Homeschooling the Gifted: What Do We Know from the Australian, Chilean and US Context?
The homeschooling movement has steadily developed in the last couple of decades, especially in the USA. In Australia and Chile, the movement is still growing as an alternative to school education. The social growth of homeschooling entails visions of support and criticism. Some consider it an approach to meet and foster children’s interests and needs, and others consider it a private movement against public education and democratic societies. Motivations for homeschooling are mostly related to ideological and pedagogical conceptions in the way families approach homeschooling. In terms of research, in the last two decades, there’s been a growth in peer-reviewed publications to better understand its motivations, implications, educational provisions and outcomes. Homeschooling for gifted students in particular has little research, and the findings from the few studies that are available suggest that these families start homeschooling for different reasons compared to the general homeschool population. While research on homeschooling gifted students from the USA dominates, not much is heard about homeschooling research in Australia and even less is evident from the Chilean homeschooling experience. In this scenario, more research is needed about gifted homeschooling and the inner experiences these families and children face. This chapter presents findings from a theoretical review in an effort to contribute to the understanding of this educational provision for gifted children and delve deeper into the options these families have in the context of Australia, Chile and the USA.
KeywordsGifted students Homeschooling Motivations Socialisation Provisions Research
provide a theoretical understanding of the homeschooling educational modality in the American, Australian and Chilean contexts
identify the practices associated with the homeschooling modality and characteristics of students and families
reiterate the legal status and regulations of homeschooling
discuss curriculum provision in homeschooling
discern motivations to homeschool gifted students
explore concerns about socialisation and friendship building in homeschooling
identify facilitators and difficulties that arise from the implementation of homeschooling for gifted students
suggest future research and practice in homeschooling for gifted students
Homeschooling education can be defined as a form of educational provision for school-age children, between the ages 5 and 17, within the home setting in which parents decide not to send them to a public or registered private school service and educate their children through a parent, family member, tutor, computer-related instruction or a combination of services (D’Amato & Gundrum, 2017; King, 2018; Medlin, 2000).
Homeschooling for gifted students has become more of an option for families in the last two decades (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a) even though the homeschooling movement emerged in the 1970s as parents started to educate their children at home (Isenberg, 2007; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013). This educational modality has cultivated a series of social myths that include the thoughts that it produces social misfits or bad citizens, who may have difficulty entering college, with the main reason to homeschool being religious beliefs (Carpenter & Gann, 2015; Jolly & Matthews, 2018c; Romanowski, 2006).
As documented in previous studies on homeschooling, generally, parents’ motivations to homeschool their children are based mainly on four broad reasons: (a) discontent with traditional school environments, (b) pedagogical and academic concerns, (c) religious values and (d) family needs (Collom, 2005; Hanna, 2012; Jolly & Matthews, 2018c). In the case of Australia, Jackson and Allan (2010) found that families home educate their children basically for two reasons: first, negative views (real or perceived) associated with education in mainstream institutions and, second, the benefits (real or perceived) of educating their children in this modality. In the case of Chile, in a survey that included 67 homeschooling families in 2014, Aliaga (2017) found that when they were asked to prioritise between four types of reasons, the percentages obtained were the following: (a) pedagogical (33%), (b) ideological (31%), (c) psychological (21%) and (d) religious (15%).
In relation to families of gifted children, the limited empirical literature available (Jolly & Matthews, 2018a, 2017a; Jolly, Matthews, & Nester, 2013; Kula, 2018) suggests that these families often decide to homeschool only after numerous attempts to achieve effective education for their child in traditional schools (Jolly & Matthews, 2017b). In a previous study, Winstanley (2009) indicated that the reasons to homeschool varied from those of the general homeschool population and are more focussed in pragmatic reasons rather than moral ones. The decision to homeschool gifted children appears to be precipitated by a combination of factors, and some of these include (a) schools’ lack of understanding of students who have both a learning disability and an advanced intellectual ability; (b) parents’ perceptions of the difficulties their child has to face in a specific school environment related with an increased intensity of social and emotional issues; and (c) the teacher or school’s inability or unwillingness to provide an accelerated curriculum (Jolly et al., 2013).
Research on gifted homeschoolers is still in the early stages of development and scarce, with most research from the US experience (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a, 2017b; Kula, 2018; Winstanley, 2009). Due to the lack of research in homeschooling the gifted in both Australia and Chile, research beyond the North American research needs to be undertaken to provide a more profound understanding of homeschooling as a form of educational choice for gifted families and their children in different regions of the world. Hence, this chapter aims to contribute to the homeschooling literature with a theoretical review to narrow this gap with a focus in three Pacific Rim countries, Australia, Chile and the USA, exploring the current homeschooling research literature and the emerging research literature across three disparate contexts.
The Homeschooling Movement
Homeschooling is as old as education and was the way in which parents and tutors educated the young population before the emergence of the public-school system that expanded from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century (Gaither, 2017a; King, 2018). The so-called homeschooling movement commenced in the late 1970s in the USA when an increasing number of families started to home educate motivated by a distrust in traditional education and inspired by the American school reformer and educator John Holt, who argued that children need to learn naturally and free from formal education (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a; Pell, 2018). By the 1980s, the dominant group was represented by conservative Christians (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a; Kula, 2018; Romanowski, 2006). Since then, homeschooling has diversified culturally, demographically, structurally and geographically and spread globally (Gaither, 2009, 2017b; Jolly & Matthews, 2018c; Rothermel, 2015). This rebirth, in the words of Ray (2017a), ‘after about a century of quiescence has surprised many educators, sociologists, political scientists, historians, and theologians, and has captured the imagination and engagement of hundreds of thousands of families’ (p. 86).
Gaither (2017a) explains that this increase in implementation has often been called the ‘homeschooling movement’, because the families involved have been engaged in legal and political actions to keep their children at home. This movement has been documented widely and strongly, mainly by researchers from the USA, even though homeschooling emerged in many parts of the world roughly at the same time. So, homeschooling can be considered a global movement in which different regions have developed their own legal policies and educational provisions (Gaither, 2017b).
