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Home Education:

A successful educational experiment?

By Simone de Hoogh: Published in the Mensa Research Journal, Vol. 38, no. 3, Fall 2007, p. 35–39.
In recent years home-education – a phenomenon that is particularly well known in Anglo-Saxon countries – has been on the rise. In the U.S. it has been estimated that between 1.1 million 1 and 2.1 million (Ray, 2004b, p. 7) children were educated at home in the 2002-2003 school-year. Thus the number of home-educating families in the U.S. has increased by 500% since 1990-1991, at a rate of 7 to 14% per year (Ray, 2004b, p. 8), and in Great Britain at least 100.000 children were educated at home in 2004-5. 2 Home-education has also been increasing in many European countries in the last few years. In Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, 180 children were educated at home in 2001; three years later this number had doubled. In Norway, 50 children were home-schooled in 1996; in 2001 there were 500. In France about 10.000 children were home-educated (Sperling, 2005). Although home-education is officially forbidden in the Netherlands, 250 children were educated at home in 2001; in 2005, J. Winkels, director of LOBO, (a national Dutch organisation for extraordinary education), claimed that about 3.000 children fall outside the regular school system in the Netherlands.3

In Europe, home-education brings up many questions because it is relatively unknown.
What are actually the results of home-education? This article will seek to provide some answers to this question.


Parents choose home-education for many different reasons ( Some parents are dissatisfied with the available school education or hold alternative life philosophies than those prevalent in schools. Others believe that the compulsive and classical character of school can stand in the way of child development, or that some children develop behavioral and perceptional problems because they go to school (Sperling, 2005). Home-education, on the other hand, allows education to be fine-tuned to the individual child. Finally, parents may want to spare their children the experience of unwanted ‘peer-pressure,’ teasing, or violence at school.

Higher Scores

For most people it is unimaginable that better results can be achieved by leaving education to parents or children themselves. Indeed, many people see school as an essential institution for the healthy intellectual development of the child. Nevertheless, studies confirm that home-educated children on average achieve higher intellectual scores than their school-going age-mates, regardless of whether the parents follow an existing (school) curriculum or whether education is child-led (ACTP, 1997-2001; Calvery et al., 1992; Galloway, 1995; Ray, 1994; Ray, 1997; Rothermel, 2002; Rudner, 1999; Sutton & Oliveira, 1995). Only Tipton 1990 reports no difference in the scores of home-educated children.
Some studies have even found that the lead of home-educated children can be considerable. Six-year-olds had a lead of one school-year, which increased during their school career to four years at the age of fourteen. This means that an average fourteen-year-old home-educated child is comparable – in terms of schooling – to an eighteen-year-old who goes to school (Ray, 1994; Ray 1997; Rothermel, 2002; Rudner, 1999).

“ [….] the greatest advantage of home-schooling: one can stop each day at what seems a good point and pick up there the following day. In contrast, mass schooling is almost inevitably a Procrustean affair: one either strains to keep up with others, or slackens one’s pace to avoid antagonizing the less able.” (Gardner, 2002)

Howard Gardner
is Professor of Cognition and Education and wrote over twenty books . He is best known for his theory of
“Multiple Intelligences”

Moreover, home-educated children continue to perform better after secondary school than school-taught children; for example it turns out that they cope better with the transition to university (Lattibeaudiere, 2000).
A few years ago it struck American university officials that home-educated children achieved better academic results and were more motivated in their studies than children who had gone to school. 4 Many universities, among them Harvard and Yale, have therefore taken specific steps to actively attract homeschoolers. An admissions officer at Stanford University explained, “The distinguishing factor [for admissions selection] is intellectual vitality. These kids have it”5 (Sperling, 2005).

In the Netherlands most home-educated children at secondary-school level either take state exams to enter university while to following their self-chosen curriculum, attend one year of Open University and transfer to the regular university, or study abroad.

Good Social Skills

Home-educated children prove to have no fewer social skills than children who have gone to school. Several studies show that home-schooled children are on average socially more skilled and more mature than school children (Smedley, 1992). As adults they report more influence on their surroundings and on their lives, and they have more active social lives than adults who have gone to school (Ray, 2004b). Their satisfaction with their parents’ decision to home-educate is shown by the fact that in one study (n=807), 74% of the home-educated adults also home-educated their children (Ray, 2004b).
Home-educated children feel involved in their environment and in society through their personal interests, which they have vast opportunity to develop. They want to fathom everything from politics to history. Through encounters with people from other cultures and with other social backgrounds they get in touch with many different concepts. Home-education occurs in all social classes, income brackets, cultures, and worldviews (Fortune-Wood 2004).

