning style, community college courses, math clubs or other extracurriculars—these things can provide children with the guidance and motivation they need to not just succeed at math but actually excell. Yes, all of these take more effort than simply handing a child a textbook and telling them to learn it. But then, whoever said homeschooling would be easy?
In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, where twenty elementary school children and six teachers were gunned down in December 2012, the state of Connecticut convened a panel to find ways to reduce the risk of future tragedies. Over the past year and a half, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, consisting of a team of experts from the areas of education, mental health, emergency response, and law, has been meeting and drafting recommendations for improving Connecticut’s current policies. We at CRHE were pleased to learn that the Commission’s proposals include homeschooled students, who are often left out of efforts to improve children’s wellbeing. If the proposals are implemented, Connecticut homeschooled students with social, emotional, and behavioral problems will have access to the same resources and services as other students.
We at CRHE believe that the Commission’s suggestions are founded in current need and best practices and have the potential to promote the wellbeing of homeschooled children. CRHE supports increased protections for homeschooled children in Connecticut and, contingent on seeing the actual recommendations, is enthusiastic about the Commission’s concern for the safety and health of at-risk homeschooled children.
These concerns are especially resonant in the wake of tragic stories like those of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza and of Joshua Komisarjevsky. Both were homeschoolers who did not have access to the care they needed. The crimes they committed are tragic reminders that homeschoolers are not immune to the issues every community struggles with, including the need for mental health services and for special care for children with behavioral problems. We are fully aware that many homeschooling parents are doing their utmost to meet their children’s social and emotional needs, and that in some cases homeschooling may be the best educational choice for these children. We therefore argue that homeschoolers should have access to the same resources as other children, and that the homeschooling community should not turn a blind eye to the needs of some of its members.
The draft’s proposed guidelines would require all students who have significant social, emotional, or behavioral problems—including homeschooled students—to receive an individualized education plan, or IEP. Just like the parents of public school students, parents of homeschooled students who are diagnosed with these issues would be required to develop IEPs in cooperation with the school district. These plans would include objectives for the child’s short-term and annual progress, procedures for reporting and measuring the child’s progress, and any supplemental services the child would be receiving. Like other students, these students would be assessed annually on their progress towards their goals.
The purpose of the Commission is to improve the safety of educational environments in Connecticut. According to the Commission, this includes ensuring that children can develop healthily whether they are primarily being educated in schools or at home. The Commission is advocating for a more holistic, integrated approach to mental health care throughout the state. Their proposal centers around services provided by schools, so their recommendations for homeschooled students constitute only a small part of their overall plan. We are grateful that homeschooled students were not overlooked by the Commission, and believe homeschooled students should have access to the same resources and services that are available to other children.
Homeschooled students with mental health needs are not well served by current laws—especially in Connecticut, where homeschooling advocates have a history of opposing any and all attempts to protect homeschooled children. Connecticut does not require parents to notify the state that they are homeschooling and has no requirements regarding parent qualifications, instruction time, bookkeeping, or student assessments. Homeschool parents in Connecticut successfully blocked the passage of a 1990 law which would have created reasonable legal protections for homeschooled children in the state. Connecticut’s homeschool parents are also responsible for successfully advocating for a 1994 law that allowed them to opt out of any and all special education services offered by the public school system regardless of a child’s need.
Just as with other demographics, there are homeschooled children who struggle with mental illness. According to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 15% of homeschool parents report homeschooling because of their child’s physical or mental health problems. Further, a 2014 survey conducted by Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out found that approximately 25% of the 3,700 homeschool graduates surveyed had been diagnosed with a mental illness by a mental health professional. Claims of homeschoolers’ immunity to such problems are unfounded and are disrespectful to the many homeschool graduates who do report that they suffered from mental illness, lack of socialization, or behavioral or social problems while being homeschooled. We are thankful to the Commission for including homeschooled students in their efforts to provide all Connecticut children with access to mental health resources.
The Commission’s proposals are not unique or unprecedented. Many states allow homeschooled students to access disability services, including IEPs, through their local public schools. In Oregon, each homeschooled child with a disability is required to have either an IEP or a PDP (privately developed plan), coordinated with one or more private services providers. These plans lay out educational goals and specify what services the child will receive.
Implementation of the Commission’s proposal may take some working out. Connecticut is one of eleven states where parents are not required to provide notice of homeschooling—though they are technically required to offer “equivalent instruction in the studies taught in the public schools,” there is no mechanism to ensure that they do so, and parents who opt out of the state’s voluntary guidelines need not have any interaction with the state whatsoever. It’s not surprising, then, that estimates of the number of children being homeschooled in the state vary widely from 2,000 to 18,000—without an annual notification requirement, it is not possible to keep an accurate count of homeschooling families or to identify homeschoolers with behavioral problems. The state’s homeschooling parents have successfully opposed notification requirements in the past, and a bill requiring homeschool parents to file an annual notice of intent died in committee in 2009. Still, the Committee’s recommendations could easily be grounded in current CT homeschooling law, which requires that the parent be “able to show” that the required “equivalent instruction” is being provided.
One potential concern CRHE has is that conversations about mental health—when prompted by an act of violence like the Sandy Hook school shooting—often focus on the individuals who commit violence rather than those who are the victims of violence. This can add to the stigma around mental health conversations by making the mentally ill appear to be threats, when in fact they are more likely to be victims themselves. We hope, therefore, that the commission will continue to approach their solutions in a way that helps, rather than further stigmatizes, individuals with mental illnesses. We also hope that the response to the commission’s suggestions looks at the entire community as opposed to dismissing it as a response to one bad apple.
We at CRHE will continue to watch the progress of the Commission’s report and recommendations. We hope that they will continue to demonstrate the same sort of thoughtfulness and care that they have shown in their other recommendations to the question of how best to serve the homeschooled children of Connecticut.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.