Adherents’ and Opponents’ Perspectives of Homeschooling Education
Even though home education is a legal practice in all 50 US states and has become (King, 2018; Ray, 2017c) a solid educational alternative for a diverse range of children, whether they are gifted or not, some voices have been raised in concern about it. For example, it is suggested that homeschooling represents an individualistic positive conception of education, instead of a collective effort that is good for the education of the next generation (Brewer & Lubienski, 2017; Lubienski, 2000, 2003).
Others argue that homeschooling—as well as private schooling—fosters political intolerance and the unwillingness to be considerate of different viewpoints and beliefs that Cheng (2014) refutes based on a research study conducted with 304 undergraduate students who attended an evangelical Christian university and answered a content-controlled political-tolerance scale. The results suggested that a greater exposure to homeschooling—instead of a public school—is associated with more political tolerance. Despite these results, the author indicated that these findings are not sufficient to establish causal relationships, due to factors that were not possible to observe, like the motivations behind the reasons for choosing homeschooling, that could be leading to more political tolerance in these students.
Research Complexities on Homeschooling
Research on homeschooling is complex due to its diversity and limited access to related information and because the basic demographic data is unavailable (Gaither, 2017b; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013). Also, issues that are related with the anecdotal quality of the research that has already been conducted have emerged (Murphy 2014). A critique of the research conducted in the USA suggests homeschooling is politically motivated (Kunzman & Gaither, 2013). In this respect, Gaither (2017a) asserts that a large number of the studies have been developed and published independently with the support of the homeschooling advocacy organisation Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), through his organisation the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). However, these studies present some design limitations and generalisations in their conclusions that need to be taken with care (Gaither, 2008; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013).
Another complexity exposed by Howell (2013) is that research in homeschooling is neglected by educational institutions because of a dominant educational research approach that is focussed on quantitative analyses, data comparison, standardised settings and large samples which could lead to little interest in its study. Howell suggested that instead of trying to find which educational mode is better than the other, more positive and useful outcomes for teachers and home educators’ parents will be knowing the factors that affect motivation and learning in different educational contexts. Indeed, Gaither (2017b) points out that English-speaking countries like Australia, the UK and bilingual Canada are the ones in which it is possible to find additional scholarship work besides the USA.
In light of the key issues raised above, the following sections provide overviews of North American, Australian and Chilean homeschooling generally regarding (a) legal status and regulations, (b) motivations, (c) concerns about socialisation and friendship building and (d) curriculum provision.
Homeschooling in the USA
Reviewing the homeschooling movement in the USA is relevant because this country represents the main focus of theoretical and empirical research on this topic. Some consider this educational modality has reached certain maturity and is therefore a mandatory reference for researchers in other regions (Gaither, 2017b; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013).
While some suggest that the number of children who are being home educated in the USA has been growing steadily in the last 30 years (Gaither, 2017a; Ray, 2017c; Riley, 2015; Shepherd, 2015), others suggest a steep trajectory of growth of this education modality with undercalculated student numbers (e.g. Jolly & Matthews, 2018c). In the 2015 academic school year, approximately 2,200,000 US students did not attend public or private schools and were educated at home (Ray, 2017a). Brewer and Lubienski (2017) suggest that even though this practice has been growing and some of its advocates claim that homeschooling ‘may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States’ (Ray, 2016, p. 1), it still remains a relatively small percentage of the educational practices, representing approximately 4% of all students.
The families in this modality do not receive public funding for their children’s education since they are not attending public schools. This funding represents over $27 billion that American taxpayers do not have to spend (Ray, 2016). The cost of homeschooling then falls on the families as providers of educational resources (Hurlbutt, 2011; Hurlbutt-Eastman, 2017; Jolly et al., 2013). Another cost that is associated with homeschooling is that some parents are not able to continue with their work outside the home with the consequence of the loss of one of the family members’ income and the subsequent precarisation and accommodation that this situation implies (Brewer & Lubienski, 2017).
Legal Status and Regulations Regarding Homeschooling in the USA
Since 1983, a legal defence association called the HSLDA, which is a Christian-based group, was established to protect the constitutional rights of parents to home educate their children and legalise this educational modality (Kolenc, 2017; Lagos, 2011). In 1993, homeschooling became legal in the USA; nevertheless, each one of the 50 states has its own unique homeschooling law (Gaither, 2017a; Kolenc, 2017). Within this diversity, it is possible to find lax, moderate and extreme regulations. For example, no notice of homeschool intention is needed in 11 states; parents’ requirements of notification to local or state educational offices are needed in 15 states, while in the others, requirements are for homeschool curriculum approval by the state, home visits are undertaken by state officials and present test scores or student progress is within the context of professionals’ evaluations (Pell, 2018).
In this scenario, the way in which each state approaches homeschoolers’ data collection also varies and could be done in a very haphazard fashion; only few states keep meticulous records (Gaither, 2017a). Related to this, a 2012 national survey about homeschooling in the USA by the National Center for Education Statistics of the Department of Education (NCES), found that ‘most homeschooled students were white (83 percent) and nonpoor (89 percent), lived in cities or suburban areas and rural areas’ (Redford, Battle, & Bielick, 2016, p. ii). In relation to their parents’ educational level, the higher percentage had vocational degrees or some college education, 23% of them had a high school degree and 18% a graduate degree, while only 2% of the parents had less than a high school education degree (Redford et al., 2016). King (2018) argued that today, homeschoolers are more diverse, with families belonging to different ethnic and racial backgrounds (African and Hispanic-Americans for example) and also coming from a wider geographic distribution.
Motivations for Homeschooling in the USA
One of the key works in the area of motivations that lead parents to decide to educate their children at home was the one developed by Jane Van Galen in the late 1980s. She established two differentiating categories of parents: the pedagogues and the ideologues, mainly by interviewing 23 parents from 16 homeschooling families (Van Galen, 1987, 1991). See Jolly and Matthews (2018c) for a detailed overview of Van Galen’s theory of homeschooling.
