Study details homeschooling risks and benefits as pandemic drags on

A new observational study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE details some potential risks and benefits associated with homeschooling. The findings come amid a huge spike in the number of people educating their children at home, many of whom have made the transition out of concerns about COVID-19 and in-person classes during the pandemic.

Education at home

Homeschooling — the act of educating one's child at home rather than through a public or private school — was once largely relegated to those with political or religious motivations. That reality has changed over the years, however, particularly as modern technology enables children to remotely attend classes taught by experts.

Last year brought an unprecedented wave of homeschooling across the US due to school closures and a rapid transition to online-based learning platforms. The number of people driven to homeschooling spurred renewed interest in research on this method of education and how it may compare with the education provided at public and private schools.

Risks and benefits

The new study details some notable differences between students who were homeschooled and peers who attended more traditional schooling. In some cases, homeschooling presented some benefits compared to public and private schools — homeschoolers were more likely to volunteer and express a willingness to forgive, for example.

Other differences between the two educational groups were more neutral. Homeschoolers were more likely to go to church compared to their public and private school peers and less likely to attend college and earn a degree. Other notable differences included a greater sense of mission in life among homeschoolers, a lower number of lifetime sexual partners, and a somewhat lower rate of cannabis use.

Study details

The researchers evaluated data on 12,288 adolescents from the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). The data baseline started in 1999 and covered kids who were the children of nurses. The information on these kids was collected from the ages of 11 to 19, including where they went to school.

Based on the data, the study found "few statistically significant differences" between the students who were homeschooled and those who went to public and private schools. It is important to keep in mind that this was an observational study, however, and the kids had educated parents. As well, the population studied wasn't very diverse with the majority of data coming from non-Hispanic white students.

Despite some of the study's limitations, the findings may help shape policies related to homeschooling, the researchers say. This is particularly important in light of the pandemic and the potential of continued home education for many families.