Moreover, school is undeservedly regarded as indispensable to the social-emotional development of children. In his article “Is school really so important to social-emotional development,” Blok concludes, “It is perchance not so obvious that all children profit from school in social-emotional aspects” (Blok, 2004, p. 32).

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“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” Albert Einstein

Realistic Positive Self-Image

Studies also show that home-educated children develop a more positive self-image than their out-of-the-home-schooled peers (Taylor, 1986). Within developmental psychology, the behavior of a child with a ‘stable attachment’ towards the parents is seen as most healthy and adaptive. Stably attached children use their parents as a safe base from which to explore the world. Although stable attachment is not a guarantee of a good mental health, it is a protecting factor during times of trouble (Mönks & Knoers, 2004).
Home-education is nothing more than a safe base of attachment with the parents, as the child – and later on the youth – explores the world. Considering the deep bond that home-educated children and grown-ups report (Ray, 2004a) it seems that home-educating families have realized a stable attachment.
Home-education allows parents to meet the intellectual and social needs of the child, in harmony with the norms and values in the family. It is possible to spend time with inspiring people of all ages, freely chosen by the child, which can withdraw from peer-group pressure, and does not feel divided between the world of the parents and the schoolmates. The child lives in one harmonious world; that of the family and the social environment. Home-educated young people can develop freely without wasting energy on group norms concerning sexuality, alcohol, smoking, dating, dressing, etc. ( , Ray, 2004b).
Home-educated children are not constantly being compared with peers, so they can just be themselves. They are respected for who they are and therefore respect others.

Additional Advantages

Besides good academic and social results, it turns out that home-education has several unexpected advantages.
For pupils attending regular school, the income or educational level of the parents serves as a reliable indicator of expected learning performance. It is very rare that students rise above their parents’ level; indeed, this effect has increased in the past 10 years (Verloop & Lowyck, 2003, p.177). With home-education, on the other hand, children achieve a higher than average result, regardless of the educational level or social class of the parents.
A long-term study in Great Britain also showed that working-class children who receive home-education scored better than school-going children of professional middle class parents, and that for home-educated children gender differences in the exam results disappear (Rothermel, 2002). Studies also show that there is no difference between the results of home-educated children whose parents have teaching qualifications and those whose parents do not.
The reason for these positive results is the much more effective one-on-one instruction or guidance given by motivated parents. Thus the social position or the educational level of the parents is no indication for the performance of the home-educated child.
In the U.S., second- and third-generation disadvantaged groups increasingly choose home-education to prevent their children from contact with drugs and criminality, and because of the excellent academic results.
It seems as if schools are less able to compensate than are home-educating parents, and thus working-class children are, relatively speaking, better off being home-educated (Basham, 2001; Blok, 2002; Ray, 1997, 2004a; Rothermel, 2002).

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Daniel H. Pink is the author of a trio of provocative, bestselling books on the changing world of work “Home-education is maybe the largest, most successful educational experiment of the last twenty years”

Learning and Behavioural Problems

Another additional advantage is that in my experience – and that of many other parents – home-education is an outstanding alternative for children with different learning styles or needs. Research on why children have difficulty keeping up with the group points to a combination of factors. Most children have several issues to contend with at once, but the school system is likely to single out one problem – such as dyslexia – and focus exclusively on that. Moreover, the goal of treatment is largely to ensure that the child can keep up in class.
Finally, it is difficult to define behavioral problems; (sometimes the strongest indication for a behavioral problem is that a professional has made a diagnosis)
According to Hallahan and Kaufman (1991, p. 343) there is only a vague definition possible. They argue that children have behavioural or emotional problems if a professional says that about them.
A high-spirited child that cannot sit still or keep quiet, risks being labeled hyperactive; of course this behavior is very disturbing to the class. Perhaps her temperament is not suited to sitting still and concentrating for a longer period on one task. Perhaps she feels terribly bored, or is not mature enough to sit still and learn.
The question that emerges is whether this behavior is caused by personality or by the school situation. With home-education, however, her behavior is no longer a problem because she does not have to adjust to the demands that the size of the group makes on the teacher.
Learning difficulties and behavioral problems often seem to be school related (Armstrong, 2000, p.7). It is therefore not surprising that behavioral problems occur less in home-educated children (Shyers, 1992).

