public school or home school?
March 15, 2006 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Pros and cons of homeschooling. While I never thought I would even consider this, my wife and I are facing the possibility that we may homeschool our daughter.

I'm interested in the following:
- Studies that measure intelligence or knowledge in a comparative way (public school vs. home school)
- Studies that look at social development aspects of home schooling
- Studies that look at levels of success and careers of people who have been homeschooled up until college
- Possible admission to college problems related to homeschooling.
- Issues related to early homeschooled children entering the public school later on (like in middleschool, for example)

Also, if anyone has been homeschooled, I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Did you feel that you were missing out? Why did your parents homeschool, etc.

Here's the situation: We may not fit the normal profile of people who homeschool. My wife and I are politically-progressive, non-religious (atheist), college-educated people who had planned on enrolling my daughter in a private school such as Montessori or Waldorf. However, we cannot afford it. Not even close. The thought of public school, however, keeps me up at night. I remember my public education: it seemed to an institution that was designed to produce obedient children - and if they learned something in the process, great. If they slipped through the cracks - oh well.
Anyway, I understand that this is not representative of everyone's experience. However, we have friends who are public school teachers and they have done nothing to ease our concerns. The overcrowded classes are forcing them to focus on class discipline.
So, the thought of sending my daughter to a public school is not one I like. However, homeschooling is something I have always had problems with. First of all, I always associated it with religious people who want to keep their children from being exposed to the evil secular brainwashing of public schools. I also couldn't imagine a child being kept from other children.
Well, I now know that homeschooled children usually belong to groups that get together frequently. Their parents are often very active in the community and do not have to be isolated. I've also met a few homeschooled children who were homeschooled for reasons other than religion.

Now that I have an exceptionally-bright daughter who is about to enter school, I am seeing that there may be something to homeschooling, but I'm still very skeptical. I can very easily get in the mindset that my brilliant, creative, self-motivated daughter will be held back, and possibly lose her desire to learn and create.

Anyway, any links to studies, or stories from homeschool survivors would be great.
posted by tom_g to Education (48 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Purely anecdote, but I've met a number of home school kids and the ones that come from the religious fundamentalists are much better off than the ones who come from the secular progressive households. Like a lot better, as in I have not met one socially well adjusted non-religious home schooler. I mean they can get by in small talk and conversation but have the mannerisms not befitting their age and a need to show off. I've come to the conclusion that religious kids get way more social experience in various church related activities, which are more inclusive and long-term relationship building than say a summer baseball team. I learned all this from being forced to play with home school kids in the neighborhood.
posted by geoff. at 1:36 PM on March 15, 2006

This may not be what you're looking for, but one of the biggest problems with public schools is lack of parental involvement. The simple fact that you care enough to be involved with your daughter's education and are unwilling to let her fall through the cracks of the public school machine means that she's exponentially better off than other children.
posted by awesomebrad at 1:36 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've watched a few documentaries and explored elsewhere a little, so I don't have any cites for you.

But what I came to was, after meeting home schooled kids, watching the documentaries, etc. was that these were good kids. Some were smarter than others, some had various difficulties, some homeschooling really wasn't up to the quality standards I'd expect, but in all cases the kids seemed like decent human beings. Whether that was just because bad kids were raised by parents who don't care enough that they'd consider homeschooling, I don't know.

And for what it's worth, I had the opportunity to visit a Montessori school last year and got the same impression from the kids there. Again I suspect that because the parents were interested enough in raising decent kids to pay for sending them to a non-public non-free school, the kids were a reflection of that and everyone who interacted with them benefitted because of it. I cannot say the same about all kids who go to public schools.

I don't know what we'll decide with our upcoming child (to be born in June), but both of the above are definitely options.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:41 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was just about to say the same thing as awesomebrad. I don't have any experience with home schooling, but it seems your concerns with public school seem negated by your effort, involvement, and genuine interest in your daughter's education.
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:43 PM on March 15, 2006

As Robot Johnny says, awesomebrad nicely summed up the whole point of my longer post.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:44 PM on March 15, 2006

Public school is largely an institution for socialization. That's not to say that it shouldn't be about learning, nor is it to say that public schools haven't slipped in terms of quality, which they probably have. However, following up on awesomebrad's point, whether or not your child succeeds has much more to do with the interest you show in her as a parent than it does in the school. There was a New Yorker article a few months back (looked but can't find it online) about a gifted child in Nebraska who was homeschooled by his parents because he was "too bright" for regular school, and he ended up killing himself at 15. It was an interesting article and touched on the concept of "Indigo Children" that seems to be the fashionable phrase nowadays. Basically, your daughter may be special, but she's not special enough to keep all to yourself. Also, it depresses me that all of the good parents are looking to take their kids out of public school. I can understand it, but if your daughter is as bright and charming as you say, then her peers would benefit from having her around, as well as all of the other interesting, gifted kids that are being pulled from public schools.
posted by billysumday at 1:46 PM on March 15, 2006

I have one, very limited experience with homeschooling (outside the fundamentalist type) so take this with whatever grain you wish, my next-door-neighbors.

They are socially and politically progressive, non-religious, fairly intelligent, community active folks. They participated in homeschooling communities and worked with various groups often working to develop the curricula for the entire community.

They had two very obviously gifted boys. One went to public school his entire life, graduating from the infamous DC system. The other was homeschooled until his senior year of high school. The older, public school educated boy graduated from West Point and has had a successful career. The younger has flunked out of community college and works part time at a big box store, that is when he can motivate himself to get out of bed.

Again, this is my only experience with home schooling, so take it as you will, but it has been enough for my wife and I to look into charter schooling rather than considering doing it ourselves.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:47 PM on March 15, 2006

it seemed to an institution that was designed to produce obedient children - and if they learned something in the process, great. If they slipped through the cracks - oh well.