The ideologue parents are characterised as being Christian fundamentalists and conservatives. They prioritise the transmission of their own values and beliefs and wish to strengthen family relationships that they think are diminished by the excessive time children spend in schools, and they express objection to public/private school teaching (Hanna, 2012; Lois, 2017; Van Galen, 1987, 1991). On the other hand, the pedagogues prioritise individuality and creativity in learning. They often share the conviction that children can develop their innate abilities in a holistic, unstructured and natural way and have a lack of confidence in schools because of what they perceived as an inability to teach properly (Hanna, 2012; Lois, 2017; Van Galen, 1987, 1991). Like any bilateral categorisation—that is found in Van Galen’s interpretation of homeschooling—it is insufficient to simply describe the wide diversity of motives that each family expresses, as they are usually multidimensional and related with their particular circumstances and context (Jolly et al., 2013; Murphy, Gaither, & Gleim, 2017). This is why other researchers have elaborated and expanded Van Galens’s work, like Mayberry (1988), who identified four categories of parents, after analysing more than 500 surveys and 15 in-depth interviews. These were (a) religious, (b) academic, (c) socio-relational and (d) new-age parents. She explains that one way to understand this categorisation is to read it as a complement to the antecedent established by Van Galen. In this way, religious and new-age parents are linked to the notion of ideological parents, while academic and socio-relational parents are linked to the notion of pedagogical parents (Lois, 2017; Mayberry, 1988). Nemer, in 2002, suggested to transform Van Galen’s typology into descriptors—ideological motivations and pedagogical motivations—that would fall into a continuum of motivations from low to high degree. Kunzman and Gaither (2013) in a review of 351 research articles pointed out that researchers have continued to use Van Galen’s basic categories even though some have proposed new terminology when they found it inadequate, proving that her work is ‘remarkably resilient’ (p. 13).
Related to survey results in this topic, the NCES (2012) survey, showed that the top reason (91%) for homeschooling identified by parents was their concerns about the school environment (safety, negative peer pressure). The second reason was a desire to provide moral instruction (77%), followed by dissatisfaction with academic instruction in schools (74%) and a desire to provide religious instruction (64%) (Redford et al., 2016). These results show that concerns about academic quality at schools are one of the primary reasons for homeschooling (Bielick, Chandler, & Broughman, 2001; Collom, 2005; Kula, 2018; Martin-Chang & Levesque, 2017), ahead of religious reasons, which was a major motivation three decades ago (Jolly & Matthews, 2018c; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Murphy et al., 2017).
Concerns About Socialisation and Friendship Building in US Homeschooling
One of the areas that arouse the most concern is the one related with socialisation, with stereotypical claims by outside viewers that homeschoolers lack enough contact with peers and public interactions, so students are socially isolated. Homeschooler advocates reply that they provided sufficient opportunities for social encounters outside the family, like extracurricular activities and group learning (Kunzman, 2017; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Murphy, 2014; Ray 2017b). Paradoxically, difficulties associated with socialisation are one of the reasons parents indicated their decision to homeschool (46%) when surveyed by the NCES (2012) (Redford et al., 2016).
In a review conducted by Kunzman and Gaither (2013), they found 72 empirical studies on the issue of socialisation and homeschooling. Most of them focussed on social interactions and evaluation of social skills through different methods, but the majority of studies relied on self-reporting by parents and/or students. The results point out that when comparing homeschoolers with schooled students in different social skills and participation in extracurricular activities for group interaction, both groups have similar outcomes. In another review of research on socialisation, Medlin (2013) synthesised that when compared with children in conventional schools, results suggested that homeschoolers have ‘higher quality friendships and better relationships with their parents and other adults. They are happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives’ (p. 284).
In relation to peer victimisation between homeschoolers and school students, data from small convenience samples didn’t find differences (Green-Hennessy, 2014; Reavis & Zakriski, 2005). When social networks were compared, both groups have a similar amount of intimate friends (Medlin, 2013; Reavis & Zakriski, 2005).
Researchers suggested that more empirical research with random and bigger samples is needed, to avoid favouring socially desirable responses on this issue (Green-Hennessy, 2014; Kunzman, 2017; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Medlin, 2013; Murphy, 2014).
Curriculum Provision in US Homeschooling
The homeschooling movement is based initially on the ideas of John Holt, an educator and writer who was searching throughout the 1970s for new ways to foster learning and growth in children. He was influenced by the ideas of Paul Goodman, a social and education critic, and Ivan Illich, a philosopher and activist (Farenga, 2010; Holt & Farenga, 2003; Pell, 2018). Holt didn’t like the terms homeschooling or deschooling, ‘so he invented the word unschooling to better describe learning that does not have to occur at home and that does not resemble school’ (Farenga, 2010, p. 216). Unschooling refers to child-directed learning that allows the child freedom to learn and explore what they want all the time without the disapproval from adults. Families work with the children’s interests and abilities; they use learning opportunities instead of a standard curriculum. Some terms that are used interchangeably with unschooling are natural learning, self-directed learning and child-led learning (English, 2013; Farenga, 2010; Haugh, 2014; Kula, 2018; Pell, 2018).
Within the homeschooling movement, it is possible to encounter categories that were created for different models or approaches for learning. In this context, there are broadly two streams, a traditional and a non-traditional educational philosophy or unschooling (Farenga, 2010; Hanna, 2012; Kula, 2018). A traditional approach accentuates structured curricula and obedience and compliance to authority; the non-traditional approach highlights the learner’s autonomy and independence while encouraging the questioning of authority, which is considered a characteristic of the gifted child (Clark, 2013). Between these two streams, it is feasible to find eclectic homeschoolers (who use anything they think can work, combine other approaches and can also involve part-time school attendance, distance education courses or e-learning, all of which would suit the learning needs of gifted children); classical homeschoolers (who include the study of classical literature, grammar, logic and rhetoric thought, an approach that may benefit intellectually gifted learners in particular); and some other homeschooler groups who think of homeschooling as a way to teach arithmetic, reading and writing and the values that are important for them that are depreciated at traditional schools. They can also follow a specific educational philosophy such as Montessori (i.e. focussed on genuine everyday experiences, encourages learning at children’s own pace which uses all the five senses, which aligns well with accelerating gifted learners) and Waldorf/Steiner (which highlights children’s imagination, fantasy, creative thinking and analytical thinking and matches well with the learning needs of creatively gifted children) or the Charlotte Mason approach (which is rooted in the medieval university and trivium curriculum, which exposes children to different sources of knowledge and can parallel with gifted students’ interests) (Anthony & Burroughs, 2012; Bauer & Wise, 2016; Farenga, 2010; Kula, 2018).
