Opinion: Daily Journal

Homeschooling Goes To College

This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Kristen Blair, N.C. Education Alliance Fellow.

RALEIGH — Twenty years ago homeschooling was relegated to the fringes of K-12 education — the spurned stepchild in a newly blended family of schooling options. Today homeschooling is a credible, viable educational choice that is garnering respect, even admiration, from outside educators.

At the nation’s elite colleges and universities, once-wary admissions officers are validating the benefits of a home education in the best way possible — with much-coveted acceptances.

As the homeschooling movement gains converts, enrollments are booming. Nationwide some 2 million students are taught at home; in North Carolina, more than 83,000 students were homeschooled in 2011. If current trends continue, statewide homeschooling enrollments will catapult past private schooling over the next five to 10 years.

Surging popularity notwithstanding, can homeschooling survive the hard scrutiny of outside accountability? Indeed it can. According to a 2009 study from the Home School
Legal Defense Association of almost 12,000 homeschooled students, homeschoolers scored 37 percentage points higher on standardized tests than their public school counterparts.

A more recent study comparing Canadian homeschooled and public school students, published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science in 2011, also found homeschooling gave kids a boost — “from a half-grade advantage in math to 2.2 grade levels in reading,” notes lead author Sandra Martin-Chang.

There’s a key caveat to homeschooling’s academic acclamation: Homeschooled children excel in “structured” academic environments, in which parents provide intensive, formalized instruction. So-called “un-schooling” settings, which lack clear parameters and direct parental guidance, produce student outcomes that are inferior to public schools, the Canadian study found.

It’s also worth noting that the manifold demands of homeschooling aren’t workable for many families. Homeschooling requires enormous amounts of parental commitment, financial sacrifice, and time. At least one parent must devote considerable energies to teaching those kids, often forgoing (or dramatically reducing) outside employment.

But homeschooling parents who stick it out over the long haul are well aware of the costs, and generally welcome the accountability and validation of standardized tests. Stephen Estes, a 2011 college graduate and former homeschooler, says his parents insisted he take SAT subject tests in high school, as well as Advanced Placement exams
— which he passed — in physics, environmental science, and English.

Kelsey Farson, the first recipient of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship to be homeschooled all the way through the K-12 years, credits her parents with “instilling a lifelong love of learning.” They covered academic fundamentals, but also sought opportunities for their children to develop individual gifts.

A talented high school math student, Kelsey learned physics from her father, studied AP calculus with a private tutor at Davidson College, and enrolled in numerous community college courses. She took nine AP exams in subjects ranging from calculus to microeconomics — and received credit for all but one. She’ll graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill this May, with a bright future in public policy.

Given such impressive academic achievement from homeschoolers, it’s no surprise that colleges and universities are taking notice. According to Stanford admissions, “Homeschooled students comprise a small yet growing percentage of our applicant pool.” Princeton “welcomes” homeschooled applicants, noting that one homeschooler went on to graduate as the university’s Class of 2002 valedictorian. And at Duke, admissions materials state: “For the past several years, homeschooled students have been admitted to Duke at a rate equal to or higher than that for the entire applicant pool.”

For all of the devoted homeschooling parents out there, this hard-won affirmation is reason to celebrate. For the rest of us, it offers irrefutable proof that a marriage of parental sacrifice and educational freedom can, in fact, produce quite a wonderful child.