First of all, the public schools in your area might be vastly different from what you remember. You should check them out before deciding to home-school.

That said, I think home schooling for a younger child is a great idea, if you can keep up with the work. The small the class, the better the education, so a class of one would be, in theory, optimal.

You'll also be able to go at hear pace, so if she's above average in intelligence, she'll be able to progress much, much faster. In fact, an intensive education at a very early age can actually increase adulthood intelligence.

That said, I was home schooled in 4th grade and I hated it. I felt like I wasn't learning anything at all. My mom (like me) is pretty lazy, though. All I remember was my mom reading the discoverers and the seekers or one of the two too me, and then categorizing words by their grammatical type. It was totally pointless and a waste of time, I felt.

Of course I hated going to school, and complained about it all the time, so that's probably why mom did it, but whatever.

I'd put your daughter into school in middle school though, because that's when kids need to learn socialization.
posted by delmoi at 1:49 PM on March 15, 2006

On the bright kids end of the scale, I went to school with one of the Colfaxes. You can read about their story here.
posted by vacapinta at 1:49 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm no psychologist (but I am gleaning a lot of this from Freakonomics), but keep in mind that homeschooled students do well not because of the actual home-schooling as much as the fact that those parents who are willing to provide their children with the home-schooling experience are those more likely to provide positive environments where their children can flourish. In other words, the fact that you're willing to home-school your child indicates that you've passed on some good genes, probably have a positive home environment, value education, and other factors that benefit your child. So wherever your child goes, she will most likely excel.

As for public schools, it's very hard to generalize. The high school I went to was ranked by Newsweek in the top 20 in the US, and was most likely comparable to any private school education. Some public schools, however, are nightmares. Do some research into the public schools in your area, and see if they're really as bad as you imagine. Most often your area newspaper will some surveys and rank and evaluate local schools. It's worth a look.
posted by apple scruff at 1:50 PM on March 15, 2006

As you can see from all the typos I made in the above post, I was not all that well educated. *sigh* (...the smaller the class... her pace...)
posted by delmoi at 1:53 PM on March 15, 2006

My guess is that all comments you find here are going to be anecdotal and therfore will not give a quantitative analysis that you seem to want to look at.

I had a student a few years back when I taught a course at a local community college. She was only 16 but had been homeschooled. Her mother was in the public school system. This young lady needed recommendations for getting into college, and fortunately I was able to write her in behalf. She was bright, studious, and a delight to have as a student. She got into a prestigious college.

From those people I have discussed home schooling with, and I had a colleague who homeschooled all his kids--5--many do it for "moral" reasons--they feel public school is a cesspool of immorality; others do it for religious reasons; still others, increasingly, because of perceived inadequacies ofthe academics of public schools. The biggest concern many parents feel is the lack of social life their children might not have.
posted by Postroad at 1:55 PM on March 15, 2006

I went to two very good schools, one of which was on the Newsweek Top 100 list, so while I understand the concern over school quality, I don't know it first hand.

That being said, my general experience with the homeschooled is they are a bit off (read "weird"). This includes those with progressive parents.

+ Rick Santorum's kids are homeschooled - do you want to be like Rick Santorum?
posted by matkline at 1:57 PM on March 15, 2006

I was homeschooled in sixth grade by secular, educated parents. My parents wanted to "protect" me from the "dumbing down" influences in public schooling, much as you'd like to protect your child.

I spent the year fighting against being homeschooled, as all my friends were back at school. Eventually I got to go back to regular school�and when I did, I was at a disadvantage in certain respects, 'cause I had no idea what kids my age (12-13 then) were wearing, listening to, and doing. I was teased terribly when I went back until I got a clue what was going on and eventually made some acquaintances.

I know another guy who was homeschooled for pretty much the entirety of his schooling, and his social skills are still ... iffy. Complicating factor: he has Asperger's. But yeah, he's a junior in college now and still dealing with parental control issues.

My advice: do NOT undertake homeschool as a way to protect your child from public school's corrupting or damaging influence. It can be very damaging to your relationship with your children when you attempt to be both their teacher and their parent. Please realize that you cannot and SHOULD NOT attempt to protect your child from public schooling.

Instead, send your child to public school and (1) get heavily involved whenever possible and then some, (2) provide her with educational opportunities and encouragement outside of school, and (3) inculcate in her the knowledge and desire to question what she's being taught in school. Those three things alone will guarantee that your daughter is more enriched and better off than her public school brethren, while allowing her to be in the company of her peers without radical "socializing" efforts. Make sure she's aware that opportunities exist outside the small bubble most of her peers will reside in for the rest of their lives�that, too, is important. Get her tested early and placed in music lessons, sports teams/lessons, and gifted programs. Buy copious magazine subscriptions and take her to the library whenever she wants. Buy her paper and pencils and art supplies. All of these things cost less than private school and require less of a time commitment than homeschooling, and will be beneficial to your daughter.

Also, if you encourage her talents and insights and work with her to build a portfolio of accomplishments, artwork, etc., it may be possible for her to obtain a scholarship to a good private school somewhere down the road. Do not discount this option.

In addition, you should do your research on public school districts�is there somewhere you and your wife can find work that will have excellent public school districts supported by property taxes?

Please look into these options before selling your daughter's future short with homeschool. If you're willing to give up your freedom to such an extent as you would while homeschooling, you should be willing to consider the above options and think outside the box. Your daughter deserves that.
posted by limeonaire at 1:58 PM on March 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

I know we're not answering your request for hard facts on homeschooling, but since everyone else is sharing their experiences, here's mine, for what it's worth:

We have some friends who are homeschooling because they decided to move into the middle of nowhere and can't imagine sending their kids to very small rural schools.

