Subtle Landmark: Social and Emotional Health of Homeschooled Students

Published: Tue, 06/23/15

Hello, , from NHERI and Dr. Ray.

This new study is subtly a landmark one. I have said publicly, many times: Study after study shows that homeschool students do as well, and often better, than public school students in their social, emotional, and psychological development. Negative critics of homeschooling or of the research have claimed that they cannot believe this because the samples might not be representative. That is, for example, maybe only the homeschool families who are doing well participate in the studies.

Once again, research is consistent with past research and what I have reported. This time, it is another study that directly addresses the “sampling issue.”


Dr. Guillermo Montes used data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), a large survey collected by the U.S. government, to monitor the health of American children and published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal.[1] He reported that using a nationally representative US data source, “… collected for purposes other than homeschooling research, is likely to provide us a source of information with little bias due to homeschooling status” (p. 2). The purpose of the study was to determine whether “… homeschooled students had better or worse social or emotional health using the NSCH 2003 social competencies and behavior problem scales, and to conduct an item analysis to determine if there were any” (p. 2).

“The survey interviews the parent or guardian who knows best about the child’s health (typically the mother) using a random-digit-dialed sample of household with children less than 18 years old from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” (p. 2). The sample had 1,530 homeschooled students and 54,320 publicly schooled students.

Several demographic statistics were presented. For example, households that homeschooled were more likely to be at or below 200% the federal poverty line, and were less likely to be affluent households, compared to publicly schooled households. Also, homeschooling households were more likely to have a parent who had education beyond high school (78% vs. 65%). These two and five other variables were statistically controlled in comparisons regarding social and emotional health.

The Social Competence Scale had two four-item factors: Social Skills and Behavior Problems. Behavior problem items included things such as he/she “argues too much,” “bullies or is cruel or mean to others,” and “is withdrawn, and does not get involved with others.” Social competence items included those such as he/she “shows respect for teachers and neighbors,” “gets along well with other children,” “tries to understand other people’s feelings,” “cares about doing well in school,” and “does all required homework.”

Parents were also asked about their child’s participation in activities during the past 12 months. For example, was he/she on a sports team or did he/she take sports lessons afterschool or on weekends? Similarly, parents were asked if during the past 12 months the child participated in any clubs or organizations after school or on weekends.


Largely, Dr. Montes found no differences between homeschool and public school students. Here is his simple summary:

There were no detectable differences in the NSCH 2003 social competencies and behavior problem scales and indeed both groups had remarkably similar overall scores. Similarly, item analysis discovered that there were no detectable differences in the majority of the social competencies and behavior problem items between both groups. With regards to participation in activities, homeschooled students had similar overall participation as publicly schooled students. (p. 7).

The researcher pointed out that these non-differences exist despite the fact that the homeschooled students were from less affluent households.

Thus, the main conclusion of this study is that homeschooled students in the US have comparable mental and emotional health and comparable community participation to their publicly schooled counterparts, even though their households are less affluent. There is no evidence that homeschooled students are at greater risk of socialization problems than publicly schooled students in the US. (p. 7)

The home educated were doing better than the public schooled on one count. The data showed that

… homeschooled students were substantially less likely than publicly schooled students to be rated as arguing too much. This is somewhat remarkable because homeschooled students spend substantially more time with their parents than publicly schooled students. Homeschooled students must negotiate with their parents an additional set of complex educational tasks (e.g. curriculum, instructional practice, homework, balance between educational work and community activities, etc.). Thus, it was a positive finding to find out that they are able to accomplish these additional complex educational tasks and additional interaction time and yet argue less. (p. 7)

There was one other statistically significant difference. It had to do with whether the student “cares about doing well in school.” Here are the researcher’s thoughts on this finding:

Unfortunately, the wording of the item prevents us from reaching a definite conclusion because it is insensitive to the homeschool culture. In particular, some homeschooling mothers undoubtedly interpreted the item as it was intended, namely that the child cares about educational work; but others mothers, particularly those who homeschooled as a response to some recent real or perceived failure of the public school, may have interpreted the item as asking if the child cares about doing well in the conventional school. (p. 7)

Cautions and Conclusions

Dr. Montes carefully explained that causality cannot be inferred from this, a cross-sectional study. Also, “… by including all homeschooling students in a particular year, this study includes transitory homeschooled students, those who are just beginning to homeschool or who will homeschool only for a brief period and these students may have worse social and emotional health than students who are homeschooled in a stable manner” (p. 8). And, finally, “… some of the items in the measures used assume the child is in conventional school, as has been previously discussed” (p. 8).

The researcher clearly reported that this study is consistent with prior research on the social and emotional development of the home educated. Their parents are helping them do as well, or better, than those in public/state schools. Here is how Dr. Montes put it:

In sum, this study corroborates previous research summarized by [Richard] Medlin (2013) that found no reason to be concerned about the socialization of homeschooled children in the United States. We concur with Medlin’s suggestion that future research should focus on the process of socialization in the homeschooling context instead of outcomes. In the larger context of arguments against homeschooling both from educators and policy makers, this research suggests that opponents need not be concerned about the socialization of homeschooled children and are either unfamiliar with or choose to ignore the cumulative empirical evidence ([Brian] Ray, 2013)” (p. 8).

Thus, research evidence about the home educated continues to build, from many angles and sources.

--Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.
National Home Education Research Institute

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[1] Montes, Guillermo. (2015). The social and emotional health of homeschooled students in the United States: A population-based comparison with publicly schooled students based on the National Survey of Children’s Health, 2007. Home School Researcher, 31(1), 1-9.