Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Eagan is urging the State of Connecticut to impose additional statutory requirements on homeschooling families. She follows the example of homeschool critics in other states who want additional oversight of homeschoolers.
Eagan's recommendations are based on her investigation into the death of a special education non-homeschool student (Matthew Tirado). We will look at research evidence that exposes some of the flaws in her analysis.
Eagan's central assertion is that students are in more danger of child abuse and educational neglect in homeschools than they are in public schools:
"There must be a safety net to protect children who are victims of abuse and neglect from being withdrawn from the safe harbor and visibility of school and removed to a less or even potentially non-visible environment, with the consequence of either no education or continued lack of protection from abuse and neglect. Even for children who have never been victims of abuse or neglect, there must be some mechanism for ensuring that children are actually being home-schooled." (Pages 74-75)
However, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data shows no indication that children are protected from child abuse when they enter the public schools. The child abuse rate keeps on drifting downward as childen enter the public schools. There is no sign that they have entered any type of protected environment.
Child Abuse by Age 2016
Graph reproduced from Child Maltreatment 2016, p. 19
Ironically, Eagan details several Connecticut cases (Pages 7-11) that highlight the inability of public schools to prevent enrolled students from experiencing child abuse.
Eagan's report recommends (Page 77): "As part of the home-schooling application process, districts should review the child's educational history to determine whether there have been notable or persistent concerns regarding truancy, chronic absenteeism, abuse or neglect or other unmet needs that affect the child's health and safety. Whenever a district has a reasonable suspicion that a child is or has been abused and neglected, such concerns must be reported to DCF consistent with state law. DCF and SDE should assist districts with guidance regarding when a child's withdrawal from school (or chronic absenteeism) may trigger an obligation to report suspected concerns to DCF."
Note that the recommendation is to expend extra effort when the child is about to leave the public school and enter a homeschool. The question is, Why not give maximum effort while the child is still a student at the school? Why waste all that available opportunity to protect childen while they are enrolled students at the school?
Homeschool variability in academic outcomes is the same as public school variability in outcomes. This means that just as many public school students "fall through the cracks" as homeschool students, proportionately.
Eagan's report recommends (Pages 10-11): "The safety net for children who are withdrawn from school for the purpose of home-schooling must be improved. Connecticut should review approaches taken by other states and revise the current home-schooling framework to minimally ensure a child withdrawn from school is receiving an education and is making progress in instructed areas."
She apparently has not recommended: "The safety net for children who are in the public schools must be improved. Connecticut should revise the current public school framework to minimally ensure a child in the school is receiving an education and is making progress in instructed areas."
California Assemblymember Jose Medina has filed a bill (AB 2756) to require California homeschools to have yearly Fire Marshal inspections. He says, "The horrific child abuse case in Perris, California raised questions about the lack of oversight of private schools.... [T]he state has a responsibility to ensure that each child is in a safe learning environment. AB 2756 will provide the oversight needed to protect students and their rights."
Now, this is a strategy we can all back: Fire Marshal inspections to protect children from abuse and fatalities.
Of course, the bill needs some amendments to strengthen it's protections. You really want to protect those children most at risk.
The best data available indicates 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." So there are other at risk children we need to include in the bill.
84.4% of child abuse fatalities happen before age six (see Table 4-4). These children are not required to be in school in California. So they should certainly have the protection of annual home visits by the Fire Marshal. In fact, because of their high risk, I would suggest two or three visits per year.
Actually, I think we should protect every child in California with Fire Marshal inspections. Just to be sure, I would recommend home visits once a day. Yeah, that's the ticket. That would protect them.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) posted a statement containing false statements about my study titled "Homeschool child fatalities fewer than the national average". Specifically, CRHE charged that I copied their estimates without bothering to do my own estimates and claimed I did not report my methodology for determining whether students were legally homeschooled vs. truant:
In a posting dated July 28, 2017, Williams used our estimates (he did not try to run his own) and our database (which he did not identify as incomplete) to run his own analysis. Williams' innovation was to remove cases from our list which he determined should not be considered to involve homeschooled children.
Williams looked at 61 homeschool fatalities from 2003 to 2012 and determined that 21 were legally homeschooled, 19 were truant, and 21 were low regulation cases. He does not state how he determined this. Our HIC team relies on published news sources, legal records, and in some cases correspondence with investigating agencies to determine that a case involved homeschooling. In order to investigate the legal status of each child's homeschool as Williams claims to have done, he would need to contact the investigating agency (child services, law enforcement, or the courts), possibly using a FOIA request, to gain access to information which is rarely made public in the media. It is unlikely that Williams did this given that he did not report his methodology.