Within school the most effective way to approach learning difficulties is a one-on-one approach (Woolfolk, 2004, p. 126). Learning and behavioral problems often disappear with home-education, as long as one does not follow a fixed curriculum too strictly, probably because of the one-on-one attention and the individualized curriculum.
Since 1986, the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts in the U.S. has proceeded on the principle that the child decides when it is ready to learn, based on its own intrinsic motivation. Here children ages 4-19 discover the world freely at their own pace and in their own unique way. 6
Mimsy Sadowsky, one of the founders of the Sudbury Valley School, comments:

“They learn to read in their own time and when they feel the need, … Nobody ever leaves the school unable to read though we have quite a few who did not learn until they were nine or ten. Even though statistically we must have had our 10% of potential dyslectics there has never been a dyslectic student at Sudbury Valley.” (Hannam, 1996)

Greenberg (2003) confirms that as of 2003 there has still not been a case of dyslexia at the Sudbury Valley School.

These facts endorse the idea that learning and behavioral problems often arise because subjects are offered at an unsuitable moment or manner, in an environment which is not safe for the pupil (Armstrong, 2000, p. 13; Meighan, 2001; Holt & Farenga, 2003 p.167).
Home-education is especially suitable for children with learning problems, ADD and ADHD, children who are autistic or inexplicable slow at school, who suffer from chronic diseases, or are physically limited or handicapped. Research shows that learning programs tuned towards the individual, flexibility, one-on-one approaches, and the fact that home-education is very efficient, makes it an excellent choice for special pupils (Ray, 2004b, p.11).

High Ability

Many parents of highly or differently gifted children experience home-education as an excellent form of education.
If parents are not satisfied with the school education of their gifted child they look for an appropriate alternative like home-education (Karnes & Marquardt, 2003, p. 601). Access to the Internet opens the door to all kinds of information and resources, and high-ability children can concentrate on a special subject without being forced to stop every fifty minutes to go to another class or limit themselves to the level of the textbooks or curricula (Gallagher, 2003, p.18).
Home-education makes it possible to individualize instruction, respecting the principles of good education for high-ability children. Home-education gives all highly and differently gifted children a chance to flourish in a way that is tuned to their unique needs (Rivero, 2002, p.182-184). The gifted child or youth can quickly become competent in the basics, and then accelerate – through instruction by special tutors or mentors – in any area of special giftedness or interest such as science, history, painting, geography, or instrumental music (Ray, 2004b, p. 12). Moreover, home-educated highly gifted children with learning disabilities (twice-exceptionals) are self-confident students, and although their academic skills may develop at uneven rates, they have usually achieved academic proficiency by high school (Ensign, 2000, p.157).


Research results confirm the effectiveness of home-education beyond a doubt: Parents and caretakers who choose home-education create an environment for the child, in which it can develop its abilities in both social and intellectual fields, regardless of the educational level or social position of the parents.
Parents who choose home-education are capable of educating their children better than are schools in cognitive as well as social areas. Home-education has proven to be a more then valuable form of education both cognitively and socially (Basham, 2001; Bester, 2002; Blok, 2002; Ray, 1997, 2004a; Rothermel, 2002; Rudner, 1999; Thomas, 1998; Wakelkamp, 1996).
‘Home-education is maybe the largest, most successful educational experiment of the last twenty years.’  Daniel Pink. 7


  1. National Centre for Education Statistics, US Department of Education, “1.1 million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2003”, Issue Brief July 2004
  2. J. Russell, “When Parents are a child’s best teacher, in The New Statesman, 10 January 2005.
  3. J. Winkels is director of Landelijke Oudervereniging Bijzonder Onderwijs op algemene grondslag (LOBO, During a phone call on 10-06-2005, Winkels said that in the Netherlands, around 3000 children fall outside the regular school system. Around 1700 children receive home-education through the Wereldschool ; an unknown number of children are home educated in another way (since they are not registered in any way); and a unknown number of children are withdrawn from compulsory education for various reasons, such as travel abroad etc.
  4. R. Winters, “From Home to Harvard: Homeschooled kids have earned a college of their own–and admission to elite, traditional campuses,”,Time Magazine, 11 September 2000, p. 55.C. McCusker, “Homeschoolers Arrive on Campus,” Insight on the News, 19 August 2002.
  6. D. H. Pink in Ode nr. 48 (NL).

Not everyone is aware that it is education that is compulsory, not school. This video explains how home education is an alternative to school that is growing in popularity and explains away some of the common myths and misconceptions.
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