Anyway, the mother/teacher has a B.A. in mathematics and an M.A. in linguistics (with coursework in pedagogy). She was a colleague of mine in graduate school, so I can personally vouch for her being very bright and a capable teacher.

Her eldest child, who is now in middle school, is a phenomenal chess player, and all three of her children are excelling in math and other logic-related areas.

The mother is doing an outstanding job of teaching the things she's good at, but I feel the kids are not getting a balanced education. They are very weak on the more touchy-feely side of things: literature, etc.
posted by tippiedog at 2:07 PM on March 15, 2006

IAAST (who's just finished his parent-teacher conferences for the day... hoping to relax with a little askme...): from my perspective, it seems a rather unfair generalization to suppose that because your public school experience was negative that all public schools are therefore similarly bad places. sure, all teachers, like all other workers, complain from time to time about their workplace conditions. but, just because we whine, doesn't mean we think we're in a truly hopeless situation such as the one you describe from your own background.

I'd like to know: have you visited your neighborhood school? have you met the teachers there, asked questions about their programs, done anything to establish whether or not your local public school is really as bad as you're assuming it is? other than some anecdotal conversations with teachers, which may or may not carry some serious bias and baggage, what research have you done related to what goes on in your local school system? any? why not go meet someone face-to-face who might be able to teach your child... talk to your neighbors. find out who the great teachers are. give them a call; sit down a chat about your daughter; most teachers are pretty willing to do this... we kinda dig parents who care...

additionally, massachusetts has a burgeoning charter school movement, have you looked into some of these as options for your daughter. i haven't done a lot of research into how this system works in your state, but here in AZ it's a fine option for many folks just like you: people who for one reason or another find that the public school isn't an option for their children, but who (i am assuming) are willing to concede that either for reasons of time, finances, and/or a lack of professional training are not qualified to deliver effective instruction to their children themselves.
posted by RockyChrysler at 2:10 PM on March 15, 2006

I homeschooled my three for four years. I took them out when the oldest had completed fourth grade and put them back in school when the oldest was going into ninth grade.

Educationally you can give a superior education in less time by homeschooling simply by virtue of the fact you have one on one instruction. There are a variety of curriculums to choose from which means you can find one to meet the individual bent of your child.

The main benefit as far as I was concerned is being able to nurture a love of learning in my children-something the public schools had just about succeeded in robbing from my oldest. There was plenty of time for reading-my son developed an extreme interest in history, and when I placed him back in school-in honors classes-he complained of how little the other students seemed to know when it came to history.

It is important to seek out social activities for your child if you do this. Depending on where you live you may have access to various homeschooling groups. Not all of them are religion based (admittedly I am a Christian but didn't really make use of the groups-we go to a large church and it met our needs through its activities.)

BTW my son's roommate at the Air Force Academy was fully homeschooled. Colleges are learning to appreciate what homeschooled students have to offer, and I know of many who were homeschooled through high school who are now in college and doing well. Of course many of us simply homeschool till high school, and then reevaluate.
posted by konolia at 2:11 PM on March 15, 2006

I used to coach homeschooled kids for their PE requirements and they were as a whole, problematic. Like limeonaire said they tended to lack social skills and also tended to be either very withdrawn and sullen (hated being homeschooled) or very clingy and demanding (parents thought this was precocious intelligence typically). All of them were great kids but most were noticably abnormal in their interactions with kids and non-parental adults. Several of the older kids talked about wanting to go to high school but being afraid that the other kids would be mean to them as they'd been led to believe that positive social interaction was so difficult as to be near impossible or that other kids were going to be mean and there was nothing you could do about it. I felt bad for those ones.
posted by fshgrl at 2:11 PM on March 15, 2006

Don't fear all public schools. In the area I live in the public schools are fantastic, despite being fairly poorly-funded compared to the rest of our state (disclaimer: I am friends with many school teachers and folks with kids). Go check 'em out, see what they're like.

And I'll second and third all the people that have talked about home-schooled people growing up to be a bit off. Yes, it's anecdotal, but it's been my experience, too.
posted by barnacles at 2:19 PM on March 15, 2006

What do you care more about for your kids - increased knowledge/booksmarts only, or full-on successful careers?

If you've chosen what's behind door #2, or said you want both, then you need to consider that development of your child's emotional intelligence is actually even more important than his/her IQ, etc.

This is not an argument entirely against homeschooling - but it is a huge caveat that if you're going to homeschool your child, you need to put in huuuuge extra effort to make sure that he/she learns to be properly social with age group peers regardless of IQ.

I will agree with you that public school can really suck as far as raw education goes, but the majority of homeschooled people I've met are somewhere between "a bit socially off" and "completely maladjusted". I've certainly met an exception or two to the rule, but don't assume your kid will be unless you've got a solid socialization plan in place.

In the end, social/emotional intelligence is more crucial to long term career and friendship success than booksmarts. If you can find a way to do homeschooling but also make sure the child is able to deal with normal people adeptly, go for it.
posted by twiggy at 2:59 PM on March 15, 2006

I know you're looking for hard facts as opposed to anecdotes and suppositions, but I'd just make this one observation: how many hours a day would you be spending homeschooling your daughter? If you sent her to a public school for the socialization aspects and then dedicated HALF that amount of time focusing on her, her interests, her personal development and growth, and working on additional education skills and experiences, I suspect she'd be much better off than 90% of the kids out there. It's a way to get the best of both worlds.

And teach her to love reading, by reading to her, by letting her read to you, by writing....and she'll be able to do anything.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 3:04 PM on March 15, 2006

Study of homeschoolers' educational performance on standardized tests
List of articles and resources on homeschooling and socialization issues (from a pro-homeschooling site).