Regarding academic achievement, research has found that structured homeschooling is associated with some positive achievements in relation to verbal skills predominantly (Green-Hennessy, 2014; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Martin-Chang, Gould, & Meuse, 2011). Even though it is not clear if the homeschooling itself was the cause of this outcome, it reflects high parental involvement that has been associated with good results (Barwegen, Falciani, Putnam, Reamer, & Star, 2004; Jolly & Matthews, 2017b; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Lubienski, Puckett, & Brewer, 2013; Ray, 2013). Another aspect consistently associated with positive achievement results and instructional quality in homeschoolers is parental educational background (Belfield, 2005; Kunzman, 2009; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013).
Furthermore, a longitudinal study was conducted by Hanna (2012) between 1998 and 2008 with 250 families in Pennsylvania regarding instruction, materials and curricula used by the families. She found that, as children get older, the homeschooling experience is characterised by the search for more support in networks built with other families, co-operative instruction and internet resources. For example, computer-related instruction to support student learning has increased in homeschooling as the technology has developed exponentially since the 1980s, become more readily available and is a more economical resource to use (Jolly & Matthews, 2018c).
Additionally, Isenberg (2007) found that only 63% of homeschoolers continued to be homeschooled after the first year and that 15% from secular homes and 48% from religious ones remain homeschooled after 6 years. These results show a decrease in the growth of homeschooling as children age (Kunzman & Gaither, 2013).
Homeschooling in Australia
The homeschooling modality has a long history in this vast country—especially in rural and remote areas where access to schools is inhibited due to distance—and has become part of the educational options since the late 1970s (Jackson, 2017a).
In relation to research, there’s a growing body of literature on various aspects of home education that come from academic projects, postgraduate- and honours-level studies and demographic information research, such as motivations, students’ perceptions, learning processes, academic success, students’ competencies, social development, parents’ management of the home education process, special needs, home education in rural areas and legislative and legal aspects in all Australian states (Allan & Jackson, 2010; Jackson 2017a, 2017b; Select Committee on Home Schooling, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 2014).
One aspect that researchers in the area make clear is that the three decades of research carried out in the Australian context reveal different results—in relation to the practice and experience of home education—to the research carried out in the USA. In this sense, they warn researchers and academics about the need to consider these conceptual frameworks and results with caution and to not assume that it equates to home education in Australia or in other countries (Allan & Jackson, 2010; English, 2015; Jackson, 2017a, 2017b).
About the number of home educators, data related to the extent of registered students at a national level from all the states and territories between 2011and 2017 show that this educational modality has experienced a sustained growth of around 82%. The total number of registered home education students in 2017 was 19,004, whereas in mainstream education institutions, there were a total of 3,849,000 students (Chapman, 2017). Hence, it can be estimated that the number of homeschooled gifted students would be in the thousands. However, generally, the real number of homeschooled students remains unknown because some families do not formalise the registration of their children (Select Committee on Home Schooling, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 2014). Nonetheless, Allan and Jackson (2010) indicate that families who home educate can be found in rural, remote, suburban and city locations and represent all types of families, inclusive of families with gifted children.
Legal Status and Regulations Regarding Homeschooling in Australia
Home education in Australia is a legal and accepted alternative to school education (Allan & Jackson, 2010; Harding, 2011; Jackson & Allan, 2010). There isn’t a national regulation, which implies that the six states and two territories that make up the country have different regulations and procedures (Jackson & Allan, 2010). Allan and Jackson (2010) argue that ‘a more consistent regulatory framework is needed across Australia. Such a framework should facilitate and encourage children who are being home educated, rather than police home educating families’ (p. 55). Indeed, such a framework needs to accept the varieties of educational approaches that home education families have been providing (Allan & Jackson, 2010; Jackson, 2014). Another aspect to consider is a national statutory definition of homeschooling, as only New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland provide one (Select Committee on Home Schooling, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 2014).
The term homeschooling is used for the majority of researchers in Australia, but most researchers from Victoria and Tasmania refer to it as home education to insist that this is not just about the school practice at home. Other terms used include unschooling and natural learning (Jackson, 2017a; Paine, 2018). Jackson (2017a) affirms that for many researchers ‘these distinctions have not been significant’ (p. 347).
Since the work of Barratt-Peacock in the late 1990s, it is possible to observe tensions between regulations, legislatures and families, especially in those states with more tight controls (Barratt-Peacock, 1997). This tension highlights that in Australia, its states and territorial governments do not agree with the idea that education in the case of homeschoolers is only the domain of the family, and that is why they have established their own register of regimes and, in some states, requirements of approval of education programs (Harding, 2011). The Australian-governing authorities agree with the idea that ‘parents had the right to determine the education of their children but also acknowledged the state’s need to be assured that the children’s right to an education was upheld through family practice’ (Jackson, 2017a, p. 342).
Further discourse and research about this topic are still needed as a way to provide evidence and direction on behalf of the students’ interests—especially as there is such a diverse range of students’ needs currently being addressed in the homeschooling context, including diversely different gifted children (Allan & Jackson, 2010; Conejeros-Solar & Smith, 2019; Harding, 2011; Jackson, 2014; Jackson, 2017a; Liberto, 2016).
