By Laura Onyeneho
Special to The Truth
Black families are taking their power back and making decisions about the education of their children either by the traditional route or by homeschooling. Many are choosing the latter.
Homeschooling is increasing in the United States and the demographic doesn’t fit stereotypical white conservative communities. A growing number of Black families have started teaching their kids from home, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, three percent of Black households chose to homeschool their children in April-May 2020, and by October, the percentage rose to 16 percent. Even though many students were learning virtually, the data focus didn’t include children enrolled in public or private school.
Prior to the pandemic, some Black parents found that schools were failing to improve learning among their children, and the problem exacerbated well into the pandemic.
In 2019, only one and a half out of 10 Black eighth-graders who took the national reading and math exams scored at or above the proficiency level. One study found that students in majority-Black schools ended the school year six months behind in both math and reading, while students in majority-white schools ended up four months behind in math and three months behind in reading.
In some cases, homeschooling is a way to protect students from other factors such as institutional racism and stereotyping. The Texas legislature battled over state laws that constrict teachers from teaching curriculum or reading books about race and gender, and with the long list of mass school shootings, many families are concern for their children’s safety as well.
The Defender spoke with two experts, Cheryl Fields-Smith, EdD, associate professor of Elementary Education at the University of Georgia-Athens, and Brian D. Ray, EdD, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, to discuss the increasing trend.
Defender: Was there history in the practice of homeschooling before it became popular?
Ray: Yes, and I think there is a big picture. Parent-led education is the norm in the history of humankind. It was not until the late 1800s in the U.S where institutionalization started becoming the norm. When institutionalized schooling, or tax-funded schools became dominant in America, there was a fight against it. Not everyone wanted government run schooling.
Many historians have said this and I concur that these types of schooling are a lot about control, and not about empowering children to read, write and do arithmetic. In the 1970s, there was the Christian homeschooling movement giving parents the opportunity to teach their religious and moral values to their children and decrease the secular influences on them. Fast forward to the 2000s, homeschooling is growing and but if you get into race and ethnicity, it’s still disproportionately white.
Defender: Why are more Black families considering homeschooling?
Ray: Not much research has been done on Black families and homeschooling, but I did a quantitative study on this, though it’s not definitive, we found out that on average these homeschooled children are scoring above average on standardized test [compared to] Black and white children in public schools. They get the attention, they’re not being bullied, they are not being distracted and that’s the nature of homeschooling.
These parents want to customize the curriculum for their children, rather than throw them in a group of 20-plus students in a system and see what happens. They want to use different approaches to learning and they want more time with family. Plus, many still detect plenty of unequal treatment toward our children especially young Black boys and low expectations of them. Many parents are concerned about the lack of cultural sensitivity in the curriculum as well.
Defender: Is homeschooling a way of activism for Black families?
Ray: Yes, it is. These institutions make the decision about the curriculum students will learn based on knowledge and information and not about values, beliefs and world views. Then, you’re supposed to bring your child and drop them off to receive this curriculum. That’s pacifism. In schools, we say we believe in the child’s autonomy and thinking for themselves, but the whole time we’re giving these children what the government or private organizations think they should be learning.
On the side of the parent, they are supposed to be submissive and passive. The parent is supposed to trust the school system. Drop them off on the yellow school bus every morning and walk away. Now, more parents want to be involved. They want to help their children explore their gifts and strengths and challenge their ways of thinking. That is the whole piece of the modern homeschool movement — activism
Defender: How can you measure the academic progress compared to those who are in public schools?
Fields-Smith: This is a really complicated topic that requires expertise in quantitative research beyond my ability. But, keep in mind that parents’ definitions of academic progress will not always be the same as public schools. Schools tend to measure “success/achievement” through tests whereas parents do not.
Another complication in answering this question is that state laws very a great deal from one another. Not all states require testing of homeschooled children, for example. States also use different tests for public school systems.
Defender: Does homeschooling have an impact on social and emotional behaviors of students who chose to go to college?
Fields-Smith: Absolutely. We need more research on this, but based on what I have found in my limited research, homeschooling helps Black children to develop positive cultural self-identities and provides them with opportunities to interact and collaborate with people from more diverse backgrounds then their resegregated publicly assigned schools would have and therefore, they are more able to adjust in college, for the most part.
Again, much more research is needed on this topic to be able to say anything definitive. Also, home education families vary a great deal from one another and so my research is again limited to say anything definitive regarding the transition to college…this was not the focus of my research.
Defender: Are there challenges that Black parents need to be aware of when deciding to homeschool their children?
Fields-Smith: Black parents need to be fully aware of their state homeschool laws first and foremost before beginning to homeschool. Some states allow homeschool parents to hire tutors, but other states do not, for example. This will play a large part in determining how some Black families will be able to homeschool or even if they cannot homeschool.
If both parents have to work and they live in a state that does not allow hiring of tutors then there will need to be some flexibility in parents’ work or in the child’s day. When families homeschool, they are not held to the 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday through Friday school day, which can be helpful in thinking creatively how to meet the requirements of teaching your own children.
I have found that parents who live in rural communities tend to experience a great deal of isolation when they choose to homeschool. To help overcome this, they have to travel an hour or more to find like-minded, culturally similar homeschool groups to partner with. This travel serves as an extra burden in the homeschool practice. Single parents also face a challenge in homeschooling, but it s not impossible, particularly if they live in a state with flexible homeschool policies. Single parents can use co-ops to enhance their homeschool practice, if laws allow co-ops to exist.
Defender: How can traditional school settings improve to better provide academic quality Black children need to thrive if a parent doesn’t homeschool?
Fields-Smith: I think traditional schools need to value Black families and all families of color a great deal more. Many times, the parents in my studies tried to work with/partner with their local schools, but found they were marginalized or disenfranchised in the homeschool partnership as they attempted to advocate for their children. Instead of labeling children as “troublemakers,” I wish teachers and other school staff had the time, energy, and ethic of care to work with parents to see what might be causing the behavior issues.
Sometimes it is the way a teacher teaches or sometimes it is the content being below the student’s abilities. These are things that can be addressed if teachers and parents work together. Bullying continues to be a challenge and many Black families homeschool after trying to resolve the bullying issue within the schools. Homeschooling provides a refuge for Black children to be able to avoid issues such as discipline disproportionality, school safety and teachers’ low expectations.
The rate of Black families homeschooling their children grew five times from May 2020 to October 2020.
|Race/Ethnicity||May 2020||Oct. 2020|
Ed. Note! Laura Onyeneho covers Houston’s education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a reporter for America corps member.