Filed Under:  Education

Are African-American families trending toward home-schooling their children?

26th March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Kari Harden
Contributing Writer

Locally and nationally, a steadily increasing number of families are making the decision to educate their children at home.

The trend is also showing significant growth within the African-American community.

Precise data and numbers are hard to pin down and typically underestimated, but with more than two million grade K-12 homeschool students in the U.S., the Louisiana Department of Education estimates there are about 18,000 families in Louisiana. (Editor’s note: this paragraph has been corrected to reflect that there are more than two million K-12 homeschool students in the U.S. not two million families homeschooling in the U.S. as was printed in the print edition of The Louisiana Weekly)

Studies are also showing positive results in terms of academic achievement.

In his commentary published earlier this month, “Over 100,000 African-American Parents Are Now Homeschooling Their Children,” Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu writes: “We hear so much about the plight of Black children and their low test scores. We have not heard that African-American children who are homeschooled are scoring at the 82 percent in reading and 77 percent in math. This is 30-40 percent above their counterparts being taught in school. There is a 30 percent racial gap in schools, but there is no racial gap in reading if taught in the home and only a five percent gap in math.”

New Orleans mom Ty Salvant is teaching her five children, ages two to 12, at home. In 2010, Salvant founded NOLA Home­schoolers, “an inclusive community and comprehensive resource directory for current or prospective homeschoolers in the Greater New Orleans area.”

Starting with about 20 families, Salvant said that today there are more than 200 families who are members. On April 5, she will be hosting the organization’s first workshop, geared toward parents new to or interested in homeschooling, as well as homeschooling parents facing the decisions that come about as their kids reach high school age.

In Louisiana, the number of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)-approved home study students (which does not include many parents who don’t register at all, or like Salvant, who chose the option of a “registered nonpublic school”) is growing. For 2002, there were 5,865 BESE-approved students in Louisiana. There were 7,874 students in 2005, and 9,798 in 2013.

Salvant said her reasons for homeschooling were simple. As her oldest son was preparing to enter kindergarten, he would have been on the older end of the five-year-olds, and he was already reading and doing math. Salvant didn’t want her son to be bored. And, with a background in psychology, Salvant had seen all the research that shows the disproportionate number of Black boys who end up under the special education label, are not recognized as gifted, and are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), characterizations that are too often a result of boredom, and ones that follow them throughout their schooling.

Teaching their own values, a strong driving force for many families, also motivated Salvant. She didn’t want her son to have a cell phone at age 10, and wanted to be able to monitor the outside influences from media and other sources.

As she started researching homeschooling, it seemed like a perfect fit. But nonetheless intimidating, she said. “I am a faith filled person. I feel like it was a calling. Like all decisions we prayed about it, and knew that the Lord would equip me with the tools I needed.”

There are easy days and there are “days I want to pull my hair out,” she said.

Brian Ray, Ph.D., is the president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) and editor-in-chief of Home School Researcher, and has been studying homeschooling trends and results for more than 30 years. Ray is currently working on a study that focuses on African Americans.

In his research, Ray has found overall that parent-led, home-based education is increasing in the U.S. especially over the past 12 to 15 years, and that “Homeschooling is quickly growing in popularity among minorities. About 15 percent of homeschool families are non-white/non-Hispanic.”

Ray’s research has also determined that “The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests,” and that “Homeschool students score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.”

One of first questions Ray proposes when describing the nation’s evolving homeschooling landscape is “Why is public school the automatic default in education?” Up until about 1900, a majority of children were educated at home, Ray noted. It was the norm. “What happened to 6,000 years of history?” Ray asks.

For his latest study, which is slated for publication in coming months, Ray said he chose to focus on African Americans because there has been very little research to date involving black homeschooling families and academic achievement.

The homeschooling families of today do not fit the stereotype of decades past of the shy kids down the block in funny clothes who never leave the house.

On the contrary, there are networks, co-ops, support groups, weekly classes with other kids, field trips, proms, academic competitions and sports leagues. Parents collaborate to capitalize on their individual strengths, give each other a day off, and share resources. History and geography lessons often mean road trips.

And within the larger homeschool community Ray cites significant diversity: “A demographically wide variety of people homeschool — these are atheists, Christians and Mormons; conservatives, libertarians and liberals; low-, middle- and high-income families; Black, Hispanic and white; parents with Ph.D.s, GEDs and no high-school diploma.”

Ray’s research has lead him to speculate: “It may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States.”

The big “S” word — socialization — just makes Salvant laugh when it is brought up as a concern. Among other activities, her kids participate in their church, their neighborhood association, karate lessons, academic games, music lessons, basketball, swimming and flag football. They also volunteer as a family.

Through NOLA Homeschoolers, parents can connect to an immense amount of resources to help with curriculum planning, as well as connect with other families for activities and events. On the calendar there are free tennis lessons, chess club, canoeing, story time, robotics competitions, trips to the Bunny Bread factory and a butterfly farm in Luling.