I was homeschooled from 5th grade through 10th grade, then graduated from a small (graduating class of 3) private high school at the end of the 11th grade. My younger brother was homeschooled from 1st through 8th or 9th grade, then graduated from a public school. I'll try to summarize my experience and feelings here, but you're welcome to email me if you have more questions (email in profile).

I still don't know all of the factors behind my parents' decision to teach us at home. They are conservative protestant Christians, almost Ward and June Cleaver types, and I think that has a lot to do with it. In addition, we moved to a rural area, away from our nice suburb, with its nice suburban public schools, when I was in 3rd grade. The public school system in our new neighborhood was subpar, so I was sent to a pretty exclusive private school for 4th grade. Unfortunately, that came with its own set of problems, not the least of which was the more than one hour drive, each way.

In addition to those factors, I always scored extremely high on intelligence tests and had problems with boredom at school (both in public school, where I asked my 2nd grade math teacher for algebra homework, and in private school, where I attended gifted classes for 6th graders while I was still in 4th grade).

My mom had a teaching certificate, teaching experience and a university degree in English. My dad had studied engineering and ran his own successful business. They made a pretty capable teaching team.

Socialization was a problem -- whether only perceived or real, I'm not sure, but it seemed all the same, in the end. We were involved in the homeschooling groups, but most of our neighbors were country kids, and most of my homeschooling friends lived too far away to see on a regular basis.

I aced the 12th grade Iowa tests while I was still in 8th grade, and scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT, SAT and ACT during and after high school.

I wanted to attend a good university, but my parents were afraid I'd turn into an atheist / humanist / communist, so they sent me to a small Christian school, instead. I was on a full ride academic scholarship there. I earned a 4.0 my first semester, and a 1.8 my second (I hated the place). Afterwards, I attended classes at 6 different universities and community colleges without ever earning a degree. I racked up more than 100 credit hours with a less-than-stellar GPA.

During the seventh year of my university career, I was offerred an excellent job at an internationally respected firm (this was at the height of the boom). After a short stint there, and an even shorter one at a dot.bomb (during which I joined Metafilter), I jetted off to Europe, where, after 5.5 years, I've finally become an atheist / humanist / communist.

I had a job here (Austria) for the first 3.5 years, but I've been unemployed for quite awhile (partly by choice). I've just recently started looking for a real job again.

Hope that's not too long.
posted by syzygy at 3:07 PM on March 15, 2006

Public school is, with some exceptions, what you and your family choose to make of it for your kid. I went to a poor public school system from fourth through 12th grade, still got into an excellent college, and I'm doing fine in life.

You and your wife sound like the same kind of concerned, intelligent, and involved parents that mine were, and my mom and dad's continuous interest, involvement, and support allowed me to make a helluva lot out of what could have been a lesss-than-stellar high school experience. Whatever you decide, you will probably make the best of, but don't feel obligated to homeschool her until you have a real picture of the schools that she will attend.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:33 PM on March 15, 2006

In terms of studies, all I can provide is that if you do a search for homeschool studies on Google, you find quite a bit. Some will be worthwhile, some won't be.

That being said, here are some of my personal experiences with a life time (more than 20 years) of unschooling (which is the logical progression from homeschooling within progressive educational thought). I was never really homschooled. At times, I asked for structured learning from my parents or other adults, but mostly I was allowed to do whatever I wanted to during the day. My family was and is very progressive/liberal. At the time, both of were trying to decide if they wanted to attend any church before settling at a liberal-humanist UU church. I wasn't unschooled for any religous reason.

I attended preschool for three years and then a year of kindergarten. My parents then asked me if I wanted to go to first grade or if I wanted to stay at home. I picked home. I attended four weeks of fourth grade because I wanted to try it. Then I dropped out and went back to home. At 16 or so, I began taking one or two classes at a local community college until I entered a four year college. I've since received my BA and entered the work force.

My best piece of advice is: let your children decide.

If they want to go to school, let them. If they want to home/un-school, let them. In the end, if you provide a good environment for them they will both want to learn and they will learn.

I had a sister that attended no school until high school. She then graduated from high school in three years. Now she's getting a PhD. My other sister attended two years of public schools before community college and now has a BA. She only had one college that didn't like that she had homeschooled, but she was accepted to several others. I had zero problems. Most colleges, in fact, like homeschooled students.

Reading through the comments again, most of the "problems" with homeschooled children described probably came about because the child did not want to homeschool or wasn't a good fit to the style of homeschooling used. Or there were other problems that would have expressed themselves differently if the child had attended a normal school.

In the end, you have to do that feels right for you and your children, that's all that matters. But, rest assured, that homeschoolers can easily attend college and do anything else normals can. Email me or ask here if you want to know anything else (and sorry for the length of this comment). (And pleas read the bit about allowing the kid to help shape how they learn.)
posted by skynxnex at 3:34 PM on March 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

My ex-mother-in-law, who had a teaching certificate and everything, home-schooled her youngest. Kid turned out okay as far as I know.

Be aware that there are significant problems in any study of this sort. The major one is selection effects -- people who homeschool are not a random sample of the population. A study might find that homeschooled kids do better along lots of metrics, but they're disproportionately the kinds of kids in the kinds of environments that were going to do well anyway. Likewise, people for who it's not working well are likely to send their kids back to public school. Dealing with these problems to really disentangle the effects of home-schooling from the effects of other things is nontrivial.

You write that you wanted to send your kid to private school but can't afford it. Home-schooling is absolutely NOT a budget alternative to private school.

Home-schooling is not inexpensive. The books, for kids and parents both, are not cheap. The materials and learning-games and such are not cheap. The time spent dealing with local school district requirements is (implicitly) not cheap. My ex's mom spent, AFAIK, several thousand dollars a year on stuff. Most obviously, the foregone pay of the parent doing the teaching is a very high cost.

