Academic Achievement of Home-schooled Students: Literature Review

In cooperation with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, Dr. Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation authored this literature review of "...the academic outcomes of homeschooling students in the United States."



Briscoe: Harvard Law Gets Homeschooling All Wrong

By Nicolas Briscoe

In the May-June issue of the Harvard Magazine, journalist Erin O’Donnell published a piece entitled “The Risks of Homeschooling”, in which she alternated between quoting unsubstantiated assumptions and baseless accusations until, mercifully, the nearly 1000-word hit piece on America’s homeschooling parents concluded. O’Donnell relies exclusively on Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet to lend some credibility to her thesis that homeschooling is an existential threat both to children and American democracy.

O’Donnell begins by asserting that between 3% and 4% of school-age children in the United States (In 2016, school age children made up about 23% of the population, a total of about 73.6 million kids) are being homeschooled, equating to roughly 2-3 million kids. “Yet”, writes Ms. O’Donnell, “Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, sees risks for children—and society—in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Bartholet goes on to say that homeschooling not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from child abuse (an implication that homeschooled children are at higher risk of child abuse presented without evidence or substantiation), but it also may [my emphasis] keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society. One wonders what other factors Professor Bartholet believes may keep children from contributing positively to a democratic society so that we may presumptively ban them as well.

            Bartholet further asserts that a largely unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling “means, effectively, that people can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves.” Bartholet makes this assertion, again, absent any evidence that a significant or even statistically relevant portion of parents who homeschool their children are illiterate. In fact, Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) contends that the home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students, and in particular black homeschool typically score 23 to 42 percentile points above black public school students, regardless of parents’ level of formal education or income.

O’Donnell then adds to Bartholet’s assertion, “In another handful of states, parents are not required to register their children as homeschooled; they can simply keep their kids at home.” O’Donnell implies not only that parents are unaware of what is best for their child, but that they are actively working to undermine their children by effectively imprisoning them at home.

            Bartholet says that “this practice” (presumably referring to homeschooling, though the shoddy writing taught to her, no doubt, by an ostensibly qualified teacher makes it difficult to discern) can isolate children. Again, she makes this assertion absent any evidence to substantiate the likelihood that homeschooling isolates children. In fact, NHERI claims that the home-educated typically perform above average on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development (research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem.) If Ms. Bartholet is suggesting that homeschooling isolates children, she would do well to make the affirmative case and support that suggestion, rather than using empty and vacuous intimations that homeschooling “may” isolate children.

            Bartholet then points to Tara Westover’s memoir Educated as an example of the dangers of homeschooling. Westover is the daughter of Idaho survivalists who never sent their children to school. Though she concedes that Westover learned to read, she stresses that she was forced to work in her father’s scrap business and endured abuse by an older brother. Bartholet does not see the book as an isolated case of a family that slipped through the cracks, but as “what can happen under the system in effect in most of the nation.” Again, Bartholet relies heavily on innuendo and implication, suggesting that this “can” happen anywhere, and thus that we “should” enact a presumptive ban. However, this is Bartholet’s only concrete example in a nearly 1000 word essay of a child harmed by homeschooling. Meanwhile, a 2004 study by the Department of Education synthesized existing literature on sexual misconduct engaged in by educators against students. It found that the most accurate data available at the time came from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and suggested that 9.6% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometimes during their school career. In other words, according to the Department of Education, more than twice the percentage of total homeschoolers in the United States have been targets of sexual misconduct at the hands of regulated school educators. Perhaps if Ms. Bartholet had found time for a quick Google search, and if her true aim was to curb the abuse she imagines is so prevalent in the home, she would have called for a presumptive ban on public schooling rather than homeschooling.

            Professor Bartholet then gets to the heart of her argument against homeschooling. She claims that parents choose homeschooling for a number of reasons, including protecting their child from bullying, or failing schools in their area. She continues, “But [signaling a contradiction where none exists] surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture.” Ms. Bartholet could have saved us all valuable time and effort if she had merely acknowledged from the outset that her opposition to homeschooling was a thinly veiled contempt for conservative Christians.

Bartholet goes on to note that some of these parents are “extreme religious ideologues” who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy. Truthfully, this accusation is simply too ridiculous to engage in an intellectual rebuttal. Similarly unfounded assertions about Prof. Bartholet would be ignorant and uncivil, but would, by her (lack of) reasoning, warrant a presumptive ban on Harvard Law professors.

She concludes by saying that homeschooling will destroy American democracy and that, actually, it is the government who has the right to educate children, and not parents who have the right to dictate how their children are educated. She engages in truly hilarious projection, saying “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” Meanwhile, Ms. Bartholet, a Harvard professor with immediate access to the halls of power, advocates banning the one refuge maintained by powerless parents against a powerful government education system—the right to educate their children as they believe will be in the children’s best interest. In sum, Professor Bartholet engages in the same baseless accusations, elitist ridicule, and pompous lack of intellectual rigor that have become so inextricably associated with our modern elite universities. One hopes that she can learn a lesson from the average child of home education on the values of empiricism and tolerance of a way of life she so clearly does not understand.

