It's Okay More Homeschoolers Are Behind in School

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5 Reasons It's Okay More Homeschoolers Are Behind in School

A 2012 study shows that homeschoolers were [at least] twice as likely to report being behind grade level than non-homeschoolers. Statistically, then, as homeschoolers, we're two to three times more likely to be behind than our publicly educated peers.

Wait. What!?

Bear with me a moment because even with these numbers mocking us, I firmly believe you made a good choice to homeschool. Here are five reasons it is okay for homeschoolers to be behind in school.

Continue reading below or listen here:

1. Schools are strange about grade level.

As Sir Ken Robinson points out, we group children by year of manufacture, which is a poor way of doing so. And I'm not really sure how we can claim that so many kids are "on level" when a local school here can fail to teach 84% of 10th graders math. I wouldn't be surprised at all if homeschooled kids had a more robust standard of what it means to be "on level." But even if that isn't the case...

2. Some homeschoolers start because the other systems failed them.

I doubt it's 14% of homeschoolers, but could it be 7%? If so, homeschoolers are right on target and only appear worse off because homeschooling is the only option left. I know some families homeschool because of special needs; of course, I also know homeschoolers who have special needs children in school for the support they receive, so this could be a wash. I don't know, and it doesn't sound like we have enough information to make any kind of statements. So what else is there?

3. Being on grade isn't our focus.

We both know that homeschoolers have strange priorities. One of the differences is that we are a little more comfortable with letting kids learn at their own pace. This is especially true in the younger years. I was way behind in reading for years. Homeschooling let me grow at my own pace. And today, part of how I earn my living is by writing. So being behind just isn't a disastrous thing for us. We don't get government funding based on how well we can shoehorn kids into batches. We focus on the student.

4. Final outcome is what matters, not the moment of observation.

So what if I was behind a few grades in reading? By letting me slip behind, my parents let me excel. And today, after doing just fine transitioning to public school from homeschooling, the fact that I was not on grade level in reading at one point doesn't matter. But there's one more point I'd like to drive home...

5.  Your student is more important than the system.

As homeschoolers, you and I get that. We're homeschooling for our kids. And the study in question demonstrates that religious and structured homeschoolers do great. Sure, we may not always be on level—we may be well ahead for all the data show—but, in the end, we have had great opportunities to be equipped to do whatever God has called us to do. And we have developed a lifelong love of learning while homeschooling with a curriculum we love.

Left Behind?

So, sure, we homeschoolers may, statistically, be more likely to be behind than their peers. That's fine. There are more important things for us than that.

5 Reasons It's Okay More Homeschoolers Are Behind in School

Learn more about teaching your children at their own pace and on their own level with Sonlight's book-based homeschool programs. Order a complimentary copy of your catalog today.

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  1. Amen! Especially point #5!

  2. Thanks, Taryn!


  3. Pingback: From Luke’s Inbox: What About AP Classes? | Sonlight Blog

  4. I agree 100%, they may be behind for a little while. But our priorities revolve around a much greater love for our students/children. They will excel when its the right time for them developmentally. Our home-school follows the Sonlight curriculum. However, we use the Instructors guide as a guide, and not be totally overwhelmed. My daughters are behind in all subjects, they are excelling though, because this is their first year schooling in english. They come from a Hawaiian speaking school, and have many many many terms in all subjects to learn and be familiarized with. Thank you for your article, and thank you to your family for offering this curriculum. God put this desire in my heart to get closer to Him and train my children up in truth and in love. They are'nt just a number as in a public school, they are our treasures from God. And in many ways their old school experiences have failed them, and I don't want to fail them or God.
    ALOHA :)

    • Nicole

      Beautifully said . .it's true and hearfelt..I prayed for help today I let go of my fears and worries and confusion...what to do and how to do it...this ...what you wrote helped me in such a big way! You may not understand but thank you for sharing this! Bless you...

  5. Thanks, Stephanie! All the best as you guys continue to transition to an English-based system. I'm so excited to hear how your daughters come to excel over their years with Sonlight!


  6. Annette Bannister

    I read the summary of the study, Luke, and here is what it said: "Green-Hennessy didn’t provide a percentage for religious homeschoolers, but she did say that only 13.6% of less religious homeschoolers reported being 2 or more grades behind their age cohort. While this percentage is 2.5 times higher than the national average, it still means that 86% reported being only a year behind, at, or above grade level. The percentage of religious homeschoolers reporting the same would have been even higher." It sounds like the respondents who were interviewed self-reported their grade level. There were no test scores involved. How many public school students self-report their grade level as lower than the grade they are actually in? Probably next to none (or 5.4%, if we do the math)--even if they actually test or function at a much lower grade level. So, this study really reveals a strength of homeschooling in a way--the strength you point out--that parents are allowed to teach their kids right at their level. So, if they're in 9th grade and working at a 7th grade level overall, their parents might tell them they are doing 7th grade work. The homeschoolers' self-reported grade level cannot be compared to the self-reported grade level among the public schoolers, who assess this in a completely different, less accurate way than homeschoolers do.

    Since learning does not happen in the linear fashion that grade levels suggest, but rather in fits and starts with sudden leaps of understanding and stalls of frustration, then being behind as a homeschooler is not a bad thing. As you point out, they can catch up by riding the more natural waves of learning, and often they do.

  7. Thanks for digging into this more, Annette! Good points.


  8. So true! I often stress that my boys are "behind" but I also know that we are covering material that wouldn't have been introduced to them yet either.

