Homeschooling is surging, as parents want more agency over their child’s education. An estimated 4.7 percent of kids are now homeschooled, up from 2.8 percent in 2019, the most recent year reported by federal data. But with public school enrollment down by nearly 1.3 million students compared to pre-pandemic levels, some are taking notice and calling for more oversight.
The Washington Post editorial board recently made that case, arguing, “It’s not the average home-schooler policymakers should be worried about—it’s the child who is left far, far behind.” In their view, “where there’s no oversight, there’s no guarantee that children will learn skills considered foundational in public education and essential to adult life.”
While more level-headed than many attacks on homeschoolers (Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s call for a presumptive ban comes to mind), the editorial misses the mark.
Homeschool regulations vary across states, ranging from mandating subjects such as math and reading to demonstrating academic achievement on annual tests. New York has some of the most stringent laws, requiring parents to file quarterly reports, maintain hourly attendance logs, and submit annual instructional plans to their local school district, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Michigan, which has few regulatory hurdles for homeschoolers, is in the national spotlight as an example of homeschooling supposedly run amok.
Critics point to the bone-chilling case of Roman Lopez, an 11-year-old boy who was locked in closets, beaten with extension cords, and eventually poisoned with table salts. They claim his father and stepmother, Jordan and Lindsay Piper—who each pleaded no contest to second-degree murder for Roman’s death—took advantage of lax homeschooling laws to hide their abuse from authorities.
Likewise, the cases of Jerry and Tamal Flore and Tammy and Joel Brown have Michigan policy makers calling for more oversight. The two couples allegedly adopted dozens of children in a moneymaking scheme that involved “prolonged, routine and systemic mental and physical abuse,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. According to her, homeschooling gave the Flore family cover to hide the abuse. “There has to be some sort of monitoring so that those children also benefit from those protections,” she says.
In response to the charges, state Rep. Matt Koleszar (D–Plymouth) pleaded for action: “Michigan is one of only 11 states that doesn’t count or register homeschooled children, and abusive parents are taking advantage of that to avoid being found out. It’s time to support all Michigan students and change that. Michigan cannot allow this loophole to continue.”
These stories are horrifying, and registration requirements might seem like a reasonable step to protect kids from abuse. But it’s unlikely any amount of regulations would have prevented these tragedies. In fact, they’d likely cause hardships for the vast majority of homeschool families who do right by their kids.
For starters, the Pipers were reported to child protective services (CPS) by Lindsay’s sister, Chanel Campbell, who suspected abuse in 2016. Despite multiple inquiries by Campbell, there were no records of CPS investigations into the matter, according to The Washington Post.
For their part, the Flore and Brown families adopted or fostered nearly 30 children dating back to 2007, a highly regulated process that’s overseen by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS). In a bizarre twist, one of the defendants (Joel Brown) actually worked for MDHHS and allegedly used his expertise as a child advocate to hide the couples’ actions
As it turns out, these stories aren’t about homeschooling at all; the only common thread is incompetent government. All three families were already on the authorities’ radar, and for years MDHHS couldn’t detect an alleged child abuser within its own cubicles.
In fact, The Washington Post‘s Peter Jamison admits, “The few studies conducted in recent years have not shown that home-schooled children are at significantly greater risk of mistreatment than those who attend public, private or charter schools.”
In other words, there’s no evidence that homeschool abuse is even a problem to begin with.
While homeschool regulations might not protect kids from abuse, they do increase administrative burdens, infringe on curricular choices, and subject families to harassment by government officials.
In a particularly egregious case, a public school in New York reported a grandmother to CPS after she was a day late with the mandated paperwork. It’s easy to see why many homeschool families are skeptical of any government oversight, even if it’s just notification requirements.
Instead of worrying about homeschoolers, policy makers should figure out why millions of students are leaving public schools in the first place.