Motivations for Homeschooling in Australia
Imagine you haven’t seen another kid in three months. The mail plane arrives only every three weeks as you anxiously wait for it just to connect with the rest of the world. You have been flooded in for 12 weeks with nothing to do and nowhere to go, just water for kilometres and your imagination. Our students face challenges like these every day. It is hard to envision a future when you’re living in severe isolation and finding it hard to connect with the world. (Anonymous, 2008, p. 78)
From the necessity to homeschool due to the remote location, extreme weather conditions or medical reasons, school of the air and virtual schooling have evolved in this context (Halsey, 2017). However, Jackson (2017a) asserts that different researchers give different reasons for homeschooling depending on the sample that was being used and that a good way to group these reasons is to consider the two major characteristics of the decisions as were described in the late 1990s by Hertzel (1997) and used in Australia in the work of Patrick (1999). These are the push and pull factors (negative experiences and positive entries, respectively) between traditional schools and home education. Croft (2013) adds that, instead of classifying types of motivations for homeschooling, it is more useful to assess the direction of the motivation. From this way of organising the motivational factors, Jackson and Allan (2010) indicated that the reasons families have to home educate fall into two categories that could be real or perceived: (a) negative aspects of traditional schools, like learning difficulties not catered for, especially for children with special needs, instruction or curriculum not meeting student’s needs and/or interests such as for gifted students, large-sized classes, lower academic achievement, negative peer pressure or bullying that are often experienced by gifted students, low self-esteem, children’s unhappiness with school and contrasting values between the school and home and (b) benefits of educating children at home, like broader curriculum and social experiences with a wider age range of people, holistic learning with greater connection with the real world, flexible learning to cater to the students’ individual needs, low teacher-student ratio (one-to-one), values teaching, academic benefits and tight family relations.
Conejeros-Solar and Smith’s (2019) research on homeschooling in Australia found that parents considered there were many reasons for homeschooling their gifted child, but mainly the mismatch between the traditional school and their gifted children’s learning needs turned them towards homeschooling. In regard to students with special needs, Kidd and Kaczmarek (2010), in a research study with ten mothers who homeschooled their children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), found that the reasons they wielded for homeschooling were mainly related to cognitive and educational challenges at school, lack of understanding of ASD by the teachers and school stress and anxiety.
Concerns About Socialisation and Friendship Building in Australian Homeschooling
Jackson (2017a, 2017b) indicated that while there is no large research project in Australia specifically focussed on the socialisation of children who are home educated, most of the research carried out partially addresses this topic. Generally, homeschooled students have positive and healthy social interactions, and they appreciate the social experiences they can get being at home with people of different ages. In this sense, their socialisation experiences are qualitatively different from their age peers at school and more similar to the experiences they can get in the adult world context (Allan & Jackson, 2010).
For those who reported that they had bad social experiences at school, being at home helped them to recover. Nonetheless, some homeschooled students would like to have more interaction opportunities with peers, even though special interest groups, home education network groups and volunteer service opportunities, amongst others, are activities most of the families provide (Allan & Jackson, 2010; Croft, 2013; Jackson, 2017a, 2017b; Select Committee on Home Schooling, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 2014).
Curriculum Provision in Australian Homeschooling
The homeschooling families use a variety of educational approaches to learning (Select Committee on Home Schooling, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 2014).
These approaches could be organised into a theoretical framework for homeschooling in which it is possible to find a gradation of three types of curriculum or family program: structured, eclectic (blended learning) and informal or unschooling or natural learning. These types may be used by families in a combination or continuum (Allan & Jackson, 2010; Croft, 2013; Jackson, 2017a).
Something that researchers have noticed is that homeschooling families tend to initially start with a more structured approach that follows the school model (mostly characterised by schedules, lesson plans, textbooks and record keeping) but move to a more informal approach as they gain confidence and experience, especially in a long-term experience (English, 2013; Jackson, 2017a; Kidd & Kaczmarek, 2010; McDonald & Lopes, 2014).
Common methods that were described in Allan and Jackson’s research (2010) included unit studies (focussed on the child’s interests and from that, linked with different subject areas), classical approach (Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf/Steiner, unschooling or natural learning) and eclectic approach (Croft, 2013; English, 2013; Select Committee on Home Schooling, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 2014).
Researchers point out that the broader curriculum, flexible learning to meet personal needs, holistic learning opportunities connected with the real world and low student-teacher ratio are all positive benefits of home education in Australia (Allan & Jackson, 2010; Jackson & Allan, 2010, Jackson, 2017a, 2017b; Kidd & Kaczmarek, 2010).
Homeschooling in Chile
This South American country has a scarcity of research and formal publications in homeschooling. Only one published paper in a peer-reviewed journal and four theses were found, three of these from Master programs in Education. In regard to data collection, Aliaga (2017) stated that Chilean families have opted to de-school their children as an educational alternative in recent times. In relation to its prevalence, there is no official data available to account for this reality nor an official figure that allows us to know how many children and young people study outside the school context (Julio, 2016a; Poblete, 2016; Troncoso, 2015). The only approximate and informal data were published in an official newspaper in 2013; the information stated, after interviewing the director of a home education organisation, that it is estimated that the families in this modality are around a thousand (Sepulveda, 2013; Troncoso, 2015).
Legal Status and Regulations Regarding Homeschooling in Chile
There are no legal obstacles to home education in Chile (Aliaga, 2017; García, Barrera, & Alejandro, 2017). The Chilean Constitutional Policy (2017) establishes that parents have the preferential right and the duty to educate their children (Article 19 paragraph 10). The same article declares the freedom of teaching (paragraph 11). In respect to the General Educational Law 20370. Article 4 (Mineduc, 2009), 12 years of general education are mandatory in the country, but this is not restricted to school attendance (García et al., 2017).
A resource that is used for families that home educate is the validation of studies (Article 7, Exempt Decree 2272 of 2007). This validation means that people under 18 years old can take validation exams of Basic Education and/or Secondary Education if they don’t have regular studies or their education has been interrupted (Mineduc, 2018a). To submit this annual evaluation, students need to be personally enrolled by their legal representatives or guardians. The Ministerial Regional Secretariats of Education will designate educational establishments as examining entities to validate studies of Basic and Secondary Education. These establishments will sign the record of grades, evaluation and school promotion. The Decree Exempt 2272 (Mineduc, 2007) says that these establishments have to designate a coordinator for the examination process and set up the commissions with appropriate teachers to carry out the examination. This coordination has to be exercised by the establishment’s director. Once the record of grades and promotion of students is complete, they are sent to the corresponding Regional Ministry of Education. To prepare for these exams, families need to use the official plans and programs of the Ministry of Education for the respective course or grade level; it is relevant to note that the Ministry of Education delivers these texts freely to the families. The validation exam from first to fourth year of General Basic Education consists of a global assessment, and for fifth year of General Basic Education to fourth year of High School, students need to undertake an exam for each course and sub-sector of learning or a global exam by level or cycle, which will include the subsectors of the General Training field (Mineduc, 2007). To be promoted, all pertinent learning sub-sectors, to at least note 4.0 level (the note scale is 1–7), must be approved (Mineduc, 2018b).