And not only do her kids interact often and positively with their peers, Salvant noted that they also do well with kids both older and younger. Her older kids act as role models and mentors to the younger kids, having the opportunity for leadership roles that they may not in a school strictly divided by age.

Whatever their level, her kids play the same games and cover the same subject material together. The closeness and respect the siblings have for each other is an intentional benefit of homeschooling, said Salvant, who emphasizes to her kids that “We are all on the same team.”

Joyce Burges, founder of the Baton Rouge-based National Black Home Educators (NBHE), noted that socialization needs to be a positive thing — and that there is a lot of negative socializing out there.

Ray and Salvant echoed the sentiment — not all of the “socialization” happening in public or private schools necessarily plays a positive role in the development of children.

In his research, Ray found that adults who were homeschooled: “participate in local community service more frequently than does the general population, vote and attend public meetings more frequently than the general population, go to and succeed at college at an equal or higher rate than the general population, and internalize the values and beliefs of their parents at a very high rate.”

Another common misconception is that families need to make a lot of money for homeschooling to be an option, Salvant said. It’s not true – many families with different income levels and work schedules find ways to make it work, she said.

Not everyone can homeschool, but most people can, Burges said.

Each state has different regulations and resources made available to families pursuing a home-based education. In Louisiana, for TOPS eligibility, families must have their homeschool programs BESE-approved.

But overall, Ray writes that: “Families engaged in home-based education are not dependent on public, tax-funded resources for their children’s education. The finances associated with their homeschooling likely represent over $16 billion that American taxpayers do not have to spend since these children are not in public schools.”

For Salvant, she is quick to point out that her decision doesn’t have to do with living in Orleans Parish and the existing public school system. She illustrates with the story of the farmer who improves his prize-winning corn by making sure the surrounding farms have the same high-quality seeds. “We have an obligation to each other to raise the bar, and to help each other out and lift each other up,” she said.

And, Salvant hopes that future endeavors for NOLA Home-schoolers include more collaboration with public school parents, such as afterschool programs that target the specific areas of need for students.

One of her biggest challenges, and greatest rewards, is finding the different learning techniques that work for each of her unique children. The flexibility to allow her kids to learn differently and master certain skills when they are ready rather then on a rigid schedule has proven very positive results, she said. When something isn’t clicking, “It’s empowering for the child to move on to something else,” and then go back to whatever lesson was difficult when they can better grasp the concept and develop a strong foundation.

The flexibility of their daily and weekly schedule is a big appeal to Salvant, including not having a 7 a.m. “rat race” every morning. They took a month off when she had her last baby, now two.

There is freedom and independence in that every family can find a curriculum, techniques and schedules that work for them, Salvant said, but she also wants prospective homeschoolers to know about the community resources and support systems available – of which are only increasing in numbers and scope. And she has seen a steady increase in the number of African-American families.

Technology has played a huge role in the growth of homeschooling, Ray noted, with the availability of limitless information now available, and much of it at no cost.

Burges said when she and her husband started homeschooling 25 years ago, they saw a need for more representation of not only Black families at national workshops they attended, but African-American history and heroes in the books and curriculums offered. They wanted to see the African-American experience integrated more positively and comprehensively in the mainstream—for all children.

Burges said NBHE started 14 years ago with about 1,000 members, and now has more than 5,000 people in their database.

She estimates about 200,000 African-American families homeschooling nationwide, and said she gets a steady influx of calls and emails weekly from parents wanting more information.

With her eldest child now 37, and grandchildren who are being homeschooled, Burgess only needs to look proudly at her kids’ characters and accomplishments to tout the success of homeschooling. “Education is not education unless it is for life,” she said, repeating a favorite motto.

Ray said that many of the most commonly cited reasons behind the decision to homeschool are the same for parents of any race: strengthening academic achievement, teaching values, guiding socialization, flexibility and customization of curriculum, strengthening family relationships and safety.

For African-American parents, he said that he also encounters parents who don’t want their children subjected to racism, or their (boys in particular) kids to be subjected to low expectations, and they want to be able to transmit more African-American cultural heritage into their children’s curriculum.

One challenge Salvant has found that Black parents face is opposition from older generations, who in the context of the historic struggle for civil rights may not understand the choice to stay at home over a career, or the decision not to give children access to the public education opportunities fought long and hard to attain.

Salvant said in her own family, the academic success and social skills displayed by her kids has helped change the minds of some of her older relatives.

And as the national debate heats up on standardized testing, Ray said that parents and society in general are asking more questions about what it means to educate. Salvant said she encourages parents who are considering homeschooling to first define what education means to their family.

In Kunjufu’s article, he identifies the key to the growing success demonstrated by African-American children being taught at home as “love and high expectations.”

While a Common Core expert may tell a parent that “the main objective for their seven-year-old is to do well in the global economy and workforce,” Ray said, that goal may not fit with every parents’ priorities of what they want for their seven-year-old.

This article originally published in the March 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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