If you're secular, you're also likely to face some nontrivial search costs for materials and books that don't go on about the gluh-hory of Juh-HAY-zus on every other page, slide, flash card, or whatever. My ex's mom was an oddball sort of fundie (ie, a weird local church, not a Southern Baptist), and I was astonished by the variety of places that someone could see fit to put a picture of Jesus or a Bible quote.

The budget alternatives to private school are:
(1) Public school combined with at-home attention.
(2) Having the stay-at-home parent get a part-time job to help defray the costs of private school. This need not be a good job on a career path, just a job that pays money. It need not be a part-time job during the time the kid is at school; a night job while the other parent is home would also work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:35 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have two kids, 5 and 7, so I know what you're going through.

There is a huge range of public schools. Our kids are in a great school, but we moved into our neighborhood specifically because of the good schools. School doesn't have to be a negative experience. To use a possibly poor analogy, image a friend telling you they'd never get married because their parents had a bad marriage. While homeschooling is fine, I think that saying it's home school versus a bad public school is a false dichotomy.

I really don't have any data on home schooling, but let me give you my son's experience. He has bad handwriting - he took a long time just to figure out whether he was left or right handed. This was getting in the way of him being able to complete even basic grade 2 written work, even though he's a bright kid. The school has an occupational therapist who works with him for a few hours a week and it's definitely made a difference. Getting that kind of specialized support outside of the school system would probably be hard. So don't write off schools as being all hard and institutional - the school my kids go to seems different in so many ways from the school I attended as a kid.

Good luck figuring out what to do!
posted by GuyZero at 3:39 PM on March 15, 2006

My sisters both homeschooled their kids and the materials are expensive, as ROU_Xenophobe noted. I'd rather not get into my personal opinion about the results, because my sisters would both torch me for it, and since they're older and meaner, they scare the tar out of me.

Realize you're going to need not only books for the kid, but solution manuals to everything, plus study guides. Good, up-to-date educational materials are expensive. Then, when you get into science, you're going to need lab materials, etc. You cannot duplicate a good science lab. I went to private schools which lacked these things, and it made a nasty dent in my education. Besides, I'm jealous of everyone who ever got to dissect something.

One thing that's nice about public school is that you get lots of different teachers. Some are going to suck monkey balls, some will be good, and some will be great. Every one of them will have a different teaching style. This can greatly benefit your child.

Also, my mother was a teacher, and as a result was constantly trying to teach me things. It drove me insane, and it was harder for me to learn from her than just about anyone else, including my fellow classmates. Our communication styles just didn't jive.
posted by digitalis at 3:55 PM on March 15, 2006

Not the most germane study (as in, I'm not sure if the homestaying group received home schooling or not, and this is only on preschool children).
Cognitive and social-emotional development of children in different preschool environments. - Psychological Reports

62 English-speaking preschool children were divided into three groups, a Montessori group (n = 21), a traditional preschool group (n = 21), and a homestaying group (n = 20) to compare their relative cognitive and social-emotional development. Significant differences in favour of the school groups were found for vocabulary, language comprehension, ability to judge the correctness of figural stimuli, visual memory, and perceptual organization. No differences were found for social-emotional development, and no relationship existed between type of preschool and level of development.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:55 PM on March 15, 2006

As of now, we're leaning toward unschooling. Ingesting and regurgitating data always felt like a waste of time to me. But our little guy's only 13 months old so we have time to decide.

I highly recommend any book by John Holt as you ponder your options.

Several folks above have said kids need socialization--the kind they can only get by being grouped with other kids. I've always disagreed with this, but could never verbalize the "why" until I read Hold On To Your Kids. This book made more of an impact on me as both a human being and parent than any book I've ever read. The author is not necessarily a proponent of homeschooling, but documents the ways we fail our children by allowing them to be "raised" by their peers.

I was homeschooled after 7th grade. I tested out of 8th grade so did 9th-12th at home. Scored 98th percentile on colllege entrance tests, but never enjoyed college so quit after 5 years and 100 credit hours to go to nursing school since at the time I was working part-time as an orderly and thought those trauma nurses had a fun job. Did that for 5 years, during which coworkers joked that I worked as a nurse only to pay for my computer addiction. I was also the guy that all the ICU nurses called for tech support in the days of the 386/486.

My reputation led to me being recruited to work as a clinician in the hospital's IT department installing software for doctors and nurses, and that's what I still do 10 years later, but as a successful independent contractor.

I don't think any of my friends would say that I'm socially challenged or otherwise damaged by my homeschooling experience. I think it benefitted me in many ways. For example, it gave me more time to read the books I wanted to read--my mom used to joke that she'd only see my eyes a couple times a day since I kept my face buried in a book so much.
posted by Bradley at 3:58 PM on March 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

I think one question to ask is how well your child would actually socialize in a factory-style learning environment designed for average kids who are all the same age. True, homeschooling might take your child away from many socialization experiences, but you might have found that your bright child stuck out like a sore thumb and had trouble relating to peers. She might be better off learning at home and taking dance, music, sports, art, cooking and other classes that aren't natural successes for her. That way, she can excel in learning and still have opportunities to socialize with other kids without looking like a brainiac. You could give her opportunities to socialize with other bright kids, too. Some school districts offer umbrella programs for home learners, where kids come into the school for gym, art, music and other programs.

I think, though, that, if you home school, you would want to maximize social interaction opportunities with kids from a range of backgrounds. One day, your daughter will need a job, have employees, go to school, need to bug City Hall about something, work with a real estate agent, etc. It's better if she's at ease with all the people she could meet in life. But I don't know that she needs to do all that at age 5.
posted by acoutu at 4:29 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about the American school system, but had you been in Malaysia, I would heartily suggest homeschooling (or unschooling, as some other posters have mentioned) because the school systems here have their priorities all screwed up. Here, the students' personalities and abilities are not taken into consideration: the only thing schools care about is how many As you can score. We just had the O-Levels results announced and already there are kids jumping off school buildings because they missed out on one or two subjects. (No exaggeration.)