This process, as reported in a qualitative research study with ten families from different regions of the country, generates uncertainty regarding the exams, because even though there is a regulation, the ignorance about it in many of the professionals and administration staff in the Ministerial Regional Secretariats of Education and in the schools causes social pressure and attrition in the mothers who educate at home (Poblete, 2016). Two important reasons for this are that homeschooling is an emergent modality that is still very unfamiliar (Aliaga, 2017; Julio, 2016a) and that among the countries where home education is a legal option, Chile has minimal supervision (Cabo, 2012). The lack of supervision can be observed when families have to enrol every year for the validation exam. The registration process and the surrender to the exam experience will depend on their place of residence and the preparation and willingness of the educational establishment that is assigned for them. As these establishments have to create and apply for the annual examination, there isn’t a standardised instrument by grade level or subject, so this aspect is complex because being based on the same National Curricular Bases, these evaluations present notable differences (Poblete, 2016).
In relation to some of the characteristics these families exhibit, Aliaga (2017), stated that in the survey he conducted in 2014 with a group of 67 families from different places in Chile, he found a high level of parental education in the group. Indeed, 74% of mothers had a higher education degree; the most representative professions were teachers, entrepreneurs and engineers. Most parents were dedicated to their children’s care, so they did not develop a remunerated activity, and only 21% of the group performed tasks in a dependent manner. In reference to fathers, 77% had a university degree and all of them worked. In regard to their geographical distribution, most of them lived in urban areas (78%).
Motivations for Homeschooling in Chile
In the few works carried out to date, some constants were observed. In the survey conducted by Aliaga (2017), the pedagogical reason appears as the most relevant with 33% of the total answers. In his words, this pedagogic motive could be understood as families who disagree with the school system, want a more personalised education in which their children could learn by discovering and where their way of learning is respected. Although the research developed by Julio (2016a) only considers one family as a case study, it also indicates that the main motivation is linked to the school ethos in its way of managing knowledge, its routines, its discipline and in the belief that the school does not perform its task well. The study carried out by Troncoso (2015) who interviewed five families corroborates these findings. The parents expressed dissatisfaction with public, charter and private education, distrust of teachers and the feeling that the traditional school is not what they want for their children. In addition, they also manifest discontent with the academic quality of the education provided in these establishments.
The ideological (31%), psychological (21%) and religious (15%) reasons presented in Aliaga’s survey (2017) are also present in the other studies. The ideological reasons indicated that education is a parent’s task where more freedom, sharing more family time and teaching more values are needed (Aliaga, 2017; Troncoso, 2015). The psychological reasons referred to an authentic parents’ concern for the well-being of their sons and daughters and the avoidance of the hostile environment of the school or bullying (Julio, 2016b; Troncoso, 2015), two common motivations for homeschooling gifted students. The religious reasons are related with a desire to share and preserve with their children the Christian and moral principles that the family professes (Aliaga, 2017; Troncoso, 2015).
Poblete (2016) adds an interesting view that can be correlated with the reasons mentioned previously. She distinguishes at least two ways in which families decide to marginalise themselves from the traditional school system, first as part of a philosophy of life that has been thought of since before the birth of their children and, second, as a consequence of a negative school experience. The first view could be correlated with the ideological and religious reasons and the second one with the pedagogical and psychological ones.
These two paths of non-schooling and deschooling could be understood, respectively, as a greater project, a conception of life and family, and as the interruption or the withdrawal of the educational process from the school system, both of which are parallel ways into which families start homeschooling (Poblete, 2016).
Concerns About Socialisation and Friendship Building in Chilean Homeschooling
There isn’t much reference to this topic in the Chilean research. Aliaga (2017) indicated through his survey that parents expressed that they provided their children with multiple socialisation opportunities and that their children show good skills and abilities to relate with people from different age groups. Indeed, with the global influence of technology, the different facebook groups, blogs and organisations around them are considered communities that share learning and socialisation activities as well (Aliaga, 2017; Julio, 2016b; Poblete, 2016).
Curriculum Provision in Chilean Homeschooling
Poblete (2016) indicated that homeschooling in Chile is a hybrid between homeschooling and unschooling and that this combination, mixture or absence of distinction between these concepts derives in practice that is redefined by its protagonists as ‘home education’ and less frequently ‘school at home’ and ‘natural learning’. In this context families organise their educational provision in different ways: some create their own programs and activities; others are based in the Ministry of Education curriculum and books; and a third group uses virtual schools or the Waldorf/Steiner and Montessori approach (Aliaga, 2017; Poblete, 2016).
Regarding academic results, the only reference is the one that Aliaga (2017) provides from the survey, in which families expressed that all their children were approved for the national validation exam and that 86% of them achieved results in each category from good (5.0) to very good (7.0).
Homeschooling for the Gifted
Research on this specific group of homeschoolers is scarce in the North American context (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a; Jolly et al., 2013; Kula, 2018; Kunzman, 2009; Murphy et al., 2017). No empirical literature was found in this regard in the Australian nor Chilean contexts, while the only mentions in Australia were related with the need for research and prioritisation of this group (Jackson, 2017a, 2017b) and some reports and articles that reinforced motivations to homeschool (Croft, 2013; English, 2013; Jackson & Allan, 2010; Select Committee on Home Schooling, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament, 2014).
Researchers argue that the lack of systematic research and interest in this topic is surprising (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a, 2018a; Murphy et al., 2017). Winstanley (2009) explains that a reason could be related with the difficulty in defining this group because, in the home setting, assigning the label gifted is unnecessary and irrelevant as it is not related with provisions and funding activities as it is at schools.
