Child Abuse of Public School, Private School, and Homeschool Students:

Evidence, Philosophy, and Reason

By Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.

January 23, 2018


Reviews available empirical evidence related to abuse rates of public school, private school, and homeschool students by school personnel and by parents. Finds the term homeschool abuse is a misconstruction of evidence. Shows that an estimated 10% (or more) of public and private schoolchildren experience sexual maltreatment at the hands of school personnel, and in addition some schoolchildren are abused by their parents. The limited evidence available shows that homeschooled children are abused at a lower rate than are those in the general public, and no evidence shows that the home educated are at any higher risk of abuse. Considers philosophical and political reasoning for whether government should or should not control homeschooling more. Statists and utilitarians argue that more government control will reduce abuse in homeschooling but they present no evidence to support their claims. A classical liberal perspective points out that schooling laws should not be re-fashioned to try to serve as profiling dragnet laws to possibly catch child abusers, and that the United States still values the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Keywords: public school, private school, homeschool, homeschooling, child abuse, child neglect, child fatalities, sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, homeschool abuse, law, policy, regulation, homeschool vs. public school vs. private school, philosophy, politics

The Context

Wretchedly, news stories, anecdotes, and research regarding school teachers and other school personnel doing evil things to students and children have become too common in the United States.[1], [2] News stories, government data, and research reports on parents harming children are also available.[3] Regardless of current news stories, however, there is no research-based reason to associate abuse with homeschooling, as in the term homeschool abuse.

A recent news story out of California shows that David Turpin and Louise Turpin were allegedly homeschooling their children who they allegedly severely neglected and tortured.[4] This turned the attention of some to “homeschool abuse,” in spite of no evidence-based reason to generally connect the two terms.

During the past few years, some news stories have implied a special connection between child abuse, child neglect, or child fatalities and homeschooling and whether those who choose home education for their children should be more controlled (regulated) by the government. One major newspaper, for example, published an opinion article that claimed, “The Turpin child abuse story fits a widespread and disturbing homeschooling pattern.”[5]

The present brief paper addresses two main points. First, what do research and empirical evidence suggest regarding the rates of child abuse, child neglect, or abuse-related child fatalities for public schooled and private schooled students compared to the rates for homeschooled students? Second, what are some basic philosophical considerations regarding whether the government should control private schooling or private home education any more than it now does?

Evidence-Based Information

What do research facts tell us regarding these topics? Is there any evidence-based information that might help think through important issues?

    The General Population

United States state and local child protective services (CPS) estimated that 686,000 children (9.2 per 1,000) were victims of maltreatment in 2012.[6] Of these, 46.7% were preschool-age children.[7] During that same year, an estimated 1,640 children died from child maltreatment (rate of 2.2 per 100,000 children). Of these child maltreatment fatalities, 84.8% occurred among preschool-age children.[8] In summary, about half of maltreatment and maltreatment fatalities occur in the preschool-age population (i.e., those not under compulsory school attendance laws).

Under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health Human Services, the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities released a report (2016) that included known factors related to abuse and child neglect.[9] According to the Commission’s report, there are a few demographic groups who are known to be at a higher risk for abuse than the rest of the population. These are (a) children known to the child protective services (CPS) system today who are at high risk of fatality, (b) American Indian/Alaska Native children, and (c) African American children. The list never mentioned school type (e.g., public schooled, private schooled, or homeschooled). That is, home-educated children were not included in this list. There is no known tendency for abuse among those who choose to home educate their children.

    Evidence Related to Schooling Type

As of September 2017, the United States Department of Justice was still relying on research from before 2004 that showed “… school employee sexual misconduct, the sexual abuse and misconduct of K–12 students by school employees, is estimated to affect 10% of our nation’s students” (p. 1).[10] The actual percent might have been higher in 2004 and it might have been even higher in 2017 but data have not been available to determine this. Furthermore, these data do not include the physical or psychological abuse of students by school personnel. The authors gave the following finding to the Department of Justice:

Thus, despite clear policies and laws requiring reporting and potential legal consequences for failing to do so, only an estimated 5% of school employee sexual misconduct incidents known to school employees are reported to law enforcement or child welfare personnel, … A 1994 study in New York State found that only 1% of the 225 cases superintendents disclosed to researchers were reported to law enforcement or child welfare and resulted in license revocation … (p. 5)

That is to say, an extremely small portion of sexual misconduct acts by school personnel that are known by school personnel are ever reported to the proper government authorities. Who are these school personnel offenders? “Offenders include all types of school employees, such as teachers, school psychologists, coaches, [bus drivers,] principals, and superintendents” (Grant et al., 2017, p. 2).