Nicolas Briscoe is a student at University of Miami Law School

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Kentucky School Board Member Threatens to Lengthen School Year for School Choice Supporters

by Matthew Nielsen

Chris Brady, an elected member of the Jefferson County School Board in Kentucky, threatened to delay graduation  for the school district if parents and families support school choice.

While he almost certainly doesn’t have the wherewithal to accomplish such a change on his own, the second term board member has a history of using provocative language.

Brady isn’t alone in his reactionary response to school choice proposals. Two top-ranking democratic congresspeople, Rep. Bobby Scott (D – VA) and Senator Patty Murray (D – WA), blasted President Trump’s education proposal last month in the State of the Union address. NEA President Eskelsen Garcia asserted that parents have rejected educational choice programs.

However, the data disagree. In DC alone, nearly half of all school-aged children attend charter schools. Nationwide, about three million students attend charter schools and private schools account for right around 10% of enrollment in grades K-12.

Parents seem to crave choice and they rarely want to give up their options when they’re threatened. It’s no surprise, then, that comments like Mr. Brady’s of Jefferson County Public Schools tend to encourage support for school choice, rather than what he hoped – the opposite.

What happens next for Mr. Brady, and those of his constituents who disregard his directive to eschew upcoming school choice proposals in Kentucky, is unclear. But it does seem apparent that his inappropriately authoritarian tweets aren’t having the desired effect. Families in Kentucky, and across the country, need to know their elected officials are working for them, not against them.


Nebraska Families Deserve School Choice

by Matthew Nielsen

School choice has been a hotly contested issue in Nebraska politics for several years. Special interest groups, politicians, and unions, all have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of education in Nebraska, but no one has more interest than parents and the students themselves—all 367,000 of them.

Nebraska’s lawmakers have managed to stop every effort to begin school choice programs for families. Private schools, with their various programs, curricula, and specializations, are not options for low-income families, regardless of interest or ability.

Education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships, charter schools, and school tuition organizations (STOs), are programs that give families a variety of educational choices for their children—options that many states have implemented with great success. For example, Arizona and Florida are widely considered to be two of the most progressive states when it comes to educational options. They tend to spend less per pupil, but their students outperform many other states that spend much more.

Creating more options for families has been opposed primarily by individuals and groups who argue that Nebraska’s district schools would suffer financially. Senator Linehan (R - Elkhorn) has pointed out that LB1202, rather than removing revenues from the state’s district schools, would simply provide a tax credit for taxpayers who choose to make that election. Further, it’s not clear that the school districts across the state would change course and direct current or future funds into the classroom, despite the union leadership’s continuous calls for more money to pay teachers. The state of Nebraska increased per-pupil spending by 40% between 1992 and 2014, but during that time, teachers only saw 7% of that go to their salaries. The rest went to administrators and other additional staff.

LB1202 hasn’t made any headway since it was first introduced in the Legislature. Nebraskans can expand opportunities for children that can make a meaningful difference in their lives for years to come. Voters should communicate to their legislators that they want true educational freedom for all children.

Too many elected officials argue and vote against measures that would allow low-income families to choose the educational options that best meet their needs. Legislators and other government officials have taken an active role in fighting against choice, even while they take advantage of school choice for their own children. Government officials who prevent school choice for everyone but those who can afford it are doing a disservice to the children of Nebraska.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Omaha World-Herald.


ESA Parents Speak Out on Data Leak by AZ Dept. of Ed.

by Matthew Nielsen

Arizona families have been through some difficult times lately due to some extremely poor judgment and potentially illegal handling of personal student information. Some of these families, unfortunately, have a growing distrust of elected officials who are expected to safeguard such data.

Voters were put on notice, prior to her election, that Kathy Hoffman was not supportive of Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, even though the State Superintendent of Instruction is responsible to administer it. So, while it's disappointing that her administration has repeatedly, and very publicly, mishandled it, not everyone is so surprised anymore.

I contacted several families whose children participate in the ESA program to ask for their experience. What follows is each of their responses, unfiltered and unedited. Their individual experiences should help to inform legislators, voters, and citizens about the program and Superintendent Hoffman's administration of ESAs.


Abby Gibson

Before Ms. Hoffman was in office we had clear cut approvals and denials. We didn’t have absurd wait times for contracts. Last summer I had to spend nearly 4 hours on the phone waiting to get my son’s correct contract because the one sent to me by ADE was incorrect. I know other parents who spent months waiting for their contract. This just didn’t happen before. We have curriculum and therapies that are approved for one parent and then denied for another. Just a lot of inconsistency and fighting to get what is needed and outlined for us in the handbook.

I have two boys in school that qualify for ESA currently because they have IEPs. Without ESA my oldest boy would be pulled out of his classroom for nearly 60% of the day every day. My son already struggles with social interaction, norms, behavior and relationships. How would he ever make friends if he isn’t in the classroom? Through ESA we’ve been able to provide him a quality education at a private school with a small class size and a one on one aide for him. My son has friends that are neurotypical and otherwise in his class. He is thriving! ESA has also provided us ways of paying for therapies (like social groups for him to learn social skills and adaptive skills) and survival swim (which is extremely necessary for my child’s diagnosis). We are a one income family and health insurance doesn’t even pay for these specialized therapies and lessons.  Both my sons have thrived in a small, loving, and tight knit community of learners that otherwise would be impossible for us to provide for them. My children love school and love learning.

