An Introductory Guide for Parents
ERIC EC Digest #E543
Author: Jacque Ensign
During the last 20 years, increasing numbers of families
in the United States have chosen to educate their children
at home or outside the conventional school environment. Current
estimates range from 500,000 to 1.2 million students (Lines,
1991, 1995; Ray, 1996). Of that number, a significant percentage
of families have chosen homeschooling as the educational option
for their gifted children.
Challenges and Opportunities
When families consider homeschooling, there are many issues
Time commitment. Homeschooling requires
an enormous time commitment by at least one parent. However,
many parents of highly gifted children are already actively
committed to their children's education. Parents find themselves
trying to squeeze in extra hours for music, dance, and art.
Frequently, their evenings are spent enriching the classroom
curriculum so their children will continue to be academically
challenged. These parents claim that homeschooling is a way
to tailor their children's education to specific needs and
interests at the appropriate academic challenge level, and
to create an integrated educational environment that includes
a wide range of activities.
Talk together as a family to decide if this is the appropriate
choice for you. As with any educational option, homeschooling
works better for some students and parents than for others.
Some find the demands and intensity of homeschooling to be
too stressful; others love the freedom and challenge.
Resources and financial considerations.
Homeschooling parents use many resources and materials. These
can become expensive, but there are ways to defray some of
the costs. Homeschooling parents can borrow from each other,
share resources, and make use of common items in the house
and natural environments for curriculum material. The public
library is a rich resource for books and videos. Many libraries
offer interlibrary loans and vacation-loan extensions to the
public. The Internet offers a wealth of highly sophisticated
information, especially in the academic subject areas. A computer
in the house is an advantage, but there are other ways to
gain access to the Internet; for example, some public libraries
and schools offer access.
When considering homeschooling, explore resources and materials
in advance. At all levels, verify the type of support schools
will provide. If they have a gifted program, they may provide
curriculum suggestions and guidelines. Contact others who
are homeschooling through your state's homeschooling network.
Academic considerations. Homeschooling
can offer increased flexibility and academic challenge. Flexibility
is particularly important since many gifted students are uneven
in their abilities. For example, a child may be several years
ahead in math, but struggling with reading or writing.
Some children excel in all areas and require academic challenges
to remain motivated in school. Many of these students sit
idly, waiting for the class to catch up (U.S. Department of
Education, 1994b). A rigorous, academically challenging curriculum
offers the opportunity to insert depth and breadth. For example,
the use of primary or original sources and advanced reading
material may lead the gifted learner into critical thinking
about an academic subject area or an interdisciplinary approach
to subject matter. Projects, hands-on learning, and problem-based
learning may provide interesting approaches to academic content.
Gifted homeschoolers enjoy opportunities to develop in multifaceted
ways and pursue interests without time and curriculum constraints.
Individual learning, tutorials, and small group classes are
some of the options.
Social considerations. Many people have
expressed concern about the social life and potential isolation
of homeschooled children. Studies of social adjustment and
self-esteem indicate that home-educated students are likely
to be socially and psychologically healthy (Montgomery, 1989;
Shyers, 1992; Taylor, 1986). Homeschooled students tend to
have a broader age-range of friends than their schooled peers,
which may encourage maturity and leadership skills (Montgomery,
1989). Homeschoolers are not necessarily isolated from others
of their age; they meet and socialize with peers in their
neighborhood and at community classes and activities.
With concerted effort by families, most homeschoolers can
find avenues for social and intellectual interaction. When
a student is interested in a topic, efforts can be made to
ensure that the student talks with people of various backgrounds
and viewpoints. A mentor working individually with the student
may add stimulation and challenge. Professional societies
and community organizations are a good place to start looking
for people interested in sciences such as astronomy, visual
and performing arts, and music. Libraries, museums, parks
departments, historical sites, scout and sport programs, local
businesses, religious groups, and theater groups expand homeschooling
programs. Some homeschool groups have formed their own sports
teams, and participate in community leagues. Homeschoolers
benefit from volunteering in agencies such as hospitals, nature
centers, museums, parks, libraries, and businesses.
