Many parents find homeschooling appealing because it gives them flexibility when designing their children’s learning experiences.[1] This often results in shortened school days, but these abbreviated days can conflict with state laws that require full-length school days, as well as the goals of well-meaning officials who want to ensure that students make enough progress. However, the instructional differences between traditional classrooms and homeschools show that homeschools can accomplish standard progress in smaller amounts of time.

For example, in a well-known study by Stanley and Greenwood,[2] researchers directly observed 100 randomly selected 4th grade students in four schools in Kansas City over the course of the entire school day. They tracked how long individual students were engaged in strategic learning behaviors, which include actively reading, writing, or talking about the subject matter.[3] (For more information relating to these behaviors, see Duvall, Fox, & Meeks, 2022; or Wallace, Reschly-Anderson, Bartholomay, & Huff, 2002.) Out of a 400-minute day, the public schools in the study set aside 250 minutes for academic instruction, during which the students manifested the important learning behaviors for only 67.5 minutes, or about 16 minutes per hour. Undoubtedly, this represented a very inefficient use of classroom time.

In contrast, two studies comparing the effectiveness of homeschool and public-school instruction across a variety of grades and demographics found that the same learning behaviors occurred between 2 and 2.5 times as often in homeschools as they did in public-school classrooms.[4] Because the homeschool students demonstrated significantly more learning behavior during instruction, it was unsurprising that they made more academic gains than the public-school students. A more recent study of 3rd and 4th graders by Duvall affirmed these findings.[5]

Notably, the Duvall study, which compared students who had been homeschooled for a long time with first-time homeschoolers, found only small differences in the levels of important learning behaviors that occurred between the two groups, indicating that a lack of homeschooling experience had little effect on the parent’s ability to create an effective instructional environment.[6] Though the Duvall study was not specifically designed to make homeschool versus public school comparisons, Duvall employed the same methods Stanley and Greenwood used to measure students’ learning behaviors, and substantiated the finding observation that homeschool students can be more frequently engaged in strategic learning behaviors than the public school students in the Stanley and Greenwood study.[7] More importantly, because increasing students’ engagement in these learning behaviors almost always results in more academic gains, we can infer that homeschool students can learn as much or even more than their public school counterparts in far less time.

Research conducted to date makes it apparent that the level of student learning behaviors that occur in homeschools and traditional classrooms is very different. These studies have consistently found high levels of these strategic learning behaviors in every homeschool observed. The findings in the Duvall studies[8] suggest that, in as little as 2 hours, homeschoolers can engage in the same amount of strategic learning behavior as public-school students experience in an entire school day. Considering that a significant majority of homeschooling families extend their school day well beyond 2 instructional hours,[9] it helps explain why many homeschool students score well above average on year-end achievement tests.[10] It also stresses why lawmakers should examine data when considering legislation and avoid enacting unnecessary regulations on homeschooling families regarding hours of instruction.

Considering the explosive growth of homeschooling since 2020, it is reasonable to expect that many officials will want assurances that homeschool students have the necessary opportunities to learn and may suggest requirements for minimum daily instructional hours. However, this sort of regulation is unnecessary and misguided because it fails to account for key differences between homeschool and public school learning environments. Because homeschool students are academically engaged at much higher levels during instruction than traditional students, they can make equal or greater progress in less time. Thus, it makes little sense to insist that homeschool students experience the same number of instructional hours as traditional students.