I have not had any [contact with ADE or Arizona SOS] as of yet. I avoid SOS.

I found out about the share through the media the night it occurred. ADE didn’t inform me until the following morning.

Kayla Svedin

I am an ESA mother, one of the parent plantiffs on the Goldwater lawsuit on behalf of my younger daughter, and most recently, the creator of Empowered Arizona Families.

I (with the support of many other ESA families) started EmpoweredAF in order to have an entity of ESA Families that can speak for ESA Families.

For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of this failure to protect our private information is that the media was the first place we heard it from, not the department, and immediately story after story seeking comment from ADE, SOS, and Capitol Times, but no one was seeking comment from the families that were affected. It took a couple days before any direct interviews from families took place. While it is great to have entities that are supportive of our program, like Goldwater or AFC, that can speak favorably about us, they can't speak FOR us.

One of the biggest security of private information stories in AZ comes out, in one of the most contentious and political spheres of society, and the victims of the data release have no public voice. So we've decided that from now on, there will be nothing about us, without us.

We can't trust the department to respect or serve us equitably. We can't trust the media to listen to us or treat us fairly. We can't trust those who have our private information to do the ethical thing and destroy the information they never should have had. Families are already being targeted by phone and email, it's outrageous. Our families should not have been subjected to this.

Dr. April Adams

As a mother of a child with special needs it is frustrating to have to fight for my kid's needs.  What is more frustrating is organizations that are against the program that are willing to leave special needs kids as roadkill in pursuit of their agenda.


Christine Emanuel

Our ESA children have targets on their backs by rhetoric professors that sound like they have no clue what is going on. They do a disservice to their followers by misinforming them from every angle that they can. The fact that Superintendent Hoffman walks side by side with this progressive anti school choice group is very telling that she does not have the best interest of every Arizona student when it comes to their education.

Our ESA recipients have been taking a beating by this progressive anti school choice group, that Superintendent Kathy Hoffman walks with. Its infuriating that these "power hungry" rheroroc professors and teachers will go as far as they have when it comes to any child's education. The fact that Spt Hoffman has not spoken out against SOS's involvement and revealing of information from the leaked documents says a lot about what she thinks of the children on the ESA program. It also shows that this group of people are very’s just upsetting knowing that these are the people that are teaching Arizona's kids. Hoffman doesn't care about ALL children...and it shows.


Tammy Clayton

This has not been handled well at all.  Not only should it never have happened, but once it did, all families involved should have been notified by ADE immediately.  Instead, I first learned about the data share from a newspaper article.  We did receive a generic email the following day from ADE explaining that there had been a data share, but it wasn't until the information was all over social media, the newspaper, and the news stations.  By the time we received the email, SOS was already twisting and using the private information to slander ESA parents.

The ESA program has changed our family's life.  In just over one semester of using ESA to utilizing the correct tutors, therapies, and curriculum for their individual needs, my "I can't read" daughter has become an avid reader.  My son who was at a K/1st grade level is beginning 2nd grade work this week, and my son who struggles with trauma induced anxiety among other things has literally gotten his life back and is moving forward once again.


Lisa McCarville

  1. I’m not sure how Kathy Hoffman’s position at the helm of the ADE has effected the running of the ESA since she was elected. I feel her affiliation with anti-ESA group such as Save our Schools has not been a positive thing for ESA families to trust her motives.  She has spoken out against the ESA which is troubling since the program is serving disenfranchised groups like special needs kids and foster children. Groups that traditionally do not test well and are often ignored and dismissed by educators as less than.  I expect an elected official to represent all the students of public education, which ESA children are.  Her alignment with a group that pushes propaganda and hate speech towards special needs children and native Americans children trying to access an education is troubling.

  2. With the ESA my child has been able to access an education that is meaningful and preparing him for a future of hope. The ESA choice allowed me to undo trauma he experienced in our public school district and to create a program that is continually tailored to his needs and interest.  I don’t have to wait for next year to get a new IEP that no one in the classroom followed anyway. I can now buy what he needs and implement it immediately or hire other educators for his needs and hire therapist who are effective and if these choices are not working I can change it immediately.  It’s a win-win. The ESA has given my son a future something public education in our school district would never allow. To our school district my child was a burden to society.  With ESA he is developing job skills and feels he has a bright future ahead of him.

  3. No one has contacted me for SOS or the press. Other than you which I agreed to. I did post some on the SOS Facebook page but they deleted my post.

  4. The breach supposedly happened on 1/27/20 and the ESA’s ADE contacted us the next day. However they did not disclose what groups contacted them for information and told us they don’t have too. It should be public information but they disclosed very little in the email.  They didn’t disclose how they told the requestors how much money was in our accounts.