Like acoutu said, being in a public school may not guarantee "socialization". I was in a public school my whole life and I barely had any friends in school that I could relate to. I got along far better with seniors and juniors than my own peers, and my best friends were all outside school. School for me was an absolute waste of time, since I did most of my learning outside it (reading, Internet, personal experiences): I was the sort of person who would have thrived on unschooling.

Pay attention to your child and their learning style. Do they like to experience things? Would they rather have things spoonfed to them? What do they like to learn? What are they interested in? They're the ones going through the educational experience, after all.

Good luck!

Also, I know of a student at MIT who is collecting research for this very subject. If it's OK, I can pass your contact details to her (or vice versa) and you can share notes.
posted by divabat at 4:48 PM on March 15, 2006

Disclaimer: IAAHP (I am a homeschooling parent)

Or more accurately - my wife is the homeschooling parent. One of us has to work for pay.

One of the posters above said it best - go with the flow of what works for your daughter. However, I do think you are worrying about the wrong things going into this. High test scores and salaries are not reasons to homeschool (or not homeschool) your children. The question to answer is what will make your family happier? What will make your kids happy?

We went into the homeschool thing due to bright kids that would have been bored sick in kindergarten. Now as they approach teenagerhood - they still score 99 percentile on the fill-in-the-bubble tests every year, but I couldn't care less. Even if they were completely average academically, I couldn't see us putting them in school, or them wanting to go. The biggest thing they (and we as parents) get from homeschooling is freedom.

-Freedom to learn what they want, when they want, and their own pace.
- Freedom to go to a museum, library, the park, anytime the desire hits.
- Freedom to get involved in a book and read it in one sitting, on a Wednesday.
- Freedom to blow off opening day in April and go to a baseball game.
- Freedom to go to Disney World in Nov, when the lines are short.
Freedom to to the beach after Labor Day - when condo rates are deeply discounted.

And most importantly IMO, the freedom and time to follow their passions. Both of my kids have very deep knowledge and passion about subjects they care about. They simply would not have the time to care if they had to spend 7 hours a day at school, and another 3 on homework. And it's not stuff they would get to spend any time on in school anyway.

Really, the only stuff everybody really needs to know is basic math, how to read, and how to write. Everything after that is an elective.

And remember, kids are bouncy. You aren't doing any permanent damage. Even if the homeschool thing doesn't work out for some reason, the kids (and the tax dollars they represent) will be welcomed back into the school system.
posted by COD at 4:52 PM on March 15, 2006 [4 favorites]

I was unschooled for my whole childhood, and I'd second what skynxnex said about it, for the most part. My parents were very liberal/progressive types, neither is religious(and my dad is a staunch atheist), and they were very inspired by the above-mentioned John Holt. As with skynxnex's parents, they asked me what I wanted to do when I reached the age when I would start first grade, and I opted to stay at home.

I loved being able to do that. I remember my childhood as being a very happy one. I was a voracious reader, loved learning, and I think I came out pretty well, academically. Socially, though- in some ways I think I was a little TOO well suited for the unschooling thing. I was always introverted and not particularly social, as far back as I can remember, and my parents didn't push me much when it came to social activities. It wasn't like I was completely isolated, by any means- I did have friends my age growing up, but they were homeschooled also for the most part, and, to be honest, I would say that my lack of socialization then has indeed led to some problems in later life. I often worry that I seem weird or "off" somehow, as others in this thread have described homeschooled kids as being...

That said, I think that if I had gone to public school, I probably would have been throughly miserable and come out of it with a lot more issues than I have now. I don't think public schools, as a general rule, tend to be a pleasant or beneficial environment for kids like I was, for either learning or socialization. Sometimes I think I would have turned out the best if I had gone to a Montessori school or something along those lines, but overall, I'm glad I had the education and upbringing I did, with a few qualifications.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:57 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

A couple of more things...

There are a lot more progressive, left-leaning homeschoolers out there than you might realize. Conservative Christian HS'ers might dominate the news, but homeschoolers cover a very wide range of beliefs and lifestyles. It was hippie unschoolers that really started the modern homeschool movement in the 70s.

It doesn't have to be expensive. Like everything else in life, if you want a pretty step 1 through 500 curriculum that lays out every day for you - expect to pay for it. However, the library and the Internet can reduce the cost of obtaining ideas significantly, and used formal curriculum material is always available on ebay. I figure the money I save by having kids that don't feel the peer pressure to buy $100 shoes every 3 months pretty much pays for home education.
posted by COD at 5:02 PM on March 15, 2006

speaking to the question of transitioning from homeschooling to public schooling - I was homeschooled until I was 13. At that point I was very interested in math and science and my parents were at a point where they couldn't give me much direction (their backgrounds are firmly in the humanities). My parents and I discussed the options - get a tutor? enroll in an "alternative" (read: pricey) school? or go to public school?

My parents were great about engaging me in that decision, looking back on it. Although they were homeschooling me for very strong liberal/anti-establishment reasons, they didn't badmouth the public school system to the point where I WANTED to go just so I could rebel (I was just getting to that age...). I decided to go to school and it was an amazingly smooth transition.

I was given the choice of entering in the 8th grade (a small local middle school, grades 5-8) or in the 9th grade (a larger regional high school, grades 9-12). I chose the 9th for academic reasons as I had already studied the 8th grade curriculum, but it was a good move socially as well. Because it was a regional school, all the 9th graders were new and unfamiliar. Many kids in my grade didn't know I was homeschooled until years later, when it happened to come up. They just assumed I had come from one of the other middle schools. So, there was no "stigma" that might have been a problem if I had entered the high school, where social networks had cemented with everyone knowing eachother since 5th grade.

