Following a nationwide trend, educating children at home is becoming a popular option for Black Americans as private school costs rise and the reputation of public schools grows worse. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the number of children schooled at home in kindergarten through the 12th grade rose to 1.1 million in 2003 from 850,000 in 1999. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) says the number is increasing 10 percent to 15 percent a year, with Blacks outpacing the overall growth rate. “[The] Black homeschool movement is growing at a faster rate than the general homeschool population,” association president J. Michael Smith said in a June 2003 editorial on the association’s Web site (www.hslda.org ). “While it’s true that the large majority of homeschool children are white, the number of Black homeschoolers is growing rapidly.”
Estimates of the Black homeschool population vary between 5 percent and 9.9 percent of the total homeschool population. Catering to the trend, a number of support organizations have come into being since 2000. Jennifer James and her husband, Michael, co-founded the National African-American Home-schoolers Alliance in 2003 and the North Carolina African-American Homeschoolers. Homeschooling affords the greatest amount of educational freedom and intellectual exploration,” says James, who is director of the national alliance and homeschools her two daughters, ages 6 and 3. “[It] allows my husband and me to teach our daughters cultural relevance and self-importance. This is vitally important, not only to my family, but to most African-American homeschooling families across the country,” she says.
The practice still remains controversial, however. Some states, including New York, impose regulations that homeschool advocates deem burdensome. In the New York tristate area, New Jersey’s regulatory environment is considered the most accommodating of homeschooling. “The general concern that educators have is that the parents aren’t able to provide a full educational spectrum—math, history, science. [Another worry is] that the children won’t get the socialization skills as in a traditional arena,” James says. But HSLDA research assessing the scholastic achievement of homeschool students shows that “in the race to scholastic excellence, typical homeschool students sprint to the front in the early grades and generally finish far ahead of students in public or private schools.” On average they perform 30 percentage points to 35 percentage points better than public school students do, other industry research shows.
Black homeschoolers in particular are excelling in the one-on-one instruction environment, where parents can home in on their child’s interests and strengths, as well as recognize their weaknesses and limitations, experts say. The practice known as “unschooling” is more controversial and far less popular among Blacks, James says. “Unschooling is child-led learning. It’s used by parents who want their children to decide what they want to learn.
James says she became hooked on homeschooling six years ago while watching a spelling bee in which one of the last children standing was homeschooled. “The main reason was that private schools are very expensive and we didn’t trust that the public schools were going to teach as well as the private schools.” The homeschooling trend will definitely continue to grow in the Black community, she asserts.
African American Homeschoolers Network (www.aahnet.org )
African-American Unschooling (www.afamunschool.com )
Black Alliance for Educational Options (www.baeo.org )
Black Homeschoolers Network (www.blackhomeschoolers.homestead.com )
National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance (www.naaha.com )
National Black Home Educators Resource Association (www.nbhera.org )
National Home Education Research Institute (www.nheri.org )
By Nafisa M. Rachid