A point of coincidence between academics is the need for research in this area, as a way to understand the experiences, choices, needs, best practices, socialisation, achievements, outcomes and challenges of homeschooling families with gifted and twice-exceptional children (Jolly et al., 2013; Kula, 2018; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Ronksley-Pavia, Grootenboer, & Pendergast, 2019).
Representation of Gifted Children in Homeschooling
The occurrence of gifted children in the whole homeschool community is unknown. Gifted children are only one group of participants and a minority in this steadily growing homeschooled population (Jolly & Matthews, 2018a; Jolly et al., 2013). A reason Jolly and Matthews (2017a, 2017b) exposed is that in half of the US states gifted education is not mandatory. In this context, they estimated that if gifted children represent between 6% and 10% of the total school population (National Association for Gifted Children, n.d.), gifted students could be around 60,000–200,000 from a total homeschool population ranging from 1 to 2 million children.
Motivations for Homeschooling Gifted Students
The motivations that have been described by parents are linked in many cases with a dissatisfaction with mainstream schooling and how they are failing gifted students. This failure is associated with the need of a more challenging and flexible curriculum; lack of teacher preparation to meet these learners’ needs; teachers’ lack of awareness of students with twice exceptionality; limited or non-existent provision for gifted and twice-exceptional students at the school; offering of educational options that do not consider the needs, interests and characteristics of gifted children, like using gifted students to tutor other students, their need to accelerate or participation in advanced classes, for example; dissatisfaction with the learning environment; and difficult social and emotional issues, like bullying and isolation (Freeman, 2001; Goodowens & Cannaday, 2018; Goodwin & Gustavson, 2009; Jolly & Matthews, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c; Jolly et al., 2013; Kula, 2018; Ronksley-Pavia et al., 2019; Winstanley, 2009). In a narrative-based Australian study, three of the eight student participants with twice exceptionalities expressed support for homeschooling as a way to address their emotional distress of not coping with general school and considered homeschooling as more interesting and of higher quality than general schooling (Ronksley-Pavia et al. (2019).
The scarce results of research available suggest that the motivations that lead these families to decide to marginalise themselves from the traditional school system is less of a deliberate choice and more of a last resort after other school options have been tried without success (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a, 2018a, 2018b; Rivero, 2002; Winstanley, 2009). In the words of Winstanley, ‘They are instead, making a pragmatic response to the situation they are in where schools cannot cope with their unusual children’ (2009, p. 360). Is it then a forced decision that differentiates this group from the general homeschool population, more as Jolly and Matthews (2018a) express, a mismatch between services and needs than a philosophical disagreement with school goals? Parents want to stimulate and enhance the learning aspirations and curiosity of their gifted children, and they find that their progress in the traditional school environment has ‘stagnated or in some cases even regressed, in relation to the potential and learning expectations that their gifted identification status had implied’ (Jolly, et al., 2013, p. 127).
In terms of parents’ characteristics, the research shows that usually mothers have the primary responsibility of homeschooling, and this means they coordinate, organise and select curricular and extracurricular activities (Jolly & Matthews, 2018a). They have a range of educational backgrounds from high school diploma to university degrees (Ensign, 2000; Jolly & Matthews, 2018a; Kula, 2018).
An interesting aspect of these parents is that they engage in formal training and research when starting as a home educator (Hanna, 2012; Kula, 2018; Redford et al., 2016). This is not only restricted to parents who homeschool gifted children but to the regular homeschoolers as well (Jolly et al., 2013).
Also, from the literature, it can be gleaned that for some parents who homeschool, they manage all the different tasks and responsibilities that this decision entails (i.e. caring of family, preparing lessons, meeting children’s needs amongst others), which can be difficult, and they can experience emotional burden and burnout and feelings of frustration and isolation (Jolly et al., 2013; Kula, 2018; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013). Researchers provide suggestions to manage these difficulties when homeschooling a gifted student, for example, searching for external help, such as seeking experts, exploring online curricula, accessing homeschooling organisations or undertaking outside courses (Jolly et al., 2013; Kula, 2018; Winstanley, 2009).
Kula (2018) affirms that homeschooling is not a panacea for all the families that are experiencing difficulties in traditional schools. Resources, time, parents’ skills, knowledge and energy are needed (Jolly et al., 2013). In the case of gifted children ‘who have uneven development and highly specific needs that do not fit traditional school systems’ (Kula, 2018, p. 167), homeschooling could be a positive experience (Hurlbutt-Eastman, 2017; Winstanley, 2009).
Socialisation and Friendship Building of Homeschooled Gifted Students
Because of the particular characteristics of gifted children, sometimes finding intellectually engaging peers can be difficult in traditional schools, and socialisation is one of the reasons for school withdrawal (Clark, 2013; Gross, 2004; Winstanley, 2009). Homeschooling gives them the opportunity to build friendships that are based in mutual interests in a relaxed context where they can express their abilities and interests (Kula, 2018; Winstanley, 2009).
Jolly et al. (2013) called attention to the feeling of isolation as a cause of school withdrawal and that some gifted students describe themselves as being outsiders. In some cases, this feeling could continue or even intensify after leaving school. In their research (Jolly et al. 2013), parents also reported this isolated feeling because they cannot find empathetic peers in the wider homeschool parental community. This disconnect is reported to be because of others’ lack of understanding of their children’s giftedness and/or other motivations to homeschool not related with religion (Jolly & Matthews, 2018a). These findings are also supported by the longitudinal research of Gross on profoundly gifted students (2010).
While parents usually make efforts and seek opportunities to find intellectual and social peers for their own children around the learning activities they provide for them, Jolly and Matthews (2017a) suggest that parents give preference to learning needs over social needs.
Curriculum Provision for Homeschooled Gifted Students
Jolly et al. (2013) indicated that every gifted homeschooling experience is different and that parents approach learning in a very individual way that suits their children’s needs. In this scenario, the common experience will be the variability and flexibility of styles, teaching methods, curricular offerings, learning venues, opportunities for choice and freedom possibility that give parents a sense of control of the academic future of their children, and they can change, adapt or create the curriculum as needed. All these different experiences allow parents the opportunity to differentiate teaching to meet their children’s unique learning and affective needs and to tailor matters associated with their child’s asynchronous development (Ensign, 2000; Jolly et al., 2013; Kula, 2018).
