Black Homeschooling: Racial Protectionism, Cultural Relevance, and Favorable Social and Academic Outcomes
Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
The Surge in Black Homeschooling
Homeschooling is a form of education steered by parents and is based within the home. Owing to this, homeschooling does not rely on either institutional private schooling or state-run public schooling (Ray, 2013). According to data from the US Department of Education, homeschooling continues to increase among Black families (Hess, 2010; Lomotey, 2012). Research on what has caused this surge in African American homeschooling is rather thin. However, contemporary attitudes among Black parents toward educational accomplishment draws on the long tradition of prioritization of literacy and numeracy. Contrary to the dominant “achievement gap” paradigm that locates the issues of achievement among Black students as rooted in culture and biology, quality education and advances in literacy have been priorities for African Americans for many years, even under the conditions of slavery (cf. Anderson, 1988). For instance, in 1999, only 1.0% of Black children were homeschooled, but this rate had risen to 1.9% by 2010 indicating a 90% increase in the rate of Black home based education in a period of just 11 years (Noel et al, 2013; Ray, 2015).
Motivations for Homeschooling
An article in The Atlantic earlier this year estimated 220,000 Black children currently being homeschooled with Black families accounting for the fastest growing racial demographic in home based education. Fields-Smith and Wells Kisura (2013) assert that investigating the specific ways in which Black homeschool families nurture their children in learning can provide critical new insights into the needs of Black education in traditional public and private schools. Mazama and Lundy (2015) contend that documenting the motivations for homeschooling among Black families is equally important. Approximately ten years ago, Taylor (2005) argued that improved academic achievement and increased expectations were the key reasons for Black home education. However, in a later study, race was identified as a key determinant in parents’ decision to homeschool (Fields-Smith and Williams, 2009). In this study, many Black parents expressed that the institutional norms and structures of traditional schools fostered destructive rather than supportive learning environments for Black students (Fields-Smith and Williams, 2009). Among the frequently cited reasons for homeschooling, reported by the National Home Education Research Institute, parents generally identify a desire for a safer learning environment free of the racism associated with institutional schools. Reflective of this general perspective among homeschool families, Mazama and Lundy (2013) concluded that a number of Black homeschoolers believe that a Eurocentric curriculum seriously hinders their children’s sense of purpose and self-esteem. Due to these and other ills of racism, Black parents’ decision to homeschool comes as no surprise given that racism permeates all areas of Black life, the educational setting being only one of them (cf. Mazama and Lundy, 2012).
The salience of racism in the particular context of conventional American schools is multidimensional: individual and institutional racism in the Eurocentric orientation to curriculum, White teachers’ attitudes toward Black students, the disproportionate placement of Black children in special education, as well as the disparate number of Black students subject to disciplinary action in schools (Mazama and Lundy, 2012). Karyn Lacy’s (2007) book, Blue-Chip Black, provides further support for these tendencies. Lacy (2007) details how Black families often find themselves fighting with teachers and school administrators in urban settings as well as in the suburbs just so their children can take AP classes and enroll in gifted and talented courses so as to be successful in college as well as life. In addition, Black parents are concerned with the general culture of low expectations for and treatment of their children in conventional schooling settings. RiShawn Biddle of Dropout Nation maintains Black families rely on home based education as a response to the inadequacies of public and private educational institutions and the desire to provide their children with a quality education.
Racial Protectionism and Cultural Relevance
Not only does the steady rise in Black homeschooling point to the unsatisfactory quality of education in conventional schools, it provides a necessary alternative in securing the longevity of Black community life. Key to this concern as Mazama and Lundy (2015) explain, is the broader racially exclusive and discriminatory social context within which American schools operate. Research suggests that Black families increasingly choose to homeschool their children as a means of protecting them from the deleterious effects of school-based racism (Mazama and Lundy, 2012). The strong inclination among Black parents to protect their children from the pernicious effects of racial mistreatment in this context is characterized as racial protectionism (Mazama and Lundy, 2012; 2015). Black home education, therefore, represents a vehicle for resisting institutionalized and structural forces of racism and White supremacist hegemony and meeting the very specific needs of Black students (cf. Fields-Smith and Wells Kisura, 2013). However, this is only one dimension of the choice to homeschool. For Black families, homeschooling is also a transformative act of self-determination and agency in shaping their children’s destiny (cf. Fields-Smith and Wells Kisura, 2013). For example, in the case of Black male students, their families opted to homeschool in order to provide a safe space for the construction of healthy notions of Black masculinity, to protect their children from entanglements in the criminal justice system, and as a means of shielding their sons from the biased expectations of teachers and the larger society (Mazama and Lundy, 2014). Similar to other ethnic homeschoolers, Black homescho reasons for homeschooling are similar to those of other ethnic homeschoolers, some intentionally rely on home based education to engage their children in understanding Black history and culture (Ray, 2015). RiShawn Biddle adds, “Black families want their children to build pride in themselves and in their cultures. This includes learning about successful role models who look like them. This desire for self-pride…is also why some black families homeschool.”
Favorable Academic and Social Outcomes of Homeschooling
Turning to the effects of home based education among Black families, there is a general paucity in research into the outcomes of homeschooling among Black students. While claims to positive and favorable effects of home based education are often made, Lubienski et al (2013) note that empirical evidence to this effect are lacking. In a recent study, Ray (2015) investigated the motivations of Black parents for choosing homeschooling and the academic achievement of Black homeschool students. This study explored the academic achievement of Black homeschool students in Grades 4 to 8 (ages 9 to 14) as it related to various demographic characteristics of the students and their families. Participants were accessed through the largest support system for Black homeschoolers, National Black Homeschoolers (NBH). Eighty-one Black homeschool students and their families were recruited for the study. A 39-item survey was also administered to Black homeschool parents to determine aspects such as parent and family demographics, student’s demographics and schooling history, approaches to homeschooling, and parents’ motivations for homeschooling their children (Ray, 2015). In addition, data from 1299 Black public school students was also used in this study for the purposes of comparison. This data was gathered from the standardized test, ITBS, which included test scores, grade level of test, sex, race/ethnicity, and the family’s qualification for free or reduced meals (Ray, 2015). The ITBS was also administered to the Black homeschool students.
Ray’s (2015) study found that Black homeschool students scored at or above the 50th percentile in reading, math, language, and core (i.e. a combination of reading, language, and math) subtests. Students’ gender and their family’s household income had little effect on achievement scores (Ray, 2015). Black public school students scored at or below the 30th percentile in the same areas.
Although research shows that Black students in public schools generally score far below the national average, the Black homeschool students performed as well or better than the national average of public school students across all races and ethnicities (Ladson-Billings, 2006; Ray, 2015). In Ray’s (2015) study, not only were the scores of Black homeschool students far above the national average, but home education was shown to be a significant and consistent predictor of higher levels of achievement . While Ray’s (2015) study certainly breaks ground in empirically documenting the outcomes of Black home based education, as an explanatory non-experimental study it was not designed to establish causation. Nevertheless, it provides a launching pad for further research into the causal outcomes of homeschooling as well as considerations of appropriate policies related to home based education for African Americans.
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