Home-Schoolers of Color

Cara Bonnett, News & Observer (Raleigh), May 27, 2008

When Dotty Barco’s oldest son, Caleb, began to struggle with third-grade math, she remembered the statistic she’d run across while writing a college paper.

According to the National Urban League, black male achievement begins to decline as early as fourth grade. Blacks continue to fall behind through high school, in test scores, grades and dropout rates. Fewer than half of black males graduate in four years.

“In fourth grade, African-American males drop to the bottom—we can’t find them anymore,” said Barco, a former public school teacher and mother of four boys. “I knew fourth grade was coming, [and] I couldn’t have my son be a part of that.”

That year, Barco pulled all her sons out of Vance Elementary School in Raleigh. She has been home-schooling them since.

The Barcos join an increasing number of black families in the Triangle and across the country who choose to home-school their children. Of the estimated 1.1 million home-schooled children in the U.S., about 10 percent are black, according to the most recent federal statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.

Blacks are the fastest-growing demographic among home-schoolers, said Jennifer James, a Boone mother of two who in 2003 founded the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance, a nonreligious group that provides online information and support to about 3,000 home-schoolers.

Disappointed with the public school system, many black parents opt to home-school because they want more rigorous academics and a truly multicultural education, James said.

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Many black parents say they fear their children will be labeled as disruptive in public schools and believe they can provide an educational environment better suited to their children’s learning styles.

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Looking for role models

Nadja Bonhomme of Garner was troubled by the lack of black role models in public schools. “The ethnicity of a teacher matters a lot for boys,” said Bonhomme, who home-schooled her 13-year-old son, Anastasio, for two years. “Boys should see teachers who represent them, what they see when they look in the mirror.”

Parents also worry that their children will face troubling social pressures to fit in with negative stereotypes.

“If they’re successful academically, then people tell them they’re acting like a white person. Then they’re not doing well socially with kids of their own cultural heritage. Or they can get along well socially and not do well in school,” said Louise Omoto Kessel of Pittsboro, an adoptive mother of two black children, ages 6 and 3.

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Facing skeptics

Still, black home-schooling families say they face skepticism—even among friends and family.

“Everyone has their eyebrows arched,” said Kamela Heyward-Rotimi of Durham, who has been home-schooling her 9-year-old son, Kola, for six years. “[Friends said] ‘You’re home-schooling? That’s for really radical white Christians in the mountains!’ We questioned right along with them, [wondering], ‘How is this going to work out?’ Well, my son did very well on the Iowa [standardized test]. Now, when people ask, ‘How is that working for you?’ I can say confidently, ‘It’s working well.’“

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