The Department of Justice report also noted the following regarding what does or does not happen with school personnel perpetrators:

Furthermore, collective bargaining clauses often allow for scrubbing of personnel files, so no record is left once an offender leaves the system. These practices, allowing known sexual predators to quietly leave the district, potentially to seek work elsewhere, have become known as “passing the trash” or “the lemon dance” (Hobson, 2012). With no criminal conviction or disciplinary record, predators can obtain new jobs—and move on to other victims. On average, a teacher-offender will pass through three different districts before being stopped, and one offender can have as many as 73 victims in his or her lifetime (GAO, 2010). (p. 5-6)

In addition to children in public schools and private schools being abused or victimized by school personnel, some are abused by their parents. That is, the sexual, physical and psychological abuse of institutional school children by school personnel is in addition to the abuse by their parents.

Now attention will be turned to home-based education. I have been carefully following research on homeschooling (home education, home-based education, home schooling) since about 1983 and have acquired an extensive bibliography on the topic. A recent thorough search of available literature has resulted in identifying only three published reports relevant to whether the abuse of public school and private school children happens at a lower, similar, or higher rate than for homeschool children. Two of these items are original research studies and one is a report using publicly available data.

One of the original studies was by Williams (2017).[11] Williams’ purpose was to calculate and compare rates of child fatality due to abuse or neglect in the general population and in the homeschool population and then address whether increasing government regulations on homeschoolers might be connected to reducing child fatality rates. The researcher used information from one organization that promotes more government regulation of homeschooling, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Education to calculate his key statistics.

In his analysis, Williams did a very important thing; he carefully defined terms. Here is how he explained things:

Gathering data on legal homeschoolers is complicated by the fact that truant parents masquerade as homeschoolers to avoid prosecution. This leads to public data classified as “homeschool” actually being an agglomeration of two separate groups: legal homeschoolers and truants masquerading as homeschoolers. So we need to carefully disaggregate the data into these two distinct types of students as we perform the following analysis. We label the jumbled up grouping as “those who claim to homeschool.”

Williams then calculated the numbers. One is the “expected fatalities among legally homeschooled students” and the other is the “actual” number. The expected number is the hypothetical number one would find if the rates within homeschooling were the same as the rates in the general population.

The analysis revealed that the expected number of fatalities among legally homeschooled students was 55, while the actual number was lower, at 32. Williams concluded the following:

Legally homeschooled students are 40% less likely to die by child abuse or neglect than the average student nationally.

That is, in families where people were legally homeschooling, there was a significantly lower incidence of child fatalities due to child abuse or child neglect.

The author hypothesized about how different the data would have to be to move the fatality rate for legally homeschooled students to be as high as that of the national average. Here is one way that he explained it:

One way would be for the homeschool fatality count to move from 32 to 55.  Correspondingly, the truant fatality count would need to move from 29 to 6. The truant classifications were based on specific reported characteristics or circumstances that indicated the parents would not have filed the homeschool paperwork. 23 out of 29 apparent truants being misclassified would be like 23 out of 29 people with an appearance of being intoxicated actually being sober. It is possible, but highly unlikely.

On this note, Williams previously explained that there are conscientious objectors who do not file homeschool paperwork with the government and their students characteristically get a good education because the parents feel strongly about the education of their children. Further, he “… knows of no evidenced based theory of truancy which would yield that large an estimate of truants claiming to be homeschoolers, given the numbers and characteristics of homeschoolers.”

In the second study (Ray, 2015), 9,369 adults are studied regarding many variables. Their K-12 schooling histories – that is, years of public school, private secular school, private Christian school, and homeschooling they attended – were gathered. Only one question in the survey instrument (questionnaire) dealt with the abuse of minors (i.e., sexual abuse).

