Abstract: Various scholars and policymakers have claimed that homeschooling must be regulated or controlled by the civil government to make sure that life goes well for homeschool students. Others have argued that political philosophy and empirical evidence show that private homeschool education should be left alone. This study examined whether there is a relationship between the degree of state control of homeschooling and the rate of abuse or neglect by the parents (or other legally responsible caregivers) of homeschooled children ages 6 through 17. The investigation considered the homeschool laws by state and whether they had a relationship to homeschool child abuse. Regression analysis of 18 years of data from all the U.S. states found no relationship between the degree of state control or regulation of homeschooling and the frequency of homeschool abuse.
Keywords: Homeschool abuse, homeschool child abuse, child abuse, homeschool neglect, homeschool child neglect, homeschooling, home schooling, regulation, homeschool laws, legal, policy, public school child abuse, private school child abuse, scholarly articles
The modern homeschool movement is about 40 years old in the United States. Numerous debates have surrounded the issue regarding to what extent the civil government should control or regulate parents and children who are involved in private home-based homeschool education.
The deliberations have addressed various topics such as whether (a) parents should have to be state-certified teachers in order to home educate their children, (b) parents should have to have achieved a particular level of formal education in order to homeschool their children, (c) parents should have to pass teacher qualification examinations that states use for public school teachers, (d) homeschool students should be subjected to mandatory standardized achievement tests, (e) state officials should oversee the social activities of home-educated students (or homeschool socialization), and (f) parents should have to get approval from the state government in order to engage in home-based education with their children (see, e.g., Farris 2013; Yuracko, 2008). Often these issues arise because people want to know whether there are any problems with homeschooling. From time to time, other topics related to regulation arise. One is whether more state control of private homeschooling would have any impact on the rate of child abuse or neglect of homeschool students.
The purpose of this study is to examine whether there is a relationship between the degree of state control of homeschooling and the rate of abuse or neglect by the parents (or other legally responsible caregivers) of homeschooled children ages 6 through 17.
Review of Literature and Conceptual Framework
While many deliberations by policymakers, legislators, researchers, parents, and educators have given attention to whether state control (e.g., laws, regulation) might affect homeschool students’ academic achievement, the trend over the past 30 years has been for the state to reduce its controls over homeschooling (Farris, 2013; Moran, 2011). Despite this trend, various academics, policymakers, and legislators occasionally call for more government control of private home-based education (e.g., Fineman & Shepherd, 2016; Reich, 2008). Recent legislative examples of this effort to control homeschooling have emerged, for example, in Hawaii and California.
In Hawaii, a state legislator introduced a bill that would have required a government official, once a parent had notified the state officials that he or she intended to homeschool a child, to “request child welfare services to conduct a child abuse and neglect history inquiry regarding the child intended to be home schooled and any other child residing in the home of the child intended to be home schooled, and provide information to the department of education to conduct a background check of the parent or legal guardian and any other adult residing in the home of the child intended to be home schooled,” according to the language of SB2323 (Big Island Video News, 2018). The legislator claimed his bill would have reduced homeschool child abuse.
In California, legislators promoted Assembly Bill 2756 that they believe would protect children and reduce homeschool child abuse by mandating annual fire inspections of all institutions that file an annual private school affidavit (Savecalifornia.com, 2018). The bill would include private schools with fewer than six students; such schools are currently exempt from fire code inspections.
Although some people call for the government to control private homeschooling more, there are significant philosophical and political arguments against this; these arguments will not be addressed in this paper (see, e.g., Farris, 2013; Glanzer, 2008). Also, the corpus of research studies over the past 30 years has found generally positive things associated with homeschool students’ academic achievement, social and emotional development, and success in adulthood (Murphy, 2012; Ray, 2017). Further, there is no evidence-based empirical research to suggest that such government controls or regulations would solve any alleged problems with homeschooling or activities within the homeschool community. In fact, the limited research evidence to date shows that different levels of state control of parent-led home-based education are not associated with better or worse outcomes related to homeschooling. For example, there is no relationship between the degree of government regulation of homeschooling and the academic achievement of homeschool students (Ray, 2000, 2010). On this note, policymakers and others want to know, what are the homeschooling facts regarding relationships amongst many variables.
