When you hear stories of high academic achievement by homeschoolers, it's routine for opponents to try to minimize the results by asserting that not all homeschoolers are required to test over the same testing instruments.
Their goal is to show that homeschooling isn't a viable educational alternative that can benefit a large number of children. If they concede that point, and recognize the broad success of a home education, then one of the pillars of public education, teacher certification, must be questioned.
Homeschooled students taught by noncertified parents, who score higher than public school students taught by certified teachers is a hard pill for the education establishment to swallow.
In the past, homeschool success stories were few and far between due to the fact that the homeschool community was so small. To the skeptic, the occasional blip of a high achiever on the radar was an indication that some homeschoolers were succeeding, but not evidence of a revolutionary change in the way we educate children.
Today, however, homeschooling has developed an impressive track record. In particular, homeschoolers are consistently achieving in the arena skeptics believe should be out of the range of average parents, which is preparing students for college.
If parents can successfully prepare children for college, then the rationale for heavily subsidizing public schools weakens significantly. Recent results from ACT show homeschoolers have scored above the national average for the past 10 years, which helps show that homeschoolers are well-prepared for college.
But there's another program in which homeschoolers are making their presence known-the National Merit Scholarship Program. High school students compete for the scholarship by taking the PSAT/NMSQT and presenting a detailed list of their writing, leadership and community activities.
Approximately 1.4 million initial entrants are screened per year and about 16,000 students nationwide qualify as semifinalists, which is less than 1 percent of high school seniors. In the spring, about half this number will qualify as finalists and receive the scholarship.
The NMS program has seen a dramatic increase in the number of homeschoolers who place as finalists. Of the 248 homeschoolers among the 2003 semifinalists, 129 of these students advanced to finalist standing, receiving the National Merit Scholarship.
As noted by Kate Grossman, a reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times, the number of homeschoolers receiving National Merit Scholarships has increased more than 500 percent: from 21 in 1995 to 129 in 2003. Recently NMS announced that for 2008 there are 237 homeschool semifinalists.
The fact that homeschoolers consistently achieve at the highest levels shows that a parent-directed education should be taken seriously by the education establishment.
Parents are capable, and homeschooling has proven itself to be more than a blip on the radar. In fact, homeschooling is showing itself to be an enduring force that has the potential to transform American education.
Continuing success with the NMS program simply is further evidence that parents can teach their own children to the highest level. It also shows that there's nothing inherently superior to an institutional school.
Parents, using their own resources, and their own time, can achieve impressive results.
We hope many more parents will make this important choice and have the confidence to make a decision that will have a great impact on the life of their children and family.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.