Religious Outcomes in Conventionally Schooled and Home Schooled Youth

Wayne McEntire, Ph.D.

Principal, Hamilton Christian Academy, Lake Charles, LA  70601

While an increasing amount of research is being amassed in regard to home schooling, it may be noted that assessments used are frequently tailored to public school curriculum (Klicka, 1994). Thus, home schooling is usually assessed by standards of evidence and rationales that are external to the stated religious goals given by parents within the movement (Cizek & Ray, 1995).
Lines (1991) suggests that researchers have been asking questions that really are not important stating, “Academic outcome, for example, is not as highly rated as religion and a belief that home schooling will produce children that adopt religious and ethical values of their parents” (p. 39). She calls for an examination of the incidence of behaviors such as drug use, smoking, and drinking. If parents are home schooling for religious reasons, then it is a valid question as to how the experience works to buttress certain values while militating against others (Archer, 1999). Ray (2002) also adds, “Since values, beliefs, character, and worldview are so important to most home schoolers, many hope to see more research done in this area” (p. 84).
The purpose of this study was to determine if outcomes of home educated students were commensurate with the religious objectives given by many as reason for choosing home-based education.


Based upon her research on home schooling, Van Galen (1991) suggests that families fall into two categories. “Ideologues” are those families, mostly Christian fundamentalists, who home school in order to bring an integrated world view to bear in all subject matters. “Pedagogues,” on the other hand, are not reacting to the heresy of public schools but to their ineptitude. These parents see home schooling as a parent’s political right and the best avenue to practical and intrinsically motivated learning for both normal and special needs students (Holt, 1997). Many of the early participants in the modern home school movement were more pedagogical in their orientation (Lyman, 1998).
In the 1980s, the religious right began to dominate home schooling (Ray, 2002). By 1996, 86% of home school parents cited religious reasons for choosing home education as an alternative (Pearson, 1996). Surveys report that Christian families make up at least 70% of home school families, perhaps as many as 96% (Home School Legal Defense Association, 1990; Klicka, 1994; Mirochnik & McIntire, 1991; Ray, 2002). In North Carolina, 1,085 out of 1,385 home schools designated themselves as “religious” schools (Klicka, 1994). Ray (2002) states,
The most frequently cited reason [by parents for home schooling] is concern for the development of their children’s values and way of life. They desire to teach and transmit their philosophical, religious, or cultural values, traditions, and beliefs, and a particular worldview, in a preferred moral environment. (p. 42)
Little has been done to research religious outcomes and educational setting. In terms of those participating in home schooling, Barna (president of Barna Research Group, Ltd., of Ventura, CA) finds that parents of home schoolers are more likely than adults in general to pray, have a devotional time, attend a church service, read the Bible, attend a religious study group, volunteer at church, or attend Sunday School (Home School Families, 2001).
Wartes (1990) reports that 80.1% of home school students in Washington state scored the highest possible score on an orthodoxy scale, which reflected the high degree of religious content in the books and materials they used. Smithwick (2001) found students in Christian schools (both private and home schools) endorsed a biblical world view in over 50% of issues addressed while public school students from the same evangelical denominations held those views less than one out of six times on the same issues.
Studies on the college level show home school graduates to rank high in religious commitment and activity (Holzmann, 2001; Knowles & Muchmore, 1995; Ohman 2001). This study intends to address the success of home school parents in affecting the values and behaviors of their students.


Population and Sampling
The population of this study was youth, grades 7-12, who attended Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) churches with students in both home based and conventionally based educational settings. A cluster sampling of BGCT churches was surveyed. One-tenth, or approximately 569 of the 5690 BGCT churches, were initially invited to participate.

The Daily Challenges Inventory (DCI) was taken from a larger questionnaire used by Josh McDowell Ministries in gathering information for the book, Right From Wrong (McDowell & Hostetler, 1994). The Barna Research Group, Ltd., conducted the research reported in this book. The DCI items can be classified as behavioral, dispositional, and attitudinal.
Thirteen evangelical denominations participated in Barna’s original nationwide survey. The eight-page questionnaire consisted of 193 items. The questionnaire was completed anonymously by 3,795 churched youth at their normal youth meetings between November 1993 and March 1994. A goal of 500 was set for each denomination. Useable returns ranged from 175 (Free Methodist) to 500 (Pentecostal Holiness) with the Southern Baptist Convention total listed at 176. No attempt was made to establish data on the instrument’s validity or reliability, according to a spokeswoman for Josh McDowell Ministries (P. Woods, personal communication, May 14, 2001).

