Childhood Studies Homeschooling
Gary Wyatt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0055


In a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) study, Planty, et al. 2009 (cited under General Overviews) reports that in 2007, approximately 1.5 million American children were being homeschooled. While this number is likely an underestimate, it represents 2.9 percent of all school-aged children in the United States, a 74 percent increase in the number of children that NCES found were being homeschooled just eight years earlier. Given the number of children involved, the impact of homeschooling on them is of considerable importance to scholars, and, consequently, numerous research studies have explored this phenomenon. While some of this research is of high scholarly quality, some of it, including some of the most publicized homeschool-related research, suffers from methodological problems, including nonrandom samples, response bias, and unwarranted generalization. In light of these concerns, a goal of this article is to guide readers to the research that is most credible. Finally, while this article will focus on issues related to child development including the socialization and academic achievement of homeschooled children, it will also include information about the history and growth of homeschooling, its philosophical underpinnings, the demographic characteristics of homeschoolers, the motives for homeschooling, and the responses of critics to this alternative.

General Overviews

Despite the growth documented in Planty, et al. 2009, homeschooling remains a controversial practice and consequently is of keen interest to many scholars. Gaither 2008 is a valuable historical portrayal of homeschooling throughout American history, including its reemergence in modern times, and Murphy 2012 is one of the most comprehensive surveys of the homeschool movement to date, including its history, its current practices, and the state of scholarly research on it. Kunzman and Gaither 2013 is a comprehensive and high-quality review of the literature on homeschooling, Medlin 2000 provides a review of the research on the socialization of homeschooled children, and Stevens 2001 provides an analysis of modern homeschooling and the ideological and pedagogical polarization that exists within it. Lois 2013 explores the lives of homeschooling mothers and offers a new and well-defended assessment of their motives as well as the emotional, time-, and identity-related challenges they must manage. Some of the research on homeschooling suffers from significant methodological problems. In his recent survey of the demographic characteristics and academic achievement of homeschooled students, Brian Ray (Ray 2010) acknowledges the inability of researchers to obtain representative samples of the homeschooling population and that his efforts and the efforts of others to address this problem remain inadequate. Kunzman and Gaither 2013 (p. 5) is correct in reporting that much of the homeschool research is “qualitative in nature” and has “an anecdotal quality it has yet to transcend.”

  • Gaither, Milton. Homeschool: An American History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    A comprehensive historical analysis of home-based education in the United States from the colonial period to the present. Provides a credible explanation for the emergence of homeschooling in modern society. This explanation includes the mainstreaming both of libertarian and right-wing countercultural ideas, the role of suburbanization, the “cult of the child,” and the increased bureaucratization of public schooling. Influential leaders and organizations and their role in legalizing and mainstreaming homeschooling are presented.

  • Kunzman, Robert, and Milton Gaither. “Homeschooling: A Comprehensive Survey of the Research.” Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives 2.1 (2013): 4–59.

    This paper is the most current, balanced, and comprehensive review of homeschool research to date. The authors have analyzed the “entire universe of English-language homeschool research and scholarship,” and with competence and balance they address the quality, significance, and distinctiveness of the scholarship. Concludes with solid guidance for the direction future research on homeschooling should take.

  • Lois, Jennifer. Home Is Where the School Is: The Logic of Homeschooling and the Emotional Labor of Mothering. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

    A comprehensive ethnography exploring the lives of homeschooling mothers in the northwestern United States over an eight-year period. This research provides new insights into the motivation of these women and the challenges they face managing emotional conflicts. Well researched and creative, this is the first and best research that focuses exclusively on the lives of homeschooling mothers. An important treatise on homeschooling, gender, and motherhood.

  • Medlin, Richard G. “Home Schooling and the Question of Socialization.” Peabody Journal of Education 75.1–2 (2000): 107–123.

    DOI: 10.1080/0161956X.2000.9681937

    Medlin provides a review of the research on the socialization of homeschooled children. His review is thorough and concise and includes all major studies to date. He describes and critiques the methods of each study, as well as their findings. Readers will appreciate his understanding of research methods, the limitations of the findings, and the concerns that need to be addressed in future research. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Murphy, Joseph. Homeschooling in America: Capturing and Assessing the Movement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012.

    A comprehensive survey of homeschooling in America. Provides insights into the emergence and growth of the movement, demographic characteristics of homeschoolers, motivation for homeschooling, strategies homeschooling parents employ to educate their children, and a current review of the scholarly literature on homeschooling. A credible interpretive framework for understanding the complexity of the movement is presented.

  • Planty, Michael, William Hussar, Thomas Snyder, et al. The Condition of Education 2009. NCES 2009-081. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2009.

    This omnibus survey of the state of education in the United States includes information on homeschooling. The report finds that 1.5 million children are currently being homeschooled in the United States. This represents 2.9 percent of all American children and is a 74 percent increase over eight years. Characteristics of homeschooling families and their motives for homeschooling are presented as well.

  • Ray, Brian D. “Academic Achievement and Demographic Traits of Homeschool Students: A Nationwide Study.” Academic Leadership Journal 8.1 (2010).

    A nationwide survey measuring the demographic characteristics or homeschooling families and the academic achievement of homeschooled children. Respondents were limited to the subset of homeschool families who volunteered to provide the test scores and who tended to be sympathetic to Christian-based homeschooling.

  • Stevens, Mitchell L. Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement. Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

    Stevens’s extensive observational research provides support for two qualitatively different kinds of homeschooling. The first one emphasizes an unstructured “unschooling” approach to education; the second, a more structured school-at-home approach. Stevens gives a credible and in-depth look at modern homeschooling in the United States, including growth of the movement, ideological divisions within it, organizational leadership, motivation for homeschooling, and the importance of networks and support groups for homeschoolers.

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