How Do They Compare?

by Dr. Gwen Dewar

Homeschooling gets high marks...when parents provide structured lessons

Are homeschooled students good students?

When the topic comes up in conversation, people often cite studies showing that homeschoolers score higher on standardized tests.

For instance, Eric Rudner analyzed the test scores of over 20,000 American homeschooled students and found them to be “exceptionally high—the median scores were typically in the 70th to 80th percentile” (Rudner 1999).

That’s impressive, but we have to keep in mind: This wasn’t a random cross-section of homeschoolers.

Participants were recruited from a special subset of the homeschooling population -- families who subscribed to a fee-based testing service. Compared to their peers in the public schools, these kids were more likely to have affluent, well-educated parents. Were the parents also more committed to educating their children? Perhaps.

Then there is the problem of self-selection. Who agrees to participate in a study of this kind?

Parents may be more likely to sign up if they believe their children will test well. About 52% of those approached agreed to participate in Rudner’s study. So we have to wonder about the people who declined. When we compare Rudner’s homeschoolers to the general population, it’s a bit like apples and oranges. The parents of public school kids aren’t a select group of motivated volunteers.

Finally, there were differences in the way the tests were administered. Ideally, we’d want everyone to take the test under the same conditions, under the eye of a trained test administrator. But whereas public school students took their tests in the classroom, many homeschoolers took their tests at home with a parent...

Because of copyright restrictions we cannot publish the rest of this excellent study here. To see the whole paper, please go to:

"I’m a biological anthropologist and creator of Parenting Science, a website for parents who want scientific information about kids and parenting. has been praised by researchers and hailed as “a welcome antidote to the opinion dressed as science that parents are constantly being fed.” I earned my Ph.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where I was trained in evolutionary anthropology, behavioral ecology, and psychology. My interests in social learning and intelligence have led me to study the cognitive development in children and nonhuman primates. I’m also a keen student of evolutionary biology—especially the evolution of parenting. I hate dogma and preachy advice, and I’ve been really exasperated by the sorry state of popular parenting information, which is mostly personal opinions, folk theories, and pseudoscience. I make lots of mistakes and forgive the boo-boos of others. But authoritarian pronouncements give me hives. Before people tell us what to do, they need to explain their reasoning and cite the evidence. (

News Reports & Reviews

(1) Madaleine Morgenstern, Study: Home-Schooled Kids Beat Public School Kids in Math, Reading

Further Research Material

(1) Sandra Martin-Chang, Odette N. Gould & Reanne E. Meuse, The Impact of Schooling on Adademic Achievement: Evidence from Homeschooled and Traditionally Schooled Students in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Vol.43(3), Jul 2011, 195-202 (doi: 10.1037/a0022697)

Abstract: Although homeschooling is growing in prevalence, its educational outcomes remain unclear. The present study compared the academic achievements of homeschooled children with children attending traditional public school. When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers), the data showed that structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest that the unstructured homeschoolers are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups.

Copyright © 2011 Gwen Dewar, PhD - All Rights Reserved

Last updated on 22 September 2011