Legal considerations. Homeschooling is
legal in all 50 states, Canada, and many other countries.
Some states require that parents notify the local school district
of their intent to homeschool; others require parents to register
with the state department of education. Some permit a homeschool
to register as a private school. Many states require yearly
proof of student progress. Some states have additional requirements,
such as the submission of a curriculum plan or education requirements
for parents. Except for yearly standardized testing as an
assessment of student achievement, services for homeschoolers
have not been routinely available from the states. A few states
permit homeschooled students to participate in public school
classes or activities. Many state education agencies have
a homeschooling liaison to help families understand state
requirements. Federally mandated special education services
may be available to homeschooled students through the public
Since states vary in their specific requirements, obtain
a copy of your state's homeschool law from your state department
of education or your state legislator's office. Local homeschool
support groups are good sources of information on complying
with the local laws and regulations.
Ways to Homeschool
There are many methods of homeschooling; no single method
is best. Success often comes through experience, confidence,
and willingness to experiment. Many parents prefer the structure
and security of a correspondence or purchased curriculum in
the first year, switching to their own tailored program once
they have developed experience and feel more confident. Some
parents prefer to use textbooks and commercial curricula;
others prefer to use a variety of resources. Some parents
opt to teach all subject areas to their children; others seek
out classes or tutorials for some or all of the subjects,
especially for homeschooled high school students. Approaches
may vary with individual children and change over time as
demands and experiences alter their lives. Reading accounts
of other homeschool experiences and getting to know other
homeschoolers offers perspective, ideas, and appreciation
for the many ways of homeschooling.
What Resources are Available to Develop or
Assess the Quality of a Homeschool Curriculum?
Testing and evaluations of subject area competencies can
be useful in planning an educational program and assessing
its outcomes. A combination of assessments normally provides
the most complete picture of a child's progress. Off-grade
standardized testing and portfolio evaluations may also be
appropriate. Standardized grade-level achievement tests may
be available from your local school district or state department
of education. These tests can be used to ensure that students
are keeping up with local school district grade level competencies.
Homeschooling families should plan for objective assessment
as part of the curriculum. Not only does objective assessment
document achievement, but the results should inform program
planning. To investigate the topic of assessment, contact
the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation (1-800-GO4-ERIC).
Model content and performance standards are available in
many of the subject areas. Content standards define what students
should know and be able to do. They describe the knowledge,
skills, and understanding that students should have in order
to attain high levels of competency in challenging subject
matter (U.S. Department of Education, 1994a). Performance
standards identify the levels of achievement in the subject
matter set out in the content standards and state how well
students demonstrate their competency in a subject (U.S. Department
of Education, 1994a). By following the basic academic standards
set by the states or the national subject area standards,
parents have a rich framework from which to develop challenging
curriculum. Homeschooling resources and information on obtaining
standards is provided in ERICEC Minibibliography EB18, which
is part 2 of this digest.
International, national, and regional competitions may be
valuable assessments of and incentives for achievement. Further,
competitions may provide feedback as to how the student compares
with others who are interested in the same area. Regional
and national competitions can be found in most fields, including
math, science, computer programming, writing, engineering,
geography, environmental, art, music, and dance. Specific
examples are included in Homeschooling Resources (EB18). A
selected list of competitions and activities can be obtained
for a fee from the National Association of Secondary School
How Well Do Homeschoolers Perform?
One way to compare homeschooled students with peers who attend
public schools is to use standardized achievement test scores.
A study of homeschooled student scores on standardized achievement
tests shows higher scores than the general population (National
Home Education Research Institute, 1997). Galloway (1995)
investigated homeschooled graduates' potential for success
in college by comparing their performance with students from
conventional schools and found insignificant differences,
except in the ACT English subtest scores. Homeschooled students
earned higher scores in that subtest.
What About College?