In a simple statistical analysis, it was revealed that those who had been home educated were significantly less likely to have been sexually abused as minors than were those who were public schooled and those who attended private Christian schools. Further, there was no significant difference in the rate of having been sexually abused as a child between those who were homeschooled and those who attended private secular schools.

Only one other published article, utilizing publicly available data, appears to have directly addressed the topic of abuse, neglect, and fatalities due to neglect or abuse as related to type of schooling of children. An entity called Homeschooling’s Invisible Children (HIC) (2015) (which appears to be related to the organization called Coalition for Responsible Home Education) summarized various disparate sources of information in an attempt to address child fatality rates within homeschooling families compared to non-homeschooling families. They found no statistically significant difference between the general public and homeschool fatality rates.[12]

Philosophy and Government Control (Regulation)

Three points regarding life in a free nation are salient to whether anyone should promote increasing government control over homeschooling. These three relate to the proper purpose of compulsory schooling/education laws, the classical liberal free state compared to the statist state, and practical applications.

    Proper Use of Compulsory Schooling Laws

First, compulsory school attendance and education laws were and are designed to motivate parents to make sure that their children learn to read, write, and do arithmetic and, in some cases, learn some science, history, art, and civics. They were not designed to serve as child abuse and neglect monitoring systems. Every state already has child abuse and neglect laws. Schooling laws should not be contorted into serving as attempted child-abuse prevention systems.

    The Classical Liberal Free State as Opposed to The Statist State

In the spirit of a free nation, citizens of the United States cherish and should continue to cherish the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” We should not presume that parents (or school teachers, coaches, janitors, bus drivers, counselors, and administrators) are guilty of bad behavior toward children and then force these adults to provide evidence that they are innocent. Trying to create schooling laws and regulations as an a priori dragnet to try to ferret out evil parents or guardians – whether their children attend public schools, private schools, or are homeschooled – is a bad idea in a free nation.

Our nation does not allow random searches of homes so that police officers might find illegal substances on the premises. We do not allow random stops and searches of vehicles and drivers to potentially find evidence of illegal behavior. In the same vein, it would be antithetical to concepts of classical liberalism, equity, freedom, and orthodox Christianity that are foundational to the United States to profile homeschool families and subject them to more controls and regulations simply because they choose home-based education rather than institutional schooling.

Wexler, the executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform and a self-identified liberal, in his article “Protect homeschooled children from child savers,” put it this way: “Why are homeschoolers a special target of 21st century child savers?  Because we liberals tend to stereotype them …” He then clarified the problem of profiling and a double standard this way:

Increasing government-mandated surveillance would do significant collateral damage to thousands of innocent Muslims –  sorry, I meant children – because a few Muslims – er, homeschoolers – are terrorists – oh wait, I mean child abusers.[13]

Further, Wexler explained many of the unintended damages that mandatory homeschool home visits and interviews of children would inflict on children. For example, children react, even to temporary infringement of parental autonomy, with changes such as “… anxiety, diminishing trust, loosening of emotional ties, or an increasing tendency to be out of control.”

If those who think that more government control and regulations should be imposed on homeschool families to potentially protect a relatively few children, then this raises a much bigger question. Why not impose on all Americans certain substantive laws in an attempt to ferret out all child abuse and neglect? For example, every child – whether public schooled, private schooled, or homeschooled – could be subjected to two randomly timed interviews per year by government-authorized mandatory reporters. This government agent would ask the child detailed questions about whether any school teachers, coaches, custodians, bus drivers, or school administrators had ever bullied them, made them feel uncomfortable, yelled at them, inappropriately touched them, shown them pornographic images, sexted them, and so on.

Then, all of the information would be given to police and CPS within two weeks of each of the two interviews. The data on all students would be summarized – by school type – and given to the media twice per year. In addition, two randomly timed home visits would be made in all homes, regardless of whether the children were public schooled, private schooled, or homeschooled.

