Harvard Study: Homeschoolers Generally Become ‘Well-Adjusted, Responsible’ Young Adults

Results of a study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found homeschoolers grow to be young adults who are generally “well-adjusted,” particularly showing characteristics of “responsibility” and social engagement.
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Results of a study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found homeschoolers grow to be young adults who are generally “well-adjusted,” particularly showing characteristics of “responsibility” and social engagement.

Researchers Brendan Case and Ying Chen of the Harvard Human Flourishing Program discussed Chen’s analysis of data on more than 12,000 children of nurses in a recent column at the Wall Street Journal.

The researchers used the data gathered on the nurses, who had all responded to surveys from 1999 to 2010, to examine how school type, estimated independently through factors such as socioeconomic status, race, and region, affected adolescents on various long-term outcomes, including educational attainment, mental health, and social integration.

Case and Chen found that while the homeschooled students in their sample were 23 percent less likely to attend college than public school students, they were “33 percent more likely to volunteer, 31 percent more forgiving, and 51 percent more likely to attend religious services” as young adults than students in public schools.

Elaborating on the issue of attendance at religious services, the researchers wrote:

The difference in religious participation has public-health implications, since those who attend services regularly have substantially lower risks of alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide. They also have a lower risk of premature death for any reason than those who never attend.

“Educational attainment matters a great deal, but it would take a peculiarly myopic parent to be indifferent to the loss of these broader goods so long as his child earned a bachelor’s degree,” Case and Chen said regarding the outcome on college attendance.

Senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) Kerry McDonald asked the researchers about the educational attainment outcome, considering as well their data set concluded in 2010.

McDonald wrote:

Some media outlets latched onto this finding in their headlines, while ignoring the Harvard scholars’ speculation that this could be due to a variety of factors. Homeschoolers could be choosing alternatives to college as a pathway to adulthood, and college admissions practices may create barriers for homeschooled students.

“We are also glad to see that some colleges, including some top-tier colleges, have become more flexible in their admission policies for homeschoolers over the past years,” Chen responded to McDonald, who added:

Indeed, more colleges and universities have implemented clearer guidelines and policies for homeschooled students in recent years, and many are now eager to attract homeschooled applicants. In 2015, Business Insider noted that homeschooling is the “new path to Harvard,” and in 2018 the university profiled several of its homeschooled students.

Case and Chen also surmised homeschoolers may experience even more “well-being” than public school students since the data set ended in 2010.

She commented to McDonald:

For instance, social media apps have come to smartphones over the past few years, leading to their widespread adoption by teenagers and even younger children. Some prior studies suggested that such increasing smartphone use may have contributed to the recent huge spikes in adolescent depression, anxiety, and school loneliness. Cyberbullying, sexting and “phubbing” have also become more common in children’s daily lives, especially in school settings. We might expect that these issues may be less common among homeschoolers than their public school peers.

The researchers’ Journal op-ed explained the results of the study in the context of the intense criticism directed against homeschooling by Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who advocated for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling, claiming both children and society are at risk due to the lack of regulation of homeschooling.

After receiving considerable blowback for her views, Bartholet doubled down on her attacks against homeschooling, asserting her view parents who homeschool are primarily “right-wing Christian conservatives” who may be abusing their children.

In an interview with the Harvard Gazette in May 2020, Bartholet said:

Over the past decades, right-wing Christian conservatives became the dominant group in terms of numbers, and they completely took over in terms of political activism. Their power has to do with their ideological fervor, their tactics, and the absence of any significant organized opposition. Many academics and the biggest teachers’ unions in the country have found homeschooling deeply problematic.

Nevertheless, as Case and Chen observed, the school shutdowns during the pandemic led more parents to ultimately leave brick-and-mortar schools and opt for homeschooling as their permanent education choice.

In late March, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 11.1 percent of K-12 students in the nation are now homeschooled, a significant increase from 5.4 percent when school closures went into effect in March 2020, and from the 3.3. percent of families who homeschooled prior to the pandemic.

The same Census Bureau report showed homeschooling rates are rising among black families. The proportion of homeschooling in the black community was found to have increased from 3.3 percent in spring 2020 to 16.1 percent in fall 2020.

“[I]t seems certain that a sharp increase in home schooling will be one lasting consequence of the pandemic,” Case and Chen wrote at the Journal.

“The picture of the home-schooled student that emerges from the data doesn’t resemble the socially awkward and ignorant stereotype to which Ms. Bartholet and others appeal,” they observed. “Rather, home-schooled children generally develop into well-adjusted, responsible and socially engaged young adults.”

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