In all phases of my research I used a different, more stable source of data than CRHE for nationwide student fatalities: Child Maltreatment annual reports published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. By contrast, CRHE in their analysis had used the Child Welfare Information Gateway (CWIG). CWIG describes their data thusly:
Because time is needed to compile, analyze, and publish data, statistical publications often are released 2 or more years after the time period being analyzed. Information Gateway makes every effort to ensure the resources provided are the most current statistics available.
Because the annual Child Maltreatment reports go through an additional verification process, their numbers sometimes disagree with the previous CWIG numbers. As a result, for a previous paper I calculated an estimate of 72 expected "homeschool" fatalities from 2000 to 2012, rather than the 73 calculated by CRHE. You only get different numbers (eg., 72 vs. 73) when you run your own calculations.
But beyond using different sources for data than CRHE, there is a simple math reason I could not have produced a credible estimate by copying their estimate: Their estimate was for 2000-2012. My estimate was for 2003-2012. No researcher would dare try to claim a 10-year estimate just based on a single number representing a surrounding 13-year estimate. I know of no math techniques to do that legitimately.
This is the explanation from the Appendix in my study:
Question: What criteria did you use to classify truants?
Answer: We used contemporaneous news reports available online to determine the characteristics of the parents or caregivers and the circumstances of the case. If that information indicated the perpetrators would not be likely to have filed the required paperwork, we categorized them as truant.
In the first case on our list of truant fatalities, the perpetrators committed welfare fraud by lying in state documents and collecting nearly $175,000 for the victim and his brother over a period of eight years. There is no evidence that state homeschooling paperwork was filed on the victim.
In the case of the next four fatalities, all from the same family, the family moved a lot. This makes it unlikely that the perpetrator would have kept a current address on file as required by state law. He was convicted of welfare fraud. And the family's last residence was in a structure zoned commercial-only. He had been ordered to leave the building or to acquire a special permit, which he had not done at the time of the killings.
In the third case, the victim was killed two and a half months after the family had moved to a new state. He was tortured to death. The victim's older brother had been killed before the move. It is difficult to picture the perpetrators taking time out after their move to file homeschooling paperwork with the state.
In the fourth case, the perpetrator collected state benefits for the two girls killed for probably a year after their deaths. There is no indication that state homeschool paperwork was filed. A surviving girl told police she went to school, though there were no records at surrounding schools of her attendance.
These are the first seven truant fatalities on a chronological list. The other cases labeled truant either lack any indication of legal compliance or have indications of probable truancy.
Additionally, I provided a spreadsheet giving weblinks for each fatality I assigned as truant so that independent observers could verify my reasoning.
CRHE mischaracterized my study. Seriously. I would accept an apology.
Today the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) posted a statement about the National Home Education Research Institute's (NHERI) comprehensive article by Brian Ray titled "Child Abuse of Public School, Private School, and Homeschool Students: Evidence, Philosophy, and Reason". In that post they also had comments about my study titled "Homeschool child fatalities fewer than the national average".
Although there is some interesting material in the CRHE post, I will limit myself for today to one point they made:
In her study, Knox looked at child abuse so severe that it could be termed torture. Knox found that 47% of the school-aged child torture victims in the cases she examined were removed from school to be homeschooled. Knox reported that in these cases homeschooling "appears to have been designed to further isolate the child" and that "their isolation was accompanied by an escalation of physically abusive events."
It is possible that Ray failed to include Knox's study because, as a non-random sample of cases, its findings cannot be applied statistically to all homeschooled children.
CRHE cites Barbara Knox's paper titled "Child Torture as a Form of Child Abuse". The paper states: "This series and paper is limited in that it is a select and by no means, inclusive series, of abuse cases. They have been chosen to be illustrative of the phenomenon of torture, but cannot be considered a consecutive case series for statistical analysis." And: "We sought to identify medical criteria distinguishing these cases from other forms of child abuse and present reasons for creating a new subcategory of child maltreatment.... They [the abuse cases] did not represent all potential cases from any institution."
That is, the abuse cases were specifically chosen out of the consecutive cases to highlight a distinct type of abuse rather than to maintain a representative proportion of homeschooled students. The study's cases are not intended to be a random sample, by Knox's own statements in the paper itself.
A web search on "site:responsiblehomeschooling.org barbara knox" shows CRHE cited the Knox paper 18 times since 2015. Not once did they mention that the 47% proportion could not be expected to extrapolate out to the broader population.
Today's CRHE post sets the record straight. I am happy they have decided to be transparent in this.