Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Home-schoolers are more likely to attend college and be more politically active than their peers, a study says. The survey of more than 7,300 adults who were home-schooled found that among those ages 18 to 24, 74 percent had taken college courses, compared with 46 percent in the same age group among the general population. About 12 percent of the polled home-schoolers had received bachelor’s degrees, compared with about 8 percent of their peers.

The study, by the Oregon-based National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), showed higher levels of political involvement for home-schoolers in several categories. The poll shows home-schoolers are more likely than their peers to vote (74 percent versus 29 percent), to make political contributions (9 percent versus 3 percent) or to work for a political cause, party or candidate (13 percent versus 1 percent).

Some of the findings were not surprising, given earlier studies showing high levels of academic achievement by home-schooled students, said Tom Washburne, director of the Virginia-based National Center for Home Education.

“We expected to find that they were getting good jobs, going on to college at a high rate, that they were involved in their communities — all of those come as no surprise to a home-schooling parent,” Mr. Washburne said.

“However, we are excited by the findings about the civic involvement of the graduates. Their voting and their involvement with campaigns and political parties is astounding compared with the general public.”

The idea for the study “had been percolating in my mind for at least a decade,” said NHERI President Brian D. Ray. A proposal for the study was turned down 10 years ago, he said. But noting the growth in home education, he said, “Now we have a much larger population [of home-schooling alumni] from which to draw, [so] maybe it was good to wait.”

NHERI estimates that more than 1.7 million U.S. children are home-schooled.

The new study “is one of the few attempts, maybe the only attempt, to get at the question of what do home-schoolers look like after the home-schooling process,” said James Carper, professor of educational psychology at the University of South Carolina, who reviewed Mr. Ray’s findings. “On most measures, they look better than the general public.”

Home schooling has been criticized by the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), which passed a resolution at its national convention declaring that “home-schooling programs cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.”

An NEA spokesman yesterday said the organization had no comment on the NHERI study.

Mr. Ray said critics “have claimed that adults who are home-schooled would be social isolates, disengaged from civic life and perhaps uncaring about the world around them. The findings of this study, however, indicate just the opposite in terms of these adults’ behaviors.”

Among the study’s findings:

• About half (49 percent) of home-schoolers ages 18 to 24 were full-time students. In that age group, 50.2 percent had “some college but no degree,” compared with 34 percent of the same age group in the general population. In that group, 8.7 percent of home-schoolers had two-year associate degrees (compared with 4.1 percent in the general population) and 11.8 percent had bachelor’s degrees (compared with 7.6 percent in the general population).

• Among various measures of community activity, home-educated adults were more likely than their peers to have read a book in the past six months (98.5 percent compared with 69 percent), participated in community service such as volunteering or coaching youth sports teams (71.1 percent compared with 37 percent), and attended religious services at least once a month (93.3 percent compared with 41 percent).

• Asked whether they agreed with the statement that “politics and government are too complicated to understand,” 4.2 percent of home-schooled adults agreed, compared with 35 percent of the general population.

• In six measures of civic involvement, home-schooled adults consistently ranked higher than the general U.S. population.

• Home-schoolers also ranked higher on measures of personal satisfaction and psychological health, reporting more contentment on the job and with their families’ financial situations. Asked about happiness, 58.9 percent of home-schoolers reported they were “very happy,” compared with 27.6 percent of the general public.

• Home-schoolers differed significantly in their responses to the question: “Some people say that people get ahead by their own hard work; others say lucky breaks or help from people are more important. Which do you think is most important?” More than 85 percent of home-schoolers said “hard work,” compared with 68 percent of the general population.

• About 74 percent of the home-schooled adults with children said they were home schooling their own children.

The thousands of home-schooled adults who participated in the survey were found through “a highly connected network of home-schooling organizations,” Mr. Ray said. Their responses were compared with data for the general U.S. population from the Census Bureau, the Department of Education and the National Opinion Research Center.

The study did not compare incomes of adults who had been home-schooled with the general population, Mr. Ray said, because of a shortage of age-based income data plus the fact that the average age of the home-schooling alumni in the survey was 21 and nearly half were full-time students.

“If we can come back to a substantial portion of this sample in five to 10 years, we’ll get a much better idea of comparative data regarding occupation, income and completed level of education,” he said.

The study rebuts one of the most persistent criticisms of home schooling, Mr. Washburne said.

“Home-schooling parents have known for years that home schooling works,” he said. “What we always knew to be a myth regarding socialization has turned out to be just that, a myth. Home-schoolers appear to be active, engaged, happy adults.”

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