One other factor that made the transition go smoothly was that my parents were also conscious of the lack of socializing that is an inevitable issue with homeschooling. They very consciously moved to a neighborhood with lots of kids my age when I was about 7, so I spent the years from 7-13 having those kids as my most familiar group. I also did summer camp, sunday school, girl scouts, dance classes, lots of stuff to get me around other kids. While I won't say I'm the most affable extrovert ever, I did manage to make a circle of friends that stayed with me through the transition to public school (and I've still kept in touch with some far beyond).

I also had a younger brother, so I got to learn some basics about social interaction from him - how to share, how to fight, how to tease, how to tattle - all the good stuff! I think that growing up with a sibling made a huge difference in my ability to navigate various situations when I did get to school. Anyway, best of luck with whatever you end up doing!
posted by pants at 5:27 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Argh. I tried to post this earlier, but Metafilter kept timing out:

My cousin — who, admittedly, is very religious — is wrestling with the decision whether or not to home-school her children. I get the impression that she is not motivated by a desire to protect her children from outside influence (though this may be true, at least in part), but because her daughter has learning disabilities and requires one-on-one attention that she feels is lacking in a public school setting. It's a tough decision for her. She's taught school before, and so isn't coming at this as a complete novice; there are definite advantages to public school for both the child and the parent. My cousin discusses this decision at length in her weblog. (She discusses other things at length, too, so you'll have to pick through to find the entries on home-schooling. If only she used categories...) Good luck!
posted by jdroth at 5:56 PM on March 15, 2006

To speak on one aspect of your question, home schooled high-schoolers have no problem whatever getting into colleges. (Pre-HS homeschooling is pretty much irrelevant to admission.)

Colleges are happy to disregard the lack of transcript or the inherently dubious kinds of transcripts that home-school support companies produce, and focus on the SAT scores, essays, and record of achievement in extracurriculars.

One note: I'm not sure if I parse your affordability point -- the highest-end Montesorri tuition and aftercare bill ($20,000 or so) is going to be lower than all but the lowest in-pocket take home (after all work-driven ancillary expenses) for a college-educated person's job -- the job that would have to be given up to home school.

The only people homeschoolers I know who realize any financial benefit versus private school are those with several kids.

You also might want to consider parochial schools, which have a tuition and aftercare price point around $5,000 a year. If you're in a big city, chances are your local parochial schools are somewhere between mostly and entirely secularly and while they might not be as theoretically lefty as the public schools, they have more actual time to devote to progressive ideas, given that they don't have to spend us much time with the damaged and the distracting.
posted by MattD at 5:57 PM on March 15, 2006

tom_g: There's a lot of good commentary in here. Three things I wanted to add:

1. In terms of socialization, don't confuse correlation with causation. I've heard a lot of people complain about how homeschooling and poor socialization go hand-in-hand. But think about it: How many odd, off, weird kids did you have in your public school growing up? I had plenty. My theory is that socially maladjusted, homeschooled kids are usually raised by odd, socially maladjusted parents, and that the children would be social misfits in whatever setting they'd be in. I think they stand out more in our minds because they fit in with the preconceived idea most of us have about what homeschoolers would be like. But is it that they're odd because they homeschool? Or odd because they're odd, and, by the way, they happen to homeschool?

2. I work for, essentially, a homeschooling press. We don't typically categorize it as that, but our books are purchased, almost exclusively, by parents who want to give their kids a better education (either in a homeschool setting or as a supplement to their public/private school). We are a non-sectarian publishing house, and I know we aren't the only ones. I don't want to get schleppy, so e-mail me if you have any questions I might be able to help with (resources, websites, message boards, etc. that might answer specific questions about your daughter and her education).

3. You might see if there are any homeschooling co-ops near you. I know a headmaster at a school that meets, as a school, for two days a week, and then the families in the school homeschool for three days a week. There are a lot of options and alternatives, depending on where you live.
posted by Alt F4 at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2006

I am also a homeschooling parent, of 2 boys, 11 and 6 years old. They have never been to school, though the eldest was in daycare part-time for a few years. We definitely fall on the progressive side of the spectrum, though we are religious. Our faith, however, has nothing to do with our educational choices. We first decided to homeschool because our son was a bit precocious and we were afraid he'd be bored and antsy in school. I figured I'd spend hlaf my day up at the school anyway, being a "room mother" and volunteering at the library and whatnot, so why not just keep him home. There was an active secular homeschooling group in our town with several activities a week, so we just jumped in.
This is our sixth year, and it's the first time we've used a curriculum, which we follow pretty loosely. For the most part we do unit studies and I fill in the blanks with reinforcement for things they may be weak in. I find one of the best things about homeschooling is that I can wait until they need or want to know something to teach it to them, and then I can do it all at once and much faster.
My stepsons are in public school in a supposedly good district, and it seems like they waste a lot of time there. They often learn things out of sequence or without any context and consequently forget it as soon as they have the test. We are more able to tie the strands together at home.
As for socialization, I remember being miserable at school, mostly because of other children! My kids do classes and clubs and sports and other things with kids both homeschooled and not. They also participate in the community with me, and are both very comfortable with adults, especially senior citizens.
All in all, it's an individual choice to make, but one that has served our family well. My younger son is now school aged, and it hasn't even crossed our minds to send him to school.
My email is my profile if you want to chat more.
posted by Biblio at 6:10 PM on March 15, 2006

You asked for research comparing homeschooled students to others. I'm not familiar with that literature, but this article appears to provide some of the relevant information you seek. You may be able to find a copy at a local university library. The abstract appears to indicate that homeschooling is generally a good thing.
posted by i love cheese at 7:15 PM on March 15, 2006

As a follow-up, this is something that a good reference librarian can help you out with. They are friendly and helpful, and can find lots of sources for you. If you live near a college or university, swing on by the library and they should be able to get you what you're looking for.
posted by i love cheese at 7:20 PM on March 15, 2006

For the studies you request, you can find some information on ERIC; searching from home will get you some articles available in full text, from your local library more, and from an academic library, even more. Even the basic search for the Thesaurus descriptor "Home Schooling" turns up 500 results; you can then narrow it down to the grade levels/states/subjects you're most interested in.
posted by nonane at 8:05 PM on March 15, 2006

Reading through the comments again, most of the "problems" with homeschooled children described probably came about because the child did not want to homeschool or wasn't a good fit to the style of homeschooling used.