Wexler wrote about these kind of government-mandated visits and people who promote them, as a Harvard Law School professor has done:

Bartholet [a law professor] claims that a spy in every living room is no more intrusive than child labor laws. It “would simply provide society with a realistic means of enforcing” laws against abusing and neglecting children. So would a surveillance camera mounted in every room of every home with no way to turn it off. Perhaps Bartholet didn’t suggest this because George Orwell thought of it first.

Cohen even is selective in the lessons she chooses to draw from horror stories; and once again, horror stories are Cohen’s entire argument. In the two Iowa cases she cites, the children were homeschooled. They also were adopted from foster care. In one case, relatives desperate to take in the child were turned down. Yet Cohen offers no sweeping conclusions about regulating foster care or adoption.

Occasional aggravating or infuriating stories about the bad behavior of school teachers and other school personnel and parents toward children are not a good basis for making law and regulations. A sound view of U.S. conceptions of freedom and, secondly, evidence-based information are, on the other hand, a good basis for law and regulation.

School personnel and parents should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Laws and regulations should not be set up to be used as a fishing expedition or dragnet for trying to catch an adult who might be doing bad things.

    Practical Applications

There are already multiple laws and regulations in place in public schools but only a very small fraction of abuse that is perpetrated by school personnel against students ever comes to light with law enforcement or child welfare personnel (Grant et al., 2017). With all of these laws, policies, and mandatory reporting, the unacceptably high rates of various forms of abuse of schoolchildren by school personnel are still not stopped. In fact, they might be growing.

In the U.S. Department of Justice report, the following was noted:

Some participants (15%) did not believe that policies would make a difference in preventing school employee sexual misconduct. One participant said, “If someone is determined to do something wrong, having the policy won’t stop them. It will help prosecute them but not stop them.” Another participant said, “If someone really wants this to happen, it will happen. They are sick [harm the students] and will be sick [harm the students] no matter what.” (Grant et al., 2017, p. 12)

Likewise, parents, whether they put their children in public schools, put them in private schools, or are homeschooling either within or outside of legal requirements, can find ways to do bad things to their children. The cases and data are in CPS and police department databases all over the nation.

People who want the government to control and regulate homeschooling more might have good intentions but they have no empirical evidence to support their claims that more government control will solve any problem. In fact, they have not empirically established that there is a problem to be solved. Evidence shows that more government control of homeschooling is not even correlated with the achievement scores of homeschoolers.[14] There is no empirical evidence that more control would significantly decrease abuse. Additionally, Wexler (2018) explained that attempts to go after potentially bad parents typically harms children: “When horror story cases become the basis for public policy we get horrible policies. In child welfare they only wind up hurting the children we want to help.”

Second, people who promote more government control of homeschooling are not being clear about their philosophical worldview. They are essentially promoting the idea that the government – via its power of law – can stamp out all evil that is being done by parents, or by school personnel. They are promoting various versions of statism and hopeful utilitarianism. As they promote more government control of homeschooling, they might not see that such control over parents and families will have unintended consequences for the fabric of U.S. society. Wexler (2018) pointed out many of them. Furthermore, Edmund Burke told the world the following related to this issue: “The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.”[15]

Concluding Thoughts

Based on empirical evidence to date, there is a remarkable rate of abuse of U.S. schoolchildren by school personnel (e.g., teachers, coaches, bus drivers, administrators, custodians). The multiple laws, regulations, and policies related to public and private schools result in a very small fraction of abuse incidents by school personnel ever being reported to law enforcement or child welfare personnel.

There is also a notable rate of abuse of children by parents in general in the United States. Multiple laws and regulations have not stopped it.

The limited empirical evidence available to date shows that the rate of abuse of children in homeschool families is lower than in the general public. There is no evidence that it is higher in homeschool families. Williams (2017) appropriately asked the following: “Why impose regulations on families who already are prone to a lower fatality rate than the rest of the nation? There appears to be no good reason.”

There is no empirical evidence that increasing government control or regulations over homeschooling will significantly reduce the abuse of home-educated children. There is evidence that certain proposals for increasing government control over homeschooling would infringe on the basic historical and classical liberal freedoms and U.S. constitutional rights of homeschooling families.

