Homeschooled Kids are Alright

Data Reveals that Homeschool Students are Succeeding After Finishing School

Joshua Harris is the most famous homeschooling failure. His parents, models for promoting conservative evangelical faithfulness, were enthusiastic boosters of homeschooling in the 1990s. Joshua was a prodigy. He started a homeschooling magazine called New Attitude in his mid-teens. He wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude toward Relationships and Romance before he was twenty. He became a pastor when he was thirty, after a long apprenticeship. By then he was married and a father of three. In the late 2010s, however, he divorced his wife, left the faith, and apologized for benighted views on  women in the church, gays, and same-sex marriage.

Harris’s sad devolution was catnip for amateur psychiatrists, who imagine that sadistic homeschool parents repress their young children, who in turn rebel against their upbringing either through adopting sexual perversions, committing acts of violence and abuse, leaving the faith or invading Poland. Christian critics worry the strict, sheltered parenting often associated with homeschooling melts in the face of social pressures. Others, more hostile, think homeschooling parents are unusually abusive and incompetent and that homeschooling must be brought under greater state regulation (as it is in other countries). 

There is also plenty of counter evidence to such forbidding takes on homeschooling. My three daughters-in-law, for instance, were homeschooled for at least a majority of their school years—and all were wives, mothers, and faithful Christians before they turned twenty-five. And they hit the jackpot marrying Yenors!

An honest evaluation of the effects of homeschooling, however, cannot come from cherry-picked anecdotes. They require data. Homeschooling rates have increased over time. The Washington Post estimates that between 1.9 and 2.7 million students were homeschooled in 2022-23 (around 5% of all students). Reason Foundation calculated the rate to be 5.5 percent at the same time. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 1.7 million students were homeschooled in 2016 (about 3.3%); 1.1 million were homeschooled in 2003 (about 2.2%); and just over a million were homeschooled in 1999 (about 1.7%). 

About a third or so of homeschoolers are not religious. According to an early 2000s survey, nearly two-thirds of parents chose homeschooling for reasons of religious and moral instruction. Later, in the early 2020s, Protestants make up more than a quarter of homeschoolers, while generic Christians are 22%, 12% were Catholic and 5% were Orthodox (Christians were just over 60 percent). An evaluation of homeschooling would require an analysis of the goals homeschooling parents set for themselves. Do religious homeschooled students (1) go to church more often than their peers, hold to traditional Christian positions on (2) marriage, (3) gayness, (4) markers of a Christian view of the world. 

One resource for such questions is the Good Soil Study commissioned by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS)1. This survey compared outcomes between graduates of ACCS schools, religious homeschoolers, “normal” evangelical schools, Catholic schools and public schools on a number of issues. Respondents were 24-42 when the survey was conducted in 2018-2019, so all ended schooling before 2011 or so. These were homeschooling pioneers as well as the early days of the classical, Christian movement. What follows presents data that controls for the family’s religious and marital situation. 

Higher Education. Homeschoolers were least likely to attend and complete college (only 45% did). Nearly 45% of homeschoolers who attended college earned As or mostly As in college, ranking second to ACCS graduates. 

Religious Commitment. Consistently, across every category, homeschoolers either rank first or second on religious and moral questions. Homeschoolers were most likely to seek to strengthen their relationship with God (45%), were second most likely to feel they had “much in life to be thankful for” (65%), second behind ACCS graduates. They also were second least likely to have doubts about their faith (trailing evangelical graduates) and were second most likely to attend church weekly and to read their Bible daily (trailing ACCS students by a wide margin in each case). 

Christian Marriage Opinions. Homeschoolers are most likely to think living together is morally wrong (around 50%) and second most likely to think divorce is wrong (31%), premarital sex is wrong (just under 70%), and to think gay marriage is wrong (75%). Homeschoolers are the group most likely to endorse the traditional male provider/ female homemaker model of family life.

Christian Marriage Actions. Homeschoolers are among the least likely to be unmarried and living together, and only about 5% of homeschoolers were divorced (Catholic school graduates had the highest divorce rates at 8%). Religious homeschoolers are the most likely to marry of all the groups (the ACCS is middling in this respect), the group that married earliest (again, ACCS is below homeschoolers and traditional evangelical schools), and the most likely to have children. ACCS was the group most likely never to have married. (These were part of raw statistics not published in the Good Soil Study, for which I have been granted access by David Goodwin, a friend and president of ACCS). 

Trust. Through my access to the raw data, homeschoolers score lowest of all groups on trust measures, such as trusting neighbors, co-workers, the federal government, public schools, the mass media, scientists, atheists, or people in general. They are most likely to think the dominant U.S. culture is hostile to their religious and moral values. They are also the group second most likely to be independent thinkers (behind ACCS graduates).

All in all, the data hardly support the idea that Joshua Harris is the norm. Public schools consistently fare the worst in all measures of Christian faith and Christian marriage, while homeschooled kids surveyed do very well (in comparison). No form of education bats 100%, and there are no guarantees in life. Still, the psychological critique of homeschooling is just a stupid, gaslighting joke, as are many other criticisms. Homeschooled kids hardly look abused. Homeschooled kids—they are alright. Perhaps our system should not merely tolerate homeschooling, but promote it. 

Image Credit: Unsplash

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  1. Data on homeschoolers and the schools other than ACCS are from the Cardus study. Cardus is a think tank in Canada, who worked with the Notre Dame sociology department to construct and execute the survey. ACCS data was collected through Notre Dame sociology too.
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Scott Yenor

Scott Yenor is Director of State Coalition at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life and a professor of political science at Boise State University. His Recovery of Family Life (Baylor, 2020) is now out in paperback.

One thought on “Homeschooled Kids are Alright

  1. Excellent article, Mr. Yenor. My wife was homeschool and I was public schooled. It took quite the movement of the Holy Spirit to usurp many of the products of public education from my brain, many thanks to the gentlemen at Refuge Church in Ogden for their work that helped change my mind. Funny enough, while it was a massive mind change for me, I was joining my wife’s opinions fully instead of being 90% there (that remaining 10% being the wife’s vocation, when to have children and how to educate them, and much of your “trust” metric). Thankfully, this occurred mere months into our marriage. Yes, it is quite the miracle we got married while having differing views on these things, truly a testament to God’s power!

    We have made the decision to homeschool our children, this will be a wonderful article (and data) to help communicate our rationale to those in our lives who are opposed to this choice.

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