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Contest winners prove the point

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2007

The winners of this year's National Geographic Bee, Caitlin Snaring of Washington state, and the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Evan O"Dorney of California, were educated primarily by their parents in home-based instruction programs, a fact that was underreported by the media. Another underreported fact is that despite home-schoolers making up just 3 percent of the school-age population, they consistently represent, on average, 12 percent of the finalists in geography and spelling bees.

The ongoing success of students from nontraditional educational backgrounds should be celebrated because these children are demonstrating that when parents direct the education of their children, the results are impressive.

Few dispute that home-schoolers, who are around 2 million strong in the United States, are academically successful. Research shows that the average home-schooled student scores, on average, 20 to 30 percentile points higher than his or her public school counterparts on standardized tests.

Home-schooling has proved itself to be a successful educational alternative, but many people who are still skeptical about whether a home-based education really makes a difference have argued that these winners and other gifted students would have succeeded anyway if they had been educated in traditional public schools.

Though the primary focus of the Home School Legal Defense Association is to defend the right of parents to home-school, we also conduct research to see if the anecdotal evidence of home-school success can be substantiated via formal study.

One aspect of the research is to see whether the parents' educational level correlates with the test results of their children. Among public school students, the effects of parental education have been established clearly by numerous studies. Students with college-educated parents score, on average, in the 60th percentile, whereas students with parents who have a high school education or less score, on average, in the 30th and 40th percentiles.

This is in direct contrast to the results for home-schoolers. Among home-schooled students, the level of parental education has been shown to have little or no bearing on the academic results for the child. Several studies, conducted by a variety of researchers, have shown that all types of home-schoolers, on average, outpace their public school counterparts by scoring between the 70th and 80th percentiles.

The best explanation for the disparity is that home-based instruction allows for one-on-one tutoring and a tailor-made education. The one-on-one approach and home-based environment significantly improve the educational attainment of children. It appears that, on average, all students, bee winners or otherwise, could benefit from the tutorial method. If this is true, we could be on the verge of significant changes in the way we educate our children.

It is no secret that we are entering a time when alternatives to public schools are growing rapidly and parents are demanding more choices. One of the choices being made by parents is home-schooling, which is growing at an estimated rate of 7 percent to 15 percent per year. When children taught at home win national competitions, it reminds people that home-schooling is successful and here to stay.

We hope more parents will continue to explore their options and choose a method of education that has been shown to provide better results than the established methods. If more parents choose alternatives, the entire system can be reformed.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to