If certain proposals to control homeschooling families were to be fair and not an unwarranted profiling of those who choose home education rather than public or private schooling, then the same kinds of mandated home visits by government-approved agents would need to be imposed on all families with children of all ages and on all public and private school personnel.

Rather than focus on how children are educated or schooled to find ways to reduce child neglect and child abuse, policymakers should note that the report of the United States Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (2016) never recommended regulating or controlling any type of educational or schooling environment.[16] Policymakers should look at the recommendations of organizations like the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform and[17]

Finally, it is possible that if researchers and policymakers were to begin an in-depth examination of where child maltreatment (including by other students) and educator misconduct of all kinds occurs more according to school type – public schooling, private schooling, or homeschooling – they might find that a higher rate of harm is associated with institutional schooling.[18] Perhaps future research will reveal more on this and then appropriate government controls might be recommended.


[1] Shakeshaft, Charol. (2004). Educator sexual misconduct: A synthesis of existing literature. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education. Retrieved February 7, 2017 from

[2] Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation. (2016). Retrieved January 25, 2016 from

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Child maltreatment prevention. Retrieved January 25, 2016 from

[4] Esquivel, Paloma. (2018, January 19). Captive children suffered years of abuse, starvation and cruelty by parents, authorities say. Retrieved January 19, 2018 from

[5] Retrieved January 22, 2018 from

[6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Child maltreatment: Facts at a glance. Retrieved January 19, 2018 from

[7] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Child maltreatment 2012. Retrieved January 22, 2018 from

[8] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Child maltreatment 2012. Retrieved January 22, 2018 from

[9] United States Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. (2016). Within our reach: A national strategy to eliminate child abuse and neglect fatalities. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved February 1, 2017 from

[10] Grant, Billie-Jo; Wilkerson, Stephanie B.; Pelton, deKoven; Cosby, Anne; & Henschel, Molly. (2017). A case study of k–12 school employee sexual misconduct. [This project was supported by Award No. 2015-CK-BX-0009 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.] Retrieved January 22, 2018 from

[11] Williams, Rodger. (2017, July 28). Homeschool child fatalities fewer than the national average. Retrieved January 23, 2018 from

[12] Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. (2015). Some preliminary data on homeschool child fatalities. Retrieved September 03, 2015 from

[13] Wexler, Richard. (2017, revised 2018). Protect homeschooled children from child savers. Retrieved April 5, 2017 from and January 23, 2018 from

[14] Ray, Brian D. (2010). Academic achievement and demographic traits of homeschool students: A nationwide study. Academic Leadership Journal, 8(1). Retrieved January 23, 2018 from

[15] Edmund Burke, Speech at a County Meeting of Buckinghamshire (1784). Retrieved January 22, 2018 from

[16] United States Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. (2016). Within our reach: A national strategy to eliminate child abuse and neglect fatalities. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved February 1, 2017 from

[17] See, for example: (a) Civil Liberties Without Exception: NCCPR’s Due Process Agenda for Children and Families, retrieved January 23, 2018 from ; (b) The Corrupt Business of Child Protective Services, retrieved January 23, 2018 from

[18] See: (a) Grant, Billie-Jo; Wilkerson, Stephanie B.; Pelton, deKoven; Cosby, Anne; & Henschel, Molly. (2017). A case study of k–12 school employee sexual misconduct. [This project was supported by Award No. 2015-CK-BX-0009 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.] Retrieved January 22, 2018 from  ; (b) Shakeshaft, Charol. (2004). Educator sexual misconduct: A synthesis of existing literature. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education. Retrieved February 7, 2017, January 18, 2015, and December 18, 2012 from ; and (c) Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation. (2016). Retrieved January 25, 2016 from ; and (d) Hidden horror of school sex assaults revealed by AP, retrieved January 23, 2018 from

Brian D. Ray is an internationally recognized expert in research on homeschooling (home education). He earned his Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University, an M.S. in zoology from Ohio University, and a B.S. in Biology from the University of Puget Sound. Dr. Ray, as a professor, taught graduate level courses in research methods, statistics, and educational and psychological measurement, evaluation, and testing and he serves in court as an expert witness on that topic and others. He is a former certified teacher with experience in public and private school. Dr. Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Oregon, USA.

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