Data Collection and Analysis

Permission to use the DCI was obtained from the publisher. A list of mailing labels of all churches affiliated with the BGCT was obtained from the state convention office.  A random number was chosen as a starting point to choose every 10th church for a mailing to the attention of “the youth leader” of said church with a preliminary letter asking for a response from the contact person. The original response failed to generate the potential for at least 100 participants in each of the two educational settings. More churches were contacted in a second, and later a third mailing.
Instructions and surveys were sent to participating churches with post-paid return envelopes. Churches that did not return the surveys by one week after the anticipated date given on the preliminary response card were contacted by e-mail and then telephone. A total of 1707 BGCT churches was invited to participate in this research study. Response cards were received from 41 churches, of which 15 were ineligible to participate because they did not include home schooled students. The other 26 churches received surveys for participants. Two churches declined to administer the surveys. Six churches failed to return any surveys in spite of follow-up e-mail messages and telephone calls to the contact person. The remaining 18 were included in the study. The total number of subjects in the conventionally schooled group was 228 and the total number in the home schooled group was 55. The total number of subjects included in the study was 283. Table 1 reports the participants according to gender, educational setting, and school grade level.

Gender: Male 131 46.3
              Female 152 53.7
Educational Setting
     Home School 55 19.4
    Conventional School 228 80.6

School Grade Level


40 14.1
8 48 17.0
9 46 16.3
10 50 17.7
11 46 16.3
12 53 18.7
Table 1. Distribution of respondents by gender, educational setting, and school grade level.

The low response rate suggests that home school families in Texas Baptist churches are a very small minority.  Nevertheless, using home school co-ops for sampling would have eliminated the effort to neutralize the influence of church upon youth attitudes and behaviors.  These students were taken from the same churches and youth groups.
Percentages for the DCI were tabulated for each item for each group. Percentages were for “yes” answers to each item on the survey. Tallies from the DCI from usable surveys were imported into the SPSS 10.0 program. Since the national norms were in the form of interval/ratio data, appropriate t-tests were used to compare differences between and among the national group and the two BGCT groups.


Significant difference between home schooled and conventionally schooled youth was found on 14 items of the DCI (see Table 2). The home schooled group was significantly less likely to watch MTV; use drugs; lie to a parent, teacher, or other older person; attempt suicide; drink enough alcohol to be legally drunk; or gamble. Home schoolers were also significantly less likely to describe themselves as too busy, stressed out, angry with life, confused, or always tired. Conventionally schooled youth were significantly more likely to describe themselves as upbeat, encouraged, and seeking answers.

Percent yes

1a. watched MTV at least once a week 16/43 4.428 .000
1b. watched an X-rated or pornographic movie 7/9 .482 .631
1c. used some type of illegal, non-prescriptive drug 2/10 2.929 .004
1d. cheated on an exam or other evaluation 24/34 1.541 .127
1e. stole money or some other material possession 16/17 .132 .895
1f. lied to parent, teacher, or other older person 66/79 1.989 .050
1g. lied to one of your friends or peers 60/68 1.146 .255
1h. attempted suicide 0/4 2.873 .004
1i. read a pornographic magazine 7/8 .229 .819
1j. drank enough alcohol to be legally drunk 2/12 3.687 .000
1k. intentionally tried to physically hurt someone 31/28 -.408 .684
1l. intentionally tried to emotionally hurt someone 24/29 .738 .462
1m. gambled or bet your money on something 13/25 2.208 .030
1n. smoked a cigarette or used another tobacco product 9/15 1.533 .128
2a. too busy 36/57 2.853 .005
2b. stressed out 34/55 2.812 .006
2c. optimistic 57/66 1.191 .237
2d. content 66/62 -.546 .587
2e. lazy 42/56 1.795 .077
2f. angry with life 4/18 4.214 .000
2g. skeptical 35/32 -.377 .707
2h. upbeat 47/71 3.147 .002
2i. lacking purpose 13/18 .935 .352
2j. unmotivated 22/17 -.855 .395
2k. physically attractive 58/57 -.063 .950
2l. mistrust people 25/35 1.175 .242
2m. high integrity 66/68 .379 .706
2n. high hopes 76/82 .927 .357
2o. disappointed 28/23 -.674 .502
2p. confused 28/53 3.472 .001
2q. always tired 29/50 2.944 .004
2r. religious 85/87 .348 .729
2s. lonely 30/25 -.710 .480
2t. encouraged 67/82 2.247 .028
2u. seeking answers 45/71 3.384 .001
2v. resentful 15/22 1.303 .196
2w. reliable 82/91 1.451 .152
2x. an achiever 79/84 .714 .478
2y. respected by others 80/87 1.118 .268
2z. temperamental 37/46 1.220 .226
Table 2. T-test results for DCI percentage yes answers for the previous three months between BGCT youth schooled at home (HS) and those conventionally schooled (CS).


Overall, DCI results support the supposition that home school parents are succeeding at influencing their children in terms of moral and religious attitudes and behaviors. Particularly, the home schooled group was found to be less likely to participate in behaviors that are potentially harmful. In terms of attitude and disposition, home school students seem to find life to have less tension, but do not seem to feel as upbeat and encouraged.

