Thousands of gifted students across the country are turning to homeschooling as a viable alternative to the traditional classroom.

By Annie Connolly-Sporing and Jonathan A. Plucker

Sophie, 12, and Leah, 8, are gifted learners who have been homeschooled by their mother for the past five years. While Leah has been homeschooled since the start of her formal education in PreK, Sophie began her educational journey in a traditional classroom setting. Sophie attended a small private school from PreK until February of second grade. Because of her high academic aptitude, she was placed into the accelerated group, but that level of differentiation was not enough to meet her academic needs. Her interests in literature and history led her to the library, where she wanted to read non-fiction texts about historical events such as World War II, but the library did not allow her to read those works despite her elevated Lexile level and parental consent. After years of asking the school for more, being met with “we’ve done all we can,” watching Sophie develop stress-induced asthma, and being asked by their daughter to try something different, Sophie’s parents decided to homeschool her and her sister. Five years later, Sophie loves her homeschool community, has read multiple Newbery Award-winning books, serves as a National Beta Club vice president, and is learning Latin. Her family’s only regret: not making the change earlier.

Current estimates suggest that there are 50,000-140,000 students across the country in the same position as Sophie, and in light of recent data indicating there has been a 50% increase in homeschooling since the 2017-2018 school year, that figure is likely an underestimate. These students, with their high academic potential and status as gifted learners, have not had their unique needs meet in the standard American classroom, leaving them wanting more. Like Sophie and her family, these students are turning to homeschooling as a viable alternative to the traditional classroom.

Despite the fact that there may be 100,000 advanced students learning primarily in homeschool settings, the research regarding the cross-section of homeschooling and giftedness is limited. Much of the current research relies on anecdotal evidence from a select population of families, often garnered from blog posts and other web pages. The lack of high-quality research has perpetuated the obscurity surrounding homeschooling gifted learners.

One common trend that emerges in the minimal literature on this topic is that parents of gifted learners turn to homeschooling after multiple fruitless attempts to work with the school to meet their children’s needs. In many cases, this derives from a lack of understanding and training surrounding educating advanced students. Only 10 states have funded mandates for gifted education, and 35 states have no requirement for general education teachers to be trained in the best practices of gifted education. As a result, gifted students in the general classroom often do not have their needs met in terms of pace, academic level, and rigor. After what, in some cases, can be years of advocating for change for their student, families begin to look for other options, be it a different learning environment or removal of the learning environment altogether.

Choosing to homeschool a gifted child mitigates the issue of not having their needs met by enabling the caregiver to curate a program specific to their child’s needs and interests. For this reason, the academic programming for a homeschooled gifted learner can look very different from student to student. Although some families choose to use a premade curriculum and embellish where needed, other families curate an entirely unique academic path using a combination of enrollment in community college courses, online auditing of classes from accredited universities, private tutoring, student-led academic exploration, and more. No matter the route taken, this individualized programming provides the gifted student with the differentiated learning experience they lack in the general classroom.

However, this specialized programming can be very expensive, and many homeschoolers of gifted learners have had to make serious sacrifices, not only financially but in time and careers, to give this experience to their learners. Some estimates suggest that the average cost of homeschooling ranges from $700-1,800 per year, while others suggest the value is closer to $2,500, and the use of services such as private tutors or teachers can push this cost into the tens of thousands of dollars. That cost does not account for the time and energy caregivers expend sifting through resources and reviewing programming, nor for the sacrifice that a parent often makes in giving up their profession and related income. With all these factors considered, homeschooling is not a decision that families take lightly. Many families enter this education model with eyes open to the challenges they are likely to encounter.

As stated previously, the research regarding this population of homeschooled students is limited. To truly understand the scope, purpose, and programming of gifted homeschooling, more research should be conducted to parse out trends in the population. Namely, research should focus on determining how many gifted students are currently being homeschooled in the United States, why those families choose to homeschool their children, how those students are performing academically compared to their non-homeschooled gifted peers, and what methods families are using to homeschool those children.

By unraveling the stories of homeschooled gifted learners, it becomes clear that their journeys are as diverse as the students themselves. Conducting research on this unique group of learners may provide insight into the nuances of personalized education, highlighting its use in educating some of the nation’s brightest learners.


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About the Authors


Jonathan Plucker, PhD, Research Professor, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs

Jonathan Plucker, is a Professor of Education and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. He previously served as the Julian C. Stanley Endowed Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins, the Raymond Neag Endowed Professor of Education at the University of Connecticut, and Professor of Educational Psychology and Cognitive Science at Indiana University. He is past-president of the National Association for Gifted Children and the Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (APA Division 10). His research examines education policy, talent development, and creativity. Recent books include the 2nd edition of Creativity and Innovation, 3rd edition of Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education with Carolyn Callahan, and Excellence Gaps in Education with Scott Peters. He is an APA, APS, AERA, and AAAS Fellow, and a recipient of the Arnheim Award for Outstanding Achievement from APA and of the Distinguished Scholar Award from NAGC. He graduated with a B.S. in chemistry education and M.A. in educational psychology from the University of Connecticut. After briefly teaching at an elementary school in New York, he received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Virginia.


Annie Connolly-Sporing, Graduate Student

Annie Connolly-Sporing is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University. She is also a science teacher at the Grayson School, a school for academically gifted students, where she teaches a range of classes in the sciences including advanced research courses in apiology and organic chemistry. Ms. Connolly-Sporing holds a B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Haverford College, with a concentration in biochemistry, as well as certification from the American Chemical Society. She is excited to explore the intersection of education and policy, aiming to use quantitative measures to analyze and address critical issues. Her professional vision is centered on leveraging data to inform policies that shape the future of education, with a focus on areas such as teacher preparation and retention, student achievement, and STEM education efforts.