What If? A Thought Experiment

Published: Tue, 07/28/15

Hello, , from NHERI and Dr. Ray.

There are a number of negative critics of homeschooling who think parent-led education cannot be good for children. There are also a number of research critics who say research on homeschooling basically tells us nothing. Both are pretty grumpy about the idea that homeschooling is good for students and society.

The Context

At the same time, 30 years of research has found many positive things, and basically nothing negative, to be associated with homeschooling.[1] Homeschool students consistently score 15 to 30 percentile points above the public school average on standardized tests. Homeschooled students from low-income and high-income homes and with low-education and high-education parents are doing well. The home educated are doing as well or better than the classroom schooled on measures of social development. And adults who were home educated are doing well in college and on many other measures of success in adulthood.

So what, if anything, would help those who are grumpy about homeschooling be at least neutral about it? Let us try a thought experiment.


Imagine that the “perfect study” were to be done. The researchers have a sizable budget of perhaps a half-million dollars or so. They are able to randomly select and get a very high participation rate from 200 graduates of 12 years of homeschooling and compare them to 200 randomly selected and comparable graduates of public schooling.

These 18-year-olds are given a standardized achievement test that is valid and reliable for both the home educated and the public schooled. Further, they are given a test of social skills that is valid and reliable for both groups.

We then see that the top-notch researchers carefully control all the typically relevant background variables such as parents’ formal education level, family income, parents’ marital status, ethnicity/race, special needs status, and urban/rural location.


Hypothetically, let us say that the homeschooled turn out to be basically average compared to the state educated. That is, the scores of the homeschooled are within five percentile points, or maybe one-eighth of a standard deviation, of those of the public schooled. This is for both achievement and social skills. And let us say it does not even matter whether the home-educated scores were a touch higher or lower, but just basically average or not statistically different.


Many research critics would say, “Aha, we told you so. We predicted that if representative samples were had and all the variables were controlled, then there would be no difference in outcomes, or maybe the home educated would perform worse.” Many critics of homeschooling itself would say, “See, we knew homeschooling couldn’t do any better. We thought it would do worse, but at least we were right that it shows up no better.”

But this would all beg some questions. Let me pose a few if the findings of the hypothetical study mentioned above were true.

Do the home educated need to do better than the public schooled? If yes, why?

Is it not interesting that parents who have no formal training in teaching, in pedagogy, and in child development can help their children perform just as well academically as those taught in schools by university-graduate experts?

Should we be impressed that State certification of teachers seems to be not associated with academic achievement?

Is it not interesting that children who are not with same-age peers and adults outside their family all day, five days per week, and nine months per year are doing well socially when so many psychological and other experts have said they would not?

Should the taxpayer be interested in the fact that $12,000 (plus capital expenditures plus the cost of research and development at all the state university schools of education) is not being spent on each of these 2.2 million homeschool children every year in State/government schools?[2]

Would the de-facto negative critics of homeschooling and the critics of past homeschool research change their tunes and start promoting homeschooling? Would they say, “Hey, shucks, since these young adults are doing just as well as the ones on whom we spend far more than $144,000 for their twelve-year State education, why not promote homeschooling?”


My take, based on reading almost all of the academic criticisms of home-based education and of research on homeschooling, is that no one should expect more than a miniscule number of these critics to start promoting homeschooling even if the findings of this hypothetical study were true.

I have carefully reviewed in other articles their criticisms and it appears to me that something very philosophical underlies their negativism toward parent-led home-based education.[3] For some of them, homeschooling will not “… build momentum for the large scale [critical theory or socialistic or neo-Marxist] transformations that are necessary” for America.[4] For others, no private education is good and it all must be banned and all children must attend State/government schools.[5]

I think it would be nearly impossible for many of these critics to promote – or even be neutral toward – homeschooling because parent-run education does not allow them to effect the religious, philosophical, and political vision they have for the United States or any nation. These critics want to control and have power over molding children’s minds and therefore the society in which they live. They claim that their control of education is for the good of the children and for a just society but they are hard pressed to admit that their claims and visions are built upon their religious-philosophical faith.


Remember that that above was a thought experiment. The findings have not been found. The biases of many of the negative critics of homeschooling and of research on homeschooling, however, are fairly clear if one gives their writings a careful reading. Even “average,” when it comes to comparing the homeschooled to the public schooled, should be lauded by the fair minded and perfectly objective. Far too many homeschool antagonists, however, are anything but perfectly objective.

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

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[1] See: (1) Ray, Brian D. (2013). Homeschooling associated with beneficial learner and societal outcomes but educators do not promote it. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(3), 324-341 and (2) Murphy, Joseph. (2012). Homeschooling in America: Capturing and assessing the movement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a Sage Company.
[3] For example, see: Ray, Brian D. (2013). Homeschooling associated with beneficial learner and societal outcomes but educators do not promote it. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(3), 324-341.
[4] Apple, Michael W. (2006, December 21). The complexities of black home schooling. From www.TCRecord.org.
[5] Fineman, Martha Albertson. (2009). Taking children’s interests seriously. In Martha Albertson Fineman and Karen Worthington (Eds.), What is right for children? The competing paradigms of religion and human rights, 229-37. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.