Capitol Connection: Homeschooling & Mental Health

October 8, 2014

An inference is defined as: “a conclusion or opinion that is formed because of known facts or evidence.” But just because an inference is based on a fact doesn’t mean that it’s always true.

Last month, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission presented draft recommendations on addressing mental health in Connecticut. Their research was based on facts: the fact that Adam Lanza, a disturbed individual, needed psychological help; and the fact that he did not get the help he needed. But some of the conclusions that the Commission drew from these facts – the inferences they made – just don’t seem to add up. One conclusion that bothered me in particular was an inference that homeschooling contributed to Lanza’s problems.

In their assessment, the Commission pointed out that Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School gunman, had been home-schooled for a period of time during high school. In light of this, the Commission advised more oversight of home-schooled children to make sure mental health issues are not ignored outside of traditional school settings.

This recommendation infers that homeschooling was, at least in part, at fault for Lanza’s mental state. But I believe that blaming homeschooling in general is a dangerous and unproductive way to address this issue. Homeschooling is not what prevented Lanza from getting the help he needed. In fact, Lanza actually spent more time in public school than home-school – a program he didn’t start until the 10th grade.

Having served on the General Assembly’s Education Committee and having held the position of vice chairman in my local board of education, I know how talented and gifted most homeschooled students are. I respect a family’s decision to choose traditional school or a homeschool setting, and I don’t think it is reasonable to blame one setting over the other in enabling mental health problems.

According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), students who are educated at home typically outperform other students and exhibit positive social development. On average, home-schooled children score 15-30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized tests, and the degree of state control and regulation on homeschooling is not related to this level of academic achievement. In addition, home-educated children even outperform other students on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development, all according to NHERI research.

In Connecticut, homeschooling does not have many restrictions, which is why it works well for many families. Students take no mandatory evaluation or test, but parents must show their local school boards that their children are receiving an education equivalent to that specified in the law. Parents must also instruct children in specific subjects, including reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic, and United States history and citizenship.

Clearly, we have a long way to go to make mental health a priority for Connecticut families. I do appreciate the hard work and difficult analysis being done by the Commission regarding the heart wrenching and disturbing case of Adam Lanza. But I don’t think putting new restrictions on homeschooled children is a solution. I think it misdirects attention away from the deeper problem – a problem where the solution is not as simple or concrete as more regulations.