The possibilities of this diverse pedagogical spectrum move between a more structured approach (school at home) to an unschooling model (Rivero, 2002). Others take advantage of the eclectic approach (Jolly et al., 2013; Winstanley, 2009). Kula (2018) mentions that this approach works well with gifted students because it accommodates their uneven development in different subjects areas and also helps with their need for more creative, experiential and deeper learning. Jolly and Matthews (2018a) indicated that unschooling doesn’t seem to have many followers among the gifted homeschooling population and that more empirical data is needed on this topic.
Other approaches that are popular with the gifted homeschoolers group—like in general homeschooling—are the Charlotte Mason, Montessori and Waldorf/Steiner approaches—described earlier in this chapter (Kula, 2018).
Some parents prepare beforehand for the transition to homeschooling and organise the educational provision, which makes it easier for the students (Winstanley, 2009). Between the different possibilities parents have, they can accelerate in an array of ways they like, vary the content or even compact the curriculum, so their child can work faster through each grade or skip a grade.
In relation to pre-packaged curricula (textbooks), parents reported that the content was unchallenging and less flexible, or their children completed it more quickly than expected, so they often had to be accelerated faster through the curriculum chronologically earlier (Jolly & Matthews, 2018c). These difficulties for homeschooled gifted students were similar to the ones experienced by gifted students at schools with the school curriculum (Callahan, Moon, & Oh, 2014; Jolly & Matthews, 2018a).
Additionally, parents can seek supports within or outside the home, such as students working with tutors, using traditional subject-specific curriculum, accessing learning co-ops, videos or the Internet, posting lesson plans, using online academic programs for advanced learners, linking resources and finding source material for homeschooling (Hanna, 2012; Jolly & Matthews, 2017a, 2018a, 2018c; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013). Indeed, as homeschooled gifted students age, more autonomous community-based options—such as dual enrolment, mentoring, competitions, internet programmes or virtual schooling—become relevant educational choices and supports (Jolly & Matthews, 2018c).
Research and Practice on Homeschooling Gifted Students: Implications and Future Directions
While there is a growing body of research on homeschooling that has some critics in relation to its methods and conclusions (Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Medlin, 2013), in the area of gifted and twice-exceptional homeschooling, there are a scarcity and neglect that represent an almost unexplored topic area (Hurlbutt-Eastman, 2017; Jackson, 2014; Jolly & Matthews, 2017b, 2018a, 2018b; Kula 2018; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013; Winstanley, 2009). This shortage is more evident in Australia and Chile than the USA. Both countries have limited trajectories in homeschooling research, but they are in a similar stage of development in relation to the pragmatics of gifted homeschooling. Steps forward include Australian researchers’ highlighting twice-exceptional students’ experiences with homeschooling and requests for research with gifted and twice-exceptional homeschooled students (Jackson 2014, 2017a, 2017b; Ronksley-Pavia et al., 2019).
It is urgent to prioritise research in this area in each of the countries of Australia, Chile and the USA. Only in this way will they be able to provide support and guide families who have chosen to educate their children at home. Research in local contexts can provide rigorous evidence unique to those contexts to help them make informed decisions and learn from the experience of others (Jackson 2017a; Kula, 2018).
Advice from North American researchers suggests considering larger samples and creative approaches to work with the limitations in databases, for example, when working with the gifted homeschooling population (Jolly & Matthews, 2017b). Potential aspects for future studies are the number of students who can be identified as gifted or have high ability, underachievers or twice-exceptional within the homeschooling population, relationships between schools and families, university enrolment (type of post-secondary institution, pursued majors, readiness comparison in relation to students from traditional schools), experiences of homeschooling gifted families and how to include these families in more effective conversations with general and gifted education about policy, advocacy and research (Jolly & Matthews, 2018a; Kula, 2018). Another line of research suggested for homeschooling in general that may be positive for gifted homeschooling as well is comparative international research, which can expand homeschooling conceptions about curriculum, learning experiences, affective implications, regulations and state involvement (Kunzman & Gaither, 2013).
This chapter review sheds light on the topic of homeschooling generally and gifted homeschooling with an emphasis on three Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Chile and the USA. The scarcity of researchers in gifted education who have pursued the research endeavour in this growing educational modality is puzzling. It is important to understand the relationship between gifted homeschoolers and public education and its implications in the long term for schools and society (Hanna, 2012). How to manage gifted children, parents and societal interests in relation to homeschooling education is another issue that needs to be addressed (Kunzman & Gaither, 2013).
In relation to curricular approaches used in the different countries for both regular and gifted homeschoolers, the same variety of teaching and learning methods was found in each (Jackson, 2017a; Jolly et al., 2013; Kula, 2018; Kunzman & Gaither, 2013). Specifically, the emphasis was on acceleration and a focus on gifted students’ interests and readiness to master content (Jolly & Matthews, 2018a; Kula, 2018).
In terms of motivations to homeschool gifted students, research indicated that most of the families tended to homeschool after many unsatisfactory attempts to stay within the school system (Jolly & Matthews, 2017a, 2018a, 2018c; Jolly et al., 2013; Winstanley, 2009). In this sense, school teachers must be sensitive to the needs of gifted children to provide better support, guidance and accompaniment to families and students who decide to leave school and for those who choose to return at some point. Jolly and Matthews (2018a) affirm that more attention and resources are needed at the school level to meet the needs of gifted students as a way to minimise the possibilities of school withdrawal as a consequence of indirect school push out. This is significant and a red light for the school system, a warning that questions the schooling model that in most cases expels gifted students without even noticing. All students should be valued regardless of their capacities and none should leave school because they did not fit in or because their learning needs were not respected as evidenced by irrelevant programming or provisions.
We gratefully acknowledge the Endeavour Research Fellowship Award from the Department of Education and Training of the Australian Government that funded this research, which was also hosted by GERRIC, School of Education, UNSW.
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