  9. Michelle

    My question is behind what?
    Why do homeschoolers have to be measured by the school system's yard stick?

    Ever since years ago when we started homeschooling I realized how much we categorize and label our children by what the public schools say and do. It was like blinders were taken off my eyes. Or more like the movie Matrix and I swallowed the pill that would free my mind!

  10. Julie

    I know plenty of public school 10th graders who can't write a coherent paragraph, much less a whole essay! Yet others who can work an algebra problem on paper, but can't apply math in the simplest way (If apples cost $1.50/lb and you're buying 3 lbs how do you come up with the total?). Maybe after a few minutes of thought they arrive at, "Uh, 1.50 + 1.50+1.50" and then can't do that very simple problem in their head, they need a calculator. Yet, they are passed on to the next grade year after year. The idea that those kids are on level is ludicrous! No one is minding the store. Education is not what is happening in public schools, social engineering is what is happening in public schools!

  11. John

    So, sure, we homeschoolers may, statistically, be more likely to be behind than their peers.


  12. Emily

    I don't want my comments to seem mean-spirited. But I'm truly struggling with this article. I'm new to homeschooling and startled and alarmed by this article and the "reasons" why it's "OK to be behind." I'm extremely skeptical that there are any good reasons (besides special needs) that it's acceptable to be behind, especially when it comes to reading. I've had limited experience with homeschoolers, but what I've seen is that children who couldn't read at grade level were a direct result of parents who didn't have enough information or education to properly teach their children. "At grade level" is my absolute minimum goal. (I was a preK-1st grade teacher for 9 years.)

    • Hi, Emily! Thanks for sharing your alarm. I'm sure I won't alleviate it entirely, but I'll do what little I can [smile].

      As you probably read in the posts I linked to above in #4, I was a struggling reader. I was way behind for years. The beautiful part of homeschooling is that I actually ended up further ahead by not being held back by my reading (as you know from the story I shared about going on to be Valedictorian [grin]). And, with reading in particular, I'm guessing you've seen the wide range of ability within your preK-1st grade students over the years ... and we've built Sonlight specifically to work with this!

      The linked study itself points to something (#5) you caught onto as well: If a parent doesn't use the information available about teaching their children, it can lead to their kids being behind. The good news: Since you plan to utilize the resources available to you, this shouldn't be a concern.

      Please note, my "reasons" include a critique of the statistic itself. In #1&2, I attempted to point out that it is entirely possible (probable?) that homeschoolers aren't statistically behind; the study in question may merely make it appear so by not taking into consideration the factors related to the wider issues.

      So that leaves #3 which may grate against your minimum goal. And, please know, I don't want this to sound mean-spirited either, at all. In fact, I wish we were sitting down chatting with coffee or tea [smile]. Being on grade level is not at all a bad goal, per se. But there can be tremendous benefits to embracing the flexibility homeschooling affords. The shift from can be difficult for teachers and may be part of the reason why an education background does not statistically help homeschool parents and may, if I've read the data correctly, make things more difficult at times.

      I'm so thrilled you're on this homeschool journey, and I wish you all the best! You'll rock at this, and I'm looking forward to hearing your amazing stories of how much your children thrive as you learn together!

      Hope that helps. Please let me know if I failed to address anything else that startled you in this post.


      • Alicia

        The beauty of homeschooling is that your children can be at different grade levels in all subjects. The sad thing about public school is that those kids need to be in different grades for different subjects but can't be. Homeschooling your child allows them to be on 3rd grade math because they haven't been able to memorize their multiplication tables (a lot of their ps friends haven't either but they continue to be moved up in grade level without learning it). It allows them to be in 6th grade science because they adore science and gobble it up. It allows them to be in 4th grade reading because that is a "good fit" reading level and books are enjoyable and comfortable. Homeschooling allows them to share history class with their sibling and they pour over books of pyramid structures and mummies together. And guess what. It will all even out in the end, but meeting your child's needs along the way is the way to close gaps and ensure they're learning. So, it is ok for them to seem like they are behind because our goal is training for success in the end and being a rocket scientist is hard if you never memorized your multiplication. Winking smile.

  13. Jessica Hammond

    Thank you for this article. I am currently homeschooling my two boys (9th and 7th) and I have one who is taking a physics class that usually isn't offered until at least senior year or college and he's acing it! My younger child however, is taking algebra 1 in math and doing really well but taking spelling 5 and doing ok. I chose 5th grade spelling because I knew anything higher would only set him up to fail. He came from a public school setting and still couldn't master spelling at "grade level" so I firmly agree that our schools are letting our kids down and moving them through like cattle to graduate when they can't even spell graduate!


    My wife just passed away from Leukemia. She had been homeschooling our son since kindergarten. The last 2 years had been difficult for her to help him complete all of his work so she couldnt have his evaluations done for 2 years. Now he is ready age wise-hes 14-to enter high school. But he hasnt completed his annual educational evaluations for 7th and 8th grades. I had focused on work and keeping a roof over us so I counted on her a lot to educate our son, as she was an elementary teacher for 6 years before our son was born. Now I want to continue homeschooling him as I have social security and a part time business. What is the solution that will work for my son and I?

    • I am so sorry to hear that, Michael.

      To find the best solution for your needs today, I highly recommend you chat with an Advisor: My comments on this blog post aren't going to get you the immediate, individualized input that you'll get from them.

      May the grace of Christ be near you and your son as you walk with Him in the years ahead.