The Washington Post this past weekend published the latest installment in its
series smear campaign against the booming homeschooling movement, this one provocatively titled “What home schooling hides: A boy tortured and starved by his stepmom.” It is, admittedly, a tragic story of abusive parents who used state homeschooling laws as a cover to abuse and neglect their children, ultimately resulting in the death of their 11-year-old son. Yet this story is less representative of a nationwide crisis of homeschooling abuse than it is a shameful attempt to undermine one of the most successful and transformative movements in American education.
The Truth About Abuse and Neglect of Minors
“Little research exists on the links between home schooling and child abuse,” WaPo journalist Peter Jamison admits in his article. “The few studies conducted in recent years have not shown that homeschooled children are at significantly greater risk of mistreatment than those who attend public, private or charter schools.” Yet, the piece adds, “the research also suggests that when abuse does occur in homeschool families, it can escalate into especially severe forms — and that some parents exploit lax home education laws to avoid contact with social service agencies.” But how much is “some” parents?
To support the claim of exploiting “lax home education laws” to hide abuse, the Post cites a 2014 study that found that of more than two dozen tortured children treated at medical centers in five states, eight of 17 victims old enough to attend school were homeschooled. You read that right — the most damning evidence The Washington Post can cite to support the claim that homeschooling is facilitating widespread abuse or neglect of minors across the United States is a study with a sample size of 17 children.
Let’s compare this with what we know based on far more extensive research about the abuse of minors in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adult retrospective studies show that one in four girls and one in 13 boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. That’s absolutely terrifying.
Yet according to the Children’s Assessment Center, “family structure is the most important risk factor in child sexual abuse.” Children living with two married biological parents are at low risk for abuse, while risk increases when children live with step-parents or a single parent. Indeed, children living in foster care are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than children who live with both biological parents. Other factors that increase the likelihood of abuse include poverty, parents not being in the workforce, and the child having a disability.
Given those increased risk factors, homeschooling families fare quite well. Homeschooled children are more likely than other children to live in households with two parents (biological, adoptive, step, or foster), according to a 2012 study. About one in five homeschooled children lives in a household with one parent, compared with nearly a third of students overall. That same study also found that homeschooled children were more likely to have two parents with one in the labor force. In other words, when it comes to those factors most likely to be associated with abuse of minors, homeschooling families do better than the national average.
Are Public Schools More Harmful for Kids?
Public schools, in contrast, are widely reported hotbeds for abuse, bullying, and other poor treatment of kids. For example, in 2022, nearly 350 public educators were arrested for child sex-related crimes in the United States. During the 2019–20 school year, 70 percent of public schools recorded one or more violent incidents. Research shows that there has been an almost 15 percent increase in bullying among kids at school since the pandemic and that school bullying increased 35 percent between 2016 and 2019. According to a September article in Fortune, high-profile incidents of violence in schools are “part of a general increase in student misconduct over the past couple of years.”
Public schools are having other significant education problems. Across the nation, schools are battling chronic absenteeism as an unintended (but certainly expected) consequence of school closures during the pandemic. According to a report released earlier this year, two-thirds of the nation’s schools suffered severe chronic absenteeism in 2021-2022, according to The Washington Post. Discipline issues are also a bigger problem now, with more than 70 percent of 1,000 educators noting in a recent national survey that students are misbehaving more now than they did before the pandemic in 2019. And wouldn’t you believe it — test scores in reading and math have dropped to their lowest level in decades, another result of ill-advised school closures.
In contrast, homeschooling students as a demographic are excelling. College admissions officers seek to attract homeschooled students because they are often more academically advanced, curious, and diverse than their publicly educated peers. According to an analysis by the National Home Education Research Institute, homeschooled students significantly outperform those attending traditional schools, typically scoring “between 15 and 30 percentile points higher on standardized tests.” That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that homeschooling has certain advantages over public schools that the professors for my graduate degree in education at the University of Virginia were always demanding: smaller class sizes.
Corporate Media Can’t Stop the Homeschooling Juggernaut
Thankfully, more and more parents are familiar with the data demonstrating the superiority of homeschooling over public education and can recognize the absurdity of recent attempts from the left to delegitimize the most significant shift in American education in generations.
Ironically, as The Federalist’s Executive Editor Joy Pullmann observed earlier this year, The Washington Post is smearing something “it demanded every parent do just three years ago.” And if the Post were truly worried about increasing the risk of child abuse, it would sic its journalists on polyamory, the U.S. border crisis, public schools, and the now-decades-long fatherlessness crisis. What’s motivating corporate media’s increasing attacks on homeschooling and classical education is not concern for the welfare of children, but fear that one of the pillars of their power is in decline.
We should all be in favor of finding and punishing abusive adults like those described in the Post’s patently biased expose. The question is where most of them are hiding. Based on the data collected even by the federal government itself, it’s not in homeschooling households.