Kids might not need to sit quietly in their desks, raise their hands, and follow a strict schedule to end up with a decent education: A study from the Canadian Journal of Behavior Science suggests that homeschooled students outperform public school-educated kids.

Researchers administered standardized tests in math and reading to the two groups of students; The homeschoolers who followed a structured, curriculum-based program scored as much as 2.2 grade levels above their public school peers. (Homeschooled students who followed an unstructured or a curriculum-free learning plan scored lower than both structured homeschoolers and traditionally-educated students.) With a very small group of subjects — just 74 kids — the results are hardly conclusive, but they do follow the pattern of previous studies that showed the success of homeschooling methods.

The most comprehensive academic homeschool study ever completed —  the Progress Report of 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics released by the National Home Education Research Institute — concluded that homeschooled students score an average of 34 to 39 percentile points higher than their peers on standardized achievement tests. Unlike the Canadian study, the researchers for the NHERI study included more than 11,000 students from all 50 states, and included three well-known tests– California Achievement Test, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and Stanford Achievement Test.

How are results like these possible? Sandra Martin-Chang, a professor at Concordia University and the lead author of the recent Canadian study, said that the structure of homeschooling “may offer opportunities for academic performance beyond those typically experienced in the public schools [including] smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction, or more academic time spent on core subjects such as reading and math.”

Still, at the very core of these findings is a major flaw: standardized testing. Are the tests that the results are based on really a true measure of how smart, well-educated, creative, or talented our children really are? I think most parents would agree with me when I respond with an emphatic, “No!” But in a numbers-driven educational system, it is difficult for parents to separate true learning from results on a test. All parents, homeschoolers or not, have a tough choice to make– do I want my child to be passionate about learning, or do I want her to ace her tests? And is it ever possible for kids to do both? Read more ……

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