As mentioned, some people have called for the government to increase control of private homeschooling while theorizing or assuming that more state regulation would lead to or cause less abuse of homeschool students. There is no extant empirical evidence to support this hypothesis.
On a related topic, it is worth noting that there have been some indications of a lower incidence of abuse and neglect of home-educated children than those in the general public (Ray, 2018; Williams, 2017). That is, a comparison of homeschool abuse versus public school abuse or private school abuse suggests less abuse, if anything, of homeschool students. There is no research-based evidence that homeschool children are at a greater risk than others to be abused or neglected.
Whether one’s personal worldview promotes more government control or less government control of private homeschool education, many would like to know whether there is a relationship between state control of home education and abuse. Ergo, the purpose of this study was to explore whether there is any relationship between the degree of state regulation (control) of homeschooling and the frequency of the abuse or neglect of homeschool students of ages 6 to 17.
Methods and Data
The target population is all homeschool students (ages 6 to 17) in the United States and the District of Columbia (hereafter referred to as states). The minimum age of 6 was chosen because the large majority (82%) of states do not compel school attendance until age 6 or older (United States Department of Education, 2018).
The sample in this study was all cases of abuse or neglect of homeschool students (ages 6 to 17) in the online “database” of the organization or entity called Homeschooling’s Invisible Children (HSIC) (2018). This organization purposes to put all known cases of severe abuse associated with homeschooling into their database. The sample was the cases of abuse and neglect that were reported to the public or became known to the public during the years 2000 through 2017. It was assumed for this study that the cases included by the HSIC in their database is representative of the types of cases that the HSIC intended to include.
Every case of abuse (or neglect) reported in the database was reviewed by the researcher to determine how many of the children mentioned were ages 6 to (through) 17, whether it was clear that they were abused, whether it was clear that they were homeschooled, the first year that the abuse became public or known to government officials, and the state in which they lived at the time that the abuse became public or known to government officials. The researcher sometimes read further documentation to which the database linked in order to make determinations. If the researcher was uncertain about whether a child was abused or homeschooled, the researcher allowed the determination of the authors of the database to make the decision to assign the child to being homeschooled or abused if it appeared, on the face, that the database managers were not incorrect. While evaluating the validity of the abuse designation of cases in the database, the researcher intentionally did not consider the regulation level of the child’s state of residence.
All of the states were categorized according to three levels of state control (regulation) of homeschooling for every one of the years, 2000 through 2017. That is, the homeschool laws by state were evaluated for this. The three categories were operationally defined as follows:
- Low regulation was defined as “no state requirement on the part of the homeschool parents to initiate any contact with the state.”
- Medium regulation was defined as “the state requiring homeschool parents to send to the state notification of homeschooling or achievement test scores and/or evaluation of the student’s learning by a professional.”
- High regulation was defined as “the state requiring homeschool parents to send to the state notification of homeschooling or achievement test scores and/or evaluation by a professional and, in addition, having other requirements (e.g., curriculum approval by the state, teacher qualifications of parents, or home visits by state officials).”
These definitions were the same as those used by Ray (2010). Experienced lawyers who work for a private nonprofit organization that specializes in homeschool law assigned the states to the three categories and provided these data to the investigator. The percent of U.S. school-age children in each of the states was determined from data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Census (2004), with children under 18 years of age used as a proxy for school-aged. These percentages are for a single year when ideally one would want these percentages for each year, if they were available. These percentages did not change much over the years in the study (c.f., United States Department of Education, 2013).
The dependent variable considered in the pooled regression was the number of abused students. The independent variables or predictors were degree of state regulation, year the abuse became public, and percent of the U.S. school-age population in the state. The standard errors were clustered at the state level in order to account for repeated measures for that variable.
Some basic descriptive statistics and then the regression analysis are provided here. Table 1 presents the number of states in each regulation category and the number of children abused for each of the 18 years.
Table 1. Regulation Category Frequencies and Number of Abuses by Year
Number of States per Regulation Category
Year Low Medium High Number of Abuses
The pooled regression revealed that there was no statistically significant relationship between the degree of state control (regulation) of homeschooling and the number of abused homeschool students (p = .106, medium compared to low; p = .984, high compared to low; Table 2). The percent of school-age children in each of the states was a significant predictor (p = .000) of the number of abused students, as expected.
