Underachievement: How to Fail at Homeschool, Part 1

Updated: May 23, 2019

Let's face it, no one wants to fail at homeschooling, but it happens every day.

Despite our best efforts and enthusiasm for providing our children with just the right curriculum, materials and experiences, things don't always go according to plan. We may spend countless hours and our hard earned cash to outfit our little school with everything we wish we had growing up, but our best laid plans evaporate before our very eyes when we find our own children are less than thrilled with our ideas about educating them.

They may humor you for a few weeks, or if you are lucky, a few months, but eventually, it is always the same thing: they tell you their school work is boring, they begin to rush through their work, and eventually they resist doing work altogether. Instead of school days that progress smoothly through the curriculum, the hours are filled with redirecting, cajoling, pleading, negotiating, and demanding that school work gets done.

There may be yelling, threats, and even tears.

The fact is, that this is a very common scenario, but it need not be.  

When our children spend more energy and time NOT engaging in their school work, they often become underachievers. 

“Underachievers are students who exhibit a severe discrepancy between expected achievement (as measured by standardized achievement test scores or cognitive or intellectual ability assessments) and actual achievement (as measured by class grades and teacher evaluation.” (Besnoy, Jolly, & Manning, 20111, p. 402)

BUT, we homeschool you say. We DON'T use standardized tests OR grades! 

Perhaps not, BUT many parents fear that their child has or will fall behind. It is a sixth sense that parents have and one that we should absolutely trust. While homeschoolers may not need to meet state standards, or test annually, many do. The truth is, we all should be evaluating our child's progress one way or another, whether the state mandates us or not. Nowadays, there are very flexible assessment options that can provide highly accurate results. After all, we cannot manage what we don't measure! 

Underachievement is an insidious and common occurrence among homeschoolers. In fact, most families who homeschool long term will have rough patches that can result in some level of underachievement. However, these patches are harmless as long as the family is attentive and flexible enough to address the reasons behind the underachievement in the first place. It is when families don't do this that problems arise. 

And here is where families fail at homeschooling: They miss the signs of underachievement and will mistake them for insolence, disobedience, and misbehavior.

That's it. Instead of engaging in power struggles and ego trips, we need to be receptive to learning WHY our children are resistant, WHY they are misbehaving, and WHY they aren't interested in learning. AND that is the addressed in the second part of this series on failing at homeschooling. 


Besnoy, K., Jolly, J., and Manning, S. (2011). Special Populations in Gifted Education: Understanding Our Most Able Students From Diverse Backgrounds. Prufrock Press.

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