Homeschooling surges among black families
The coronavirus pandemic boosted home education among African Americans, but it wasn’t the only factor
Raegan Mayfield’s 11-year-old son was doing well in his Christian private school, but Mayfield and her husband felt there were gaps in how his history classes addressed racial subjects. They supplemented his education at home, but then COVID-19 concerns and racial issues became front and center in spring 2020. “My husband and I became really protective of our son,” Mayfield said.
The couple, who live in Georgia and work from home, began looking into homeschooling options. “We wanted to keep the Biblically sound education but then also diversify his education a bit,” Mayfield said.
Finding Heritage Homeschoolers, a group for African American homeschoolers in the Atlanta area, gave Mayfield the encouragement she needed. She and her husband began homeschooling their son in fall 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic drove an increase in homeschooling across all demographics, but the boost was particularly large among African American families. According to Census Bureau data, the percentage of black families educating children at home grew fivefold in six months, from 3.3 percent in April 2020 to 16.1 percent in October 2020.
Steven Duvall, director of research at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), said that in previous years African American families homeschooled at about half the rate of white families. But more recent surveys show the black homeschooling rate is only a couple of percentage points behind that of white families. “It just shows you how diversified the homeschool movement has become,” Duvall said.
That shift began even before 2020. According to a 2015 report by Brian Ray at the National Home Education Research Institute, the number of black homeschooling families “nearly doubled from 1999 to 2012.”
Amber O’Neal Johnston, who helped start the Heritage Homeschoolers group the Mayfields joined, said she has seen more black families involved since she started homeschooling about seven years ago, but the growth has exploded in the past two years. Heritage Homeschoolers opens registration to new families twice a year, in January and August, and in 2019 and early 2020, the group received fewer than 20 applications in each of those months. Since August 2020, though, 34 to 41 new families have applied each month registration is open.
Before starting Heritage Homeschoolers, Johnston and her husband were involved with another homeschool group. They enjoyed it, despite being the only black family there. But their daughter began to say negative things about her own skin and hair and stopped playing with her black dolls. “It’s not like anyone had been mean to her,” Johnston said. “It wasn’t like she had been somewhere where people were saying negative things about black people.”
The Johnstons never left their first homeschooling group, but they decided to look for other black homeschooling families. Soon Heritage Homeschoolers was born, and it kept growing. It now serves 94 families with 280 children.
In March 2020, Khadijah Ali-Coleman defended her doctoral dissertation on perceptions of community college preparedness among dual-enrolled African American homeschooling students. Ali-Coleman homeschooled her daughter for a while and co-founded Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars, a research group that provides virtual training for parents. In her research, Ali-Coleman identified several reasons black parents chose to homeschool, including concerns that schools aren’t properly teaching about black history and convictions that parents could better protect their child’s self-esteem at home.
Emily Powell, a representative for National Black Home Educators, said in an email that the organization has “seen incredible growth” this year. According to Powell, many new families are homeschooling due to COVID-19 restrictions, virtual learning situations, or concerns about schools teaching critical race theory.
Jasper and Deah Abbott prayed about their son’s education after his prekindergarten year ended with virtual learning in spring 2020. Deah said that four generations of her family have taught in public schools, but the Abbotts’ concerns about COVID-19 and virtual instruction convinced them to give homeschooling a try. They pulled their son out of public school in fall 2020, the weekend before he would have started kindergarten.
Deah is white and Jasper is black. In some homeschool circles, their son may be the only brown-skinned person. “He feels that—that otherness,” she said.
The family also joined Heritage Homeschoolers. Abbott thinks her son may benefit even more from the group than most children.
Johnston believes the uptick in homeschooling will continue, especially now that there are more support groups and options for single or working parents.
“Parents have had an opportunity to see their children just flourish at home,” she said. “When everyone was forced to bring the kids home, black families, in large numbers, saw how beautiful it was.”
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