This is really true. I know some people who were homeschooled most of the time due to logistics (australian outback kind of thing) and they are completely "normal" socially. Their parents didn't approach it with the attitude of - my kid is too smart for school or - must protect child from bad influences and it really shows.
posted by fshgrl at 9:41 PM on March 15, 2006

just anecdotal and my personal opinion:

the students at my college who were exclusively homeschooled were amongst those who consistently won departmental awards, while serving on committees, or performing in orchestra. they were also some of the most socially awkward people, outside of class/meetings. on the other hand, the ones who had cycled in and out of the public schools (even briefly), based on their own input in their family's choices seemed to be much more well balanced and interesting people.

socialization is a vague term. what I think needs to be said is this... in my opinion, one of the most important things that healthy and good experience in 1st-3rd grades can teach someone is that a) not everyone in the world loves them and cares about them, b) some people do and always will, c) it's okay!

a good family is essential for part b. kids need to know that their parents are providing a safe environment, love them, think of them, care for them, and support them. but I think it is just as important for children to learn to contrast a good circle of family and family friends, with the less "safe" environment of school, where they will meet people from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences.

socialization isn't just learning to be popular or obey authorities, it's also about having a good internal valuation of yourself that can survive despite external criticism or neglect, and being able to recognize and respond to the needs and interests of others, even when they are very different from your own. I think this is learned through the "not everyone loves you" part of school. children in public schools are constantly confronted with diversity. teachers, other children, other families, all bring different cultural, socioeconomic, physical, and emotional backgrounds into the realm of a child's experiences. public school allows these challenges to happen in a structured, and somewhat limited environment and fashion.

my experience with exclusively home-schooled kids has been that they have very little interest in people who they don't already care about, outside of situations involving specific things/fields they pursue. the ones from religious backgrounds often have very two-dimensional views of people from other religious or cultural traditions.

(side-note: I've found that people who exclusively attended Jewish day school, followed by elite colleges, have a bit of a harder time dealing with people of other races, or poor people, than do other Jewish people from the same denomination, region, and socioeconomic background, who attended public schools. on the other hand, their hebrew skills are vastly superior, and they've usually studied some talmud as well, giving them a huge advantage if they were ever to consider a career relating at all to Jewish history, culture, or religion. I think this is different from the experience at other parochial schools, because they tend to draw students from a broader array of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.)

in conclusion, I think some things can only really be learned through experience, and how to be a part of a complicated, multicultural, multiethnic, socioeconomically diverse society is one of them. your family and friends and religious community can teach you a lot of amazing things, but they won't confront you and challenge you with social differences every day.

just something to consider.
posted by jann at 12:37 AM on March 16, 2006

Google provides this list of studies (canadian) and links to researchers who specialise in this area. This lady seems to have a mailing list set up where you can probably find every statistic your heart desires in its archives.

If you do homeschool, your local Natural History Museum likely has a variety of members' classes available that range from early childhood through highschool and adult classes on a variety of areas from astronomy to ornithology. Get your child involved at a young age and be a volunteer at the museum yourself, and you will likely befriend a scientist or two who will help your child develop her own interests.

Get involved in volunteer work in general and encourage your child to accompany you. When she is old enough, she can volunteer as well.

Local ecological and preservation projects, historical archives, community theatre groups, computer clubs, karate dojos, and everything else love to have a homeschooled kid who will make their activity a significant part of their education and take a more involved approach to it.

Enlisting her in the Girl Scouts is a great way to add socialisation and a heck of a lot of fun.

And, finally, please consider supporting your local public schools, politically, through volunteer work, and by supporting your teaching friends. Not everyone is fortunate to have the choice to homeschool.

Good luck!
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:22 AM on March 16, 2006

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks to everyone for responding. Ask MeFi users never fail. I'll have to go through and digest these responses.

Thanks again!
posted by tom_g at 3:38 AM on March 16, 2006

My husband and I both graduated from SMU in Dallas, with graduate degrees in our field. Once I brought it up, my husband took to the idea of homeschooling right away, because he was seeing the product of public school in the classes he was teaching at a nearby university. Our son is now 16 years old and I couldn't be happier with the way he's turned out so far. My contact info is in my profile, if you'd like to discuss this idea further, with someone who has lots of real world experience. I can answer your questions about academics as well as socialization. Also, take a look at NHEN for all the various was there are to homeschool. It doesn't have to be sitting at the kitchen table everyday doing lessons. In fact, it probably shouldn't be.
posted by jvilter at 10:21 AM on March 16, 2006

Another alternative - There are public/state alternative schools in some countries and areas, though mostly just urban. In Toronto, there are over 10 different alternative high schools and several alternative primary/middle, all of which offer small scale personalised instruction. It's basically like a good private school, only for free (and tending towards the relaxed, exploratory side of educational theory, though there is at least one uniformed, strict alternative high school in Toronto).
posted by jb at 9:51 AM on March 17, 2006

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