How Does Homeschooling Compare to Public School?

Homeschool parent helping daughter with her studies

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Many parents considering a homeschooling education over a more traditional experience want to know how homeschooling compares to public school—especially when it comes to academic performance.

As the COVID-19 pandemic upends many aspects of traditional education for the 2020–2021 school year, you're not alone if you're also considering removing your children from regular school in favor of homeschooling.

When you think of the perks of teaching your kids at home, you likely envision the freedom of making your own schedule, focusing on particular areas of interest—and not having to social distance or wear masks.

But does a home-based education offer a leg up for kids in terms of scholastic advancement? It depends. Here's how educating at home stands up to public school for test results, GPA, college placement, and more. 

Basic Differences to Take Into Account

An education at home differs from a traditional public school education in some basic (but significant) ways that may impact academic performance. Individualized attention from a parent-slash-teacher can make a world of difference for a student who is struggling academically or has a learning disability, for example.

Meanwhile, working independently may allow more advanced students to go at their own pace, not having to wait for others to catch up. On the other hand, depending on the challenge level of subject matter, you may have to learn about certain topics alongside your child (or access someone with the appropriate expertise).

According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), many factors you might expect to make or break academic success at home have surprisingly low impact.

Whether or not a parent has earned a teaching degree or certificate is not associated with their child’s academic achievement, and neither is the degree of government control in their particular state. Parents’ level of formal education and household income are also not correlated with children’s scholastic proficiency. 

Test Results

While test results aren’t the only indicator of a child’s academic prowess, they can be an important benchmark of learning—and they do matter for college placement. The effects of homeschooling on test results are promising.

As far back as 1998, one study found that homeschool children’s median scores on standardized tests such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills landed in the 70th to 80th percentile.

Similarly, according to the NHERI, students educated at home typically score 15 to 30 percentile points higher than public school students on standardized tests for academic achievement.

For Black students, the numbers are even higher. Black children who homeschool score 23 to 42 percentage points higher on standardized tests than their counterparts in public schools.

On the ACT, a test used nationwide for college admissions, composite scores for homeschooled students fluctuated between 22.3 in 2007 and 22.8 in 2014. (The highest possible score is 36.) Though not as high as scores from private school students, these rankings were 1.4 to 2.2 points above the average public school student.

Grade Point Average

Grade point average, or GPA, is another common point of reference for academic performance. Because many homeschool families don’t calculate GPA, limited data exists comparing grade point average between home and publicly educated kids. However, more research has been conducted on the GPAs of college students who homeschooled during their K-12 years. 

One study conducted at an unnamed private university in the American Southeast found a statistically significant increase in the college GPA of students who were homeschooled versus those who were not.

In another study from an unnamed university in the Midwest, students who had homeschooled finished their freshman year of college with an average GPA of 3.37, compared with the 3.08 average GPA of other students.

The academic advantages of homeschooling continued throughout the college years. As seniors, the same students earned an average GPA of 3.41, compared to the 3.16 average GPA of non-homeschooled seniors.

Other, more in-depth research tells a somewhat different story, however. A 2016 study analyzed data from nearly 825,000 students at 140 colleges and universities and found that students who had been homeschooled did not achieve higher GPA in their first year of college, nor were they more likely to return for a sophomore year. 

College Placement

For many colleges and universities, admissions are handled very similarly between students who have had a traditional education and those who have homeschooled.

With the rise in various nontraditional forms of education in recent years, even stalwart institutions like Ivy League schools have acknowledged the value a home-based education can provide their potential students. (However, many, such as Harvard, do not publicize statistics about their homeschool admissions.)

U.S. News & World Report stresses that homeschooled students may need to emphasize certain aspects of their education in a college application to improve their chances of admission. Applicants may need to provide extra information about their academic curriculum and take optional tests to establish their academic abilities.

On the other hand, because homeschoolers can often earn college credit before high school graduation, they may have an advantage for college placement—or, at the very least, for finishing a degree sooner than students from public school. 

Emotional Adjustment

A comparison between home and public education isn’t all about academics. Your child’s emotional development matters, too. Stereotypes about homeschool education may have you believe that homeschooled kids are more likely to be socially awkward or emotionally stunted. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case.

According to the NHERI, homeschoolers often rank above average in measures of social, emotional, and psychological development.

The degree to which your child grows emotionally will largely depend on the environment in your home and the activities you expose them to.

Consider how you might involve your child in volunteering, participating in academic or extracurricular cohort groups, playing league sports, or taking lessons on an instrument. These outside-the-home extras can all expose your child to other people of various backgrounds, as well as help them make friends.

A Word From Verywell 

Only you can decide if homeschooling is the best choice for your family. If you do choose to teach at home, there are no guarantees that this form of education will produce better results, academically or emotionally, for your child.

In large part, the success of homeschooling depends on you as an educator and your child as a learner. However, much of the research indicates that homeschooling can provide your child a greater likelihood of academic achievement.

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Article Sources
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