Table 2. Regression Results
|Dependent Variable: Number of Abuses|
|Independent Variables||Coeff.||Robust Std. Err.|
*p < 0.10; **p < 0.05; ***p < 0.01.
Number of obs = 918
F (20, 50) = 8.54
Prob > F = 0.0000
R-squared = 0.0990
Root MSE = 1.9365
Std. Err. adjusted for 51 clusters in state_id.
The p-value for medium regulation compared to low regulation is close to some conventional levels of significance in the social sciences (e.g., p < .10). Even if it is close, however, the difference in number of abuses is extremely small. Further, the p-value for high regulation is clearly insignificant and the practical difference in number of abuses is even smaller.
Conclusions About State Regulation and Homeschool Child Abuse and Future Research
Teachers’ unions, scholars, policymakers, legislators, politicians, parents, and others have been debating for over 40 years about how much, if at all, the state (civil government) should control (regulate) private homeschool education. Very limited research has provided empirical evidence regarding whether state control of homeschooling is associated with outcomes related to the home education of students. One vein of homeschool research has found no correlation between the degree of state control of homeschooling and students’ academic achievement (Ray, 2000, 2010). The present study offers another glimpse at evidence regarding government control and outcomes related to homeschooling; in this case, abuse of children (or homeschool child abuse) was considered.
A statistical analysis of 18 years of data from all the U.S. states found no relationship between the degree of state control or regulation of homeschooling and the frequency of abuse of homeschool students. That is, low-regulation states experienced neither more nor less abuse of homeschool students than medium-regulation and high-regulation states; none of the regulation categories was significantly different from the other categories. The lack of a correlation undermines the claim that there is some causal relationship between state control of homeschooling and abuse of students. In this analysis, there was no significant correlation between regulation and homeschool abuse.
The present study should be considered in the context of any other empirical research that has addressed the abuse or neglect rates of homeschool children (students) as compared to the abuse or neglect of students in public schools and private schools. “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” (Ray, 2018; Williams, 2017). More evidence-based research is slowly emerging to reveal what are the “homeschooling facts.”
The present study’s findings, along with prior limited research, indicates at least three things for policymakers and others to consider. First, there is no empirical evidence that homeschool students are at any higher risk of abuse than public school and private school students; some evidence indicates that the home educated might be at lower risk. Second, there is no empirical evidence that state control (regulation) of homeschooling does anything to reduce the potential for abuse of homeschool children. Finally, there is no credible empirical evidence that increasing any current levels of regulation of homeschooling would reduce the potential for abuse of homeschool students.
Future research might reveal more about the relationship, if any, between civil government control of private homeschool education and outcomes such as academic achievement and child abuse. For example, re-conceptualizing the definitions of levels of state regulation of homeschooling with finer-grained data about the categories would allow for more in-depth and nuanced analysis. This inquiry would include finer gradations of regulation per state over time. The study might also include more detailed data regarding the percent of homeschool students in each state over time. This kind of detail would allow for a more refined understanding of what government controls of homeschooling, if any, affect homeschooling in a beneficial or detrimental way.
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United States Bureau of Census. (2004) Table 4. Selected Characteristics of Children Under 18 Years for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: 2000. Retrieved February 21, 2018 from https://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/briefs/phc-t30/index.html
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Yuracko, Kimberly A. (2008). Education off the grid: Constitutional constraints on homeschooling. California Law Review, 96, 123-184.
I am grateful to Albert Cheng, Ph.D., for his excellent helpful comments regarding the design of and statistical analysis in this study. I also thank several other colleagues and friends for their insightful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.
Funding of the Study
The funding for this study was provided by general contributions to the nonprofit organization National Home Education Research Institute.
About the Researcher
Brian D. Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute (www.nheri.org) and internationally known for his research on homeschooling (home education, home-based education). He has published peer-reviewed articles, books, and chapters in books. Dr. Ray is a former professor of science and education at the undergraduate and graduate levels and classroom teacher in public and private schools. He holds a B.S. in biology from the University of Puget Sound, an M.S. in zoology from Ohio University, and a Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University. You may contact him at email@example.com.
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