The later high school years should be structured with college
applications in mind. These years may be managed in a variety
of ways. Some students remain in homeschooling and receive
no diploma. Others choose to reenter public school during
high school to align themselves with peers and obtain a standard
diploma. Others select a combination that will take advantage
of Advanced Placement courses or other academic and extracurricular
Limited research suggests that the home educated do well
in college (Sutton & de Oliveira, 1995; Galloway, &
Sutton, 1995). Furthermore, homeschoolers may find the unique
experiences and abilities gained through homeschooling make
them attractive to competitive colleges. Check with the colleges
of interest to determine if they have specific application
requirements for homeschoolers. When standard high school
student transcripts are not available, colleges may need other
information to make an informed decision. SAT scores may be
given more weight, since they are a way of comparing a homeschooler
to the general college-bound population. Transcripts from
community college courses taken during high school years can
be useful. Letters of recommendation from persons who have
worked with the homeschooler in tutorials, apprenticeships,
community service, and social activities may prove very valuable.
A detailed description of unique homeschool courses, in-depth
independent projects, competitions, publications, and community
service activities will help a college understand the quality
of an applicant's homeschool education and recognize the student
as a competitive applicant. An interview, when offered by
a college or university, is particularly important for homeschool
Where Can Families Get Information?
This digest has an accompanying bibliography (EB18) that
provides a wide variety of resources. The following resources
and others cited in their bibliographies are another place
to start. There are many parent discussion groups on the Internet
that discuss homeschooling issues. Groups such as TAGFAM and
TAG-L are listed on the ERIC EC website http://www.cec.sped.org/gifted/gt-menu.htm.
Or, seek out a local homeschool support group. You can find
one by checking with state organizations listed in some of
the magazines and through some of the Internet sites listed
in EB 18. Other sources include libraries; state and local
boards of education, especially state or local gifted advocacy
groups; La Leche League; and religious organizations. Be sure
to look for groups that match the underlying philosophy that
attracted you to homeschooling.
Galloway, R. A., & Sutton, J. P. (1995). Home schooled
and conventionally schooled high school graduates: A comparison
of aptitude for and achievement in college English. Home School
Researcher, 11(1), 1-9.
Galloway, R. A. (1995). Home schooled adults: Are they ready
for college? ED384297.
Lines, P. M. (Oct. 1991). Estimating the home schooled population.
Working Paper. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education,Office
of Research and Improvement. ED 337903.
Lines, P. M. (1995). Homeschooling. ERIC EA Digest No. 95,
Montgomery, L. R. (1989). The effect of home schooling on
the leadership skills of home schooled students. Home School
Researcher, 5(1), 1-10.
National Home Education Research Institute, (1997). Strengths
of their own: Home schoolers across America: Academic achievement,
family characteristics, and longitudinal traits. Salem, OR:
National Home Education Research Institute.
Ray, B. D. (1996). Home education research fact sheet IIb.
Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute.
Shyers, L. E. (1992). A comparison of social adjustment between
home and traditionally schooled students. Home School Researcher,
Sutton, J. P., & de Oliveira, P. (1995). Differences
in critical thinking skills among students educated in public
schools, Christian schools, and home schools. ED390147.
Taylor, J. W. (June, 1986). Self-concept in home-schooling
children. Home School Researcher, 2(2), 1-3.
U.S. Department of Education (1994a). High standards for
all students. http://www.ed.gov/pubs/studstnd.html
U.S. Department of Education (1994b). Prisoners of time.
Note. The Home School Researcher is published by the National
Home Education Research Institute, PO Box 13939, Salem OR
97309. 513-772-9580. URL: http://www.nheri.org.
Dr. Jacque Ensign is a professor of education at Southern
Connecticut State University and a consultant for homeschoolers
in Virginia. She homeschooled her own three gifted children
for 11 years.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced
and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This
publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under
contract no. RR93002005. The opinions expressed in this report
do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI
or the Department of Education.
copyright © 1996-1998
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