Posted on September 28, 2006

Blacks Take Education Into Their Own Hands

Leslie Fulbright, San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 2006

Suisun City parents Benjamin and Tanya Marshall are part of a new homeschooling movement led by African American families fed up with the public school system.

Nine years ago, the couple put their oldest son, Trevaughn, in kindergarten after discussing teaching him at home. When he had a substitute teacher several times in his first six weeks, they pulled him out.

“We felt like it wasn’t the right environment, especially for an African American boy,” said Tanya Marshall, 36. “The teachers were young and nervous. Black males were not being challenged and ending up in special ed.”


A desire for more rigorous academics and greater emphasis on black history also has led black families into homeschooling, educators say.

Although homeschoolers often are stereotyped as white and evangelical Christians, in 2003 about 9 percent of homeschooled students were black, and 77 percent were white, compared with a total student population nationwide that was 16 percent black and 62 percent white. Homeschoolers numbered 1.1 million in 2003, compared with about 49.5 million students in public and private schools, according to the most recent federal statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.

The numbers of black and white homeschoolers rose about a third from 1999 to 2003 to encompass about 1.3 percent of U.S. black students and 2.7 percent of whites. Researchers say the number of black parents who are homeschooling their children may now be growing even faster.

More than half the students who are homeschooled come from families with three or more children, and more than one-quarter from families making less than $25,000 in 2003, when the nation’s median family income was $56,500. More than half of homeschooled students came from families making between $25,000 and $75,000. Among black, white and Latino students, Latinos are least likely to be homeschooled, at less than 1 percent in 2003; no other ethnic groups are measured.

The growth among African Americans can be seen in the increasing number of networking groups, blogs and Internet sites directed at black homeschoolers — and in who is showing up at conventions.

“There was a time when the conferences were all white,” said Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore. “In the ‘90s, you saw a little more color, and by 2000, a substantial number of black families started showing up.

“In some cities, the majority of those attending conferences are African American.”

Many say they left public schools because their children weren’t expected to learn at an equal pace or being coached on getting into college, the schools were unsafe, or the curriculum lacked black history.


Monica Utsey of Washington, D.C., said she decided to homeschool so she had as much say as possible in 6-year-old son Zion’s life.

“I didn’t want him put on the road to obesity, with junk food, or to be obsessed with commercialized clothing,” Utsey said. “I also don’t want my son to think that slavery was our only contribution. I want to give him a world view, a cultural perspective, and assure he understands his place and his heritage.”

Many black homeschoolers worry that their children will be labeled in a public school. Black public school students are three times as likely as white students to be categorized as needing special education services, a 2002 study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University found.


Public schools have been a focus of the civil rights struggle, but many homeschooling parents said they are disillusioned with the system’s failure to improve.

“Some educators and families think that because blacks fought so hard to get equal access, we shouldn’t abandon it,” said Jennifer James, a North Carolina mother who in 2003 started the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance, a 3,000-member, nonreligious group that provides information for homeschoolers. “But times have changed. It was a great step, but we have to think about our kids.”


The Marshalls not only teach their children math, religion and vocabulary, but also take them on field trips to places like the Lawrence Hall of Science, the state Capitol, the San Francisco Symphony and the Museum of the African Diaspora.


Homeschooling attracts diverse families

Breakdown of the 1,096,000 homeschooled children in the U.S.

— By ethnicity

White (non-Hispanic): 843,000

Black (non-Hispanic): 103,000

Hispanic (any race): 59,000

Other: 91,000