Behavioral Items
Six of the behavioral items showed the home schooled group to reflect lifestyles desired by most parents more often than the conventionally schooled group.  They proved to be significantly less likely to watch MTV, use drugs, lie to an older person, attempt suicide, get drunk, or gamble. These results may reflect the influence of parents as opposed to peers. Barna reports that 75% of teens say their parents influence their lives “a lot” (compared to 50% for friends) and about half of all churched teenagers say their parents have the greatest degree of influence on their personal spiritual development, six times more than peers (Teenagers and Their Relationships, 1998). Home school parents may be afforded an extended time and place for this influence. Even a family eating meals together on a regular basis has shown to help teens avoid risks such as drug use, sexual activity, violence, and suicide attempts (Teens and Their Parents, 2000).
Home school parents also have the opportunity to weave moral precepts in the curriculum. If home schooling for religious reasons, parents are able to teach in an environment that is not hostile to Christians and Christianity, and perhaps supportive and reinforcing of their own values.
Home school families are more likely to have two parents in the home (Bielick, Chandler, & Broughman, 2001; Rudner, 1999). While this is likely an economic necessity for most who would choose this option and the structure of home schooling cannot be
credited for having two parents in the home, it nevertheless renders a characteristic of home school families that fosters better behavior among youth. Increased parental monitoring is made possible which research shows to mitigate against participation in risky behaviors.
Home school parents may make more accurate assessment of the propensity of their students to do wrong and may be better prepared to take pro-active measures. Stanton et al. (2000) report that parents at large significantly underestimate their youth’s risky behaviors.

Dispositional Items
Significant differences were found on several dispositional items. Home school students appear to live life with less tension than conventionally schooled students. They were less likely to describe themselves as too busy, stressed out, angry with life, and always tired.
Flexibility of structure likely contributes to a less tense atmosphere for home schooling. The schedule can be interrupted for unique opportunities such as field trips or the pursuit of serendipitous learning excursions. Time for this is afforded because the instructional workday is often shorter with the efficiency of one-on-one instruction. While such a format affords less tension, Romanowski (2001) worries that home schoolers will neglect to develop skills needed to manage time and meet deadlines.
Individualization of curriculum may be a factor which reduces tension in home schools. Special needs children are not made to endure labels and groupings which bring embarrassment. Gifted children are not aware that they are exceptional. Both can be taught according to developmental readiness with uniquely formulated solutions for problems which arise. Students are also allowed more freedom to pursue personal interests.
Home schooling is able to mitigate against the pressures of grading and competition. Although most parents use some form of assessment, children are not made to face continual comparison with others. Moore and Moore (1977) assert that children do not learn easily if they are afraid of failure.
Also, home schooled students seem to be more settled in their views and values. They are less likely to describe themselves as confused or seeking answers. While the latter was probably seen in a positive light by the DCI authors, it is doubtful that home schoolers read that item in such light. It is likely that home schoolers viewed the item as describing one who is unsure of the tenets of Christianity, the purpose of life, or the absolute nature of truth. Thus, home schoolers possibly thought that a “no” answer to this item was consistent with solidified Christian viewpoints.
Ray (2000) would suggest that the quality of purposeful relationships in a home school environment fosters a relatively coherent world view as opposed to a menagerie of competing value systems. Critics would argue that home schoolers have such views because they are not exposed to a diversity of beliefs and backgrounds and are thus indoctrinated or even subject to intellectual enslavement (Kozlowski, 1999; Romanowski, 2001).

Attitudinal Items
While it may not alarm home school parents to know that their students score significantly lower than traditional students on seeking answers, it could and should be a concern to them that their students do not describe themselves as upbeat or encouraged. Conventionally schooled students were significantly more likely to say that these items describe themselves than were home schoolers. Farkas, Johnson, and Duffett (2002) found that parents believe constant love and encouragement is the most critical element in a parent’s preparing a child for life (92%). This finding seems to contradict Capaldi (1995) who found that the level of parental involvement hedges against depressive symptoms, and Meehan and Stephenson (1994) who claim that home school parents see their children as above average, which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Although home school students do well on socialization measures, they may still suffer some psycho-social loss. Chatham-Carpenter (1994) reported that public school students had more peer contacts, interacted with those contacts more often, and reported being closer to those contacts than did home schoolers. Dalaimo (1996) claims that home school children also face prejudice in that their parents’ decision makes them “different.” Farris (1998) writes that this prejudice has resulted in home school families facing a disproportionate amount of child-abuse investigations by social workers.


Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1999) has noted that the Soviets were effective at teaching science, math, language, and literature. She asserts that a good education must be founded upon liberty and morality, adding that democracy is not enough because a majority cannot turn wrong into right. She calls for an education that is centered in law, religion, and values that promote self-restraint.
This study seems to suggest that home school students more consistently reflect these restraining values than their conventionally schooled counterparts. If so, it is a benefit not only to the families involved, but to larger society as well.

Keywords: Homeschooled, homeschooling, homeschool, home-educated, religious outcomes, youth


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