The COVID-19 pandemic significantly and negatively impacted the education of millions of United States students in 2020–21.[i] In response, many parents decided that they would educate their children at home.[ii] Looking at recent research showing that children who continued in the public schools lost up to five months of learning, these parents may feel affirmed in their decision to homeschool because their children probably would have made less academic progress had they continued in the public schools.[iii]
However, other parents who more recently decided to homeschool their children after watching them fall behind last year may be wondering if they can really do a better job than the public schools at helping their children to catch up. From a quick review of some key research on homeschooling methodology, it is entirely possible that homeschooling would be the better option for achieving this goal.
For many years, dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at school has been a major reason why parents chose to homeschool their children.[iv] During the pandemic of 2020–21, this same reason apparently led millions of US parents to begin homeschooling their children for the first time when the schools closed their doors and educators attempted to teach students from afar, by either assigning work that needed to be completed at home or by providing them with virtual instruction.[v] Many parents obviously concluded that their children would not benefit from these improvised learning arrangements and decided to teach them at home, instead.
While the academic progress made by homeschoolers during the pandemic is not well documented to date, public school students experienced, on average, five months of academic loss in mathematics and four months of loss in reading during the 2020–21 school year.[vi] To make matters worse, the biggest losses were incurred by historically disadvantaged groups that have typically benefited the least when taught in regular classroom settings. In contrast, because homeschools (which can provide powerful levels of instruction)[vii] were in session all year, it seems reasonable that test results will eventually show that they far outperformed their public school counterparts during the pandemic. The following information explains why this is likely.
For many years, researchers have known that specific kinds of student behaviors accelerated learning. For example, they discovered that learning speeds up when students spend more time reading, writing, typing, and talking about their lessons but slows down when they do these things less frequently.[viii] Perhaps nothing makes this principle more evident than the achievement delays that were experienced by public school students during the pandemic.[ix] That is, it seems reasonable that large numbers of public school students fell far behind because school closings prevented them from engaging in these behaviors to the level that they would have experienced had they been able to remain in their school classrooms all year.
A multitude of research studies have demonstrated the importance of these learning behaviors.[x] Furthermore, although more and newer research is needed, at least two homeschool studies have shown that parents were better at getting students to engage in these behaviors during times of instruction than professional teachers.[xi]
For example, after matching students according to race, grade, socio-economic status, gender, IQ, achievement scores, and areas of disability, these studies tracked students as they were taught at home by non-certified parents or at school by professional teachers. By the end of each study, it was determined that the homeschool students had engaged in these important learning behaviors more than twice as often as the public school students and made more gains in achievement as a result.
Focus on Learning
While this may seem extraordinary, it is congruent with other studies that found that higher levels of these learning behaviors typically occur in smaller groups of students as opposed to larger ones.[xii] Because homeschools involve smaller learning groups rather than larger ones like those observed in traditional schools, they would typically result in students experiencing higher levels of these important learning behaviors that, in turn, would lead to more academic achievement. In effect, homeschool students who are taught individually or in small groups would generally be expected to develop at a faster pace than students who were taught in school settings where the learning groups were larger. This is because group size generally dictates the level at which important learning behaviors occur.
In conclusion, parents should recognize that homeschooling makes it possible for them to provide powerful, intensive instruction for students. By getting their children to engage more in reading, writing, typing, and talking about curriculum materials and lessons, parents can accelerate their children’s learning and help each child catch up to their personal expected level of achievement. Additionally, if instruction is provided on a regularly scheduled basis, it is also possible for parents to help students with disabilities make more progress at home than if those students were taught in special education programs.
[i] Dorn, Emma, Bryan Hancock, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Viruleg. 2021. “COVID-19 and Education: The Lingering Effects of Unfinished Learning.” McKinsey & Company, July 27, 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-the-lingering-effects-of-unfinished-learning#.
[ii] United States Census Bureau. 2021. “US Census Household Pulse Survey Data Tables.” USCB. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html Duvall, Steven. 2021. “A Research Note: Number of Adults Who Homeschool Children Growing Rapidly.” Journal of School Choice: International Research & Reform 15 (2): 215–24.
[iii] Dorn, Emma, Bryan Hancock, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Viruleg. “COVID-19 and Education,” 2021.
[iv] National Center for Education Statistics. “Homeschooling in the United States: Results from the 2012 and 2016 Parent and Family Involvement Survey (PFI-NHES:2012 and 2016).” 2019. https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2020001; National Center for Education Statistics. 2019. “Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018.” https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019038.pdf.
[v] Carpenter, Dick and Joshua Dunn. 2021. “We’re All Teachers Now: Remote Learning During COVID-19.” Journal of School Choice 14 (4): 567–94.
[vi] Dorn, Emma, Bryan Hancock, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Viruleg. 2021. “COVID-19 and Education.”
[vii]Duvall, Steven F., Joseph C. Delquadri, and D. Lawrence Ward. 2004. “A Preliminary Investigation of the Effectiveness of Homeschool Instructional Environments for Students With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” School Psychology Review 33 (1): 140–58; Duvall, Steven F., Joseph C. Delquadri, D. Lawrence Ward, and Charles R. Greenwood. 1997. “An Exploratory Study of Homeschool Instructional Environments and Their Effects on the Basic Skills of Students with Learning Disabilities.” Education and Treatment of Children 20: 150–72.
[viii] Greenwood, Charles R., Granger Dinwiddie, Barbara Terry, Linda Wade, Sandra O. Stanley, Susan Thibadeau, Joseph C. Delquadri. 1984. “Teacher- versus Peer-Mediated Instruction: An Eco-Behavioral Analysis of Achievement Outcomes.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 17, 521–38.
[ix] Dorn, Emma, Bryan Hancock, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Viruleg. “COVID-19 and Education,” 2021.
[x] Gettinger, Maribeth and Jill K. Seibert. 2002. “Best Practices in Increasing Academic Learning Time.” In A. Thomas & J. Grimes, eds. 2002. Best Practices in School Psychology IV: 773–87; Greenwood, Charles R. 1991. “Longitudinal Analysis of Time, Engagement, and Achievement in At-Risk versus Non-Risk Students.” Exceptional Children 57 (6): 521–35; Duvall, Steven F., Joseph C. Delquadri, and D. Lawrence Ward. 1984. “Opportunity to Respond and Student Academic Performance.” In Heward, William, Timothy Heron, David Hill, and Jennifer Trap-Porter, eds. Behavior Analysis in Education, 58–88.
[xi] Duvall, Steven F., Joseph C. Delquadri, and D. Lawrence Ward. “A Preliminary Investigation,” 2004; Duvall, Steven F., Joseph C. Delquadri, D. Lawrence Ward, and Charles R. Greenwood. “An Exploratory Study of Homeschool Instructional Environments,” 1997.
[xii] Thurlow, Martha L., James E. Ysseldyke, Joseph W. Wotruba, and Bob Algozzine. 1993. “Instruction in Special Education under Varying Student-Teacher Ratios.” Elementary School Journal 3, 305–20.