Commentary by Lance Izumi originally published by RealClearEducation
As the United States observes Black History Month, African-American families are making history by leaving failing public schools and homeschooling their children in record numbers.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, parents, and especially black parents, found public schools incapable of handling the crisis. Even prior to the pandemic, public schools were failing to improve learning among African-American children.
In 2019, only one and a half out of ten black eighth-graders taking the national reading and math exams scored at or above the proficiency level.
The pandemic made a bad situation even worse. According to a 2021 McKinsey & Company study, “students in majority Black schools ended the [2020-21 school] year with six months of unfinished learning.” The study concluded: “The pandemic widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest.”
Not surprisingly, black parents reacted to this educational disaster by doing the one thing they could do immediately – pull their children out of public schools to homeschool them instead.
While homeschooling increased among all racial and ethnic groups during the pandemic, the rate skyrocketed among African-Americans. Census Bureau data shows homeschooling among black households jumped six-fold, from 3% in spring 2020 to 18% in spring 2021. Relatively equal proportions of white, black, and Hispanic households now homeschool their children.
One African-American mother in Detroit told The New Yorker that she had challenged the city’s school superintendent, saying: “Parents are not deciding to take their children out because of COVID. Parents are doing [homeschooling pods] because education has failed children in this city forever.”
Jeanetta Riley, another mother interviewed by The New Yorker, said, “A lot of Black people are struggling.” Her daughter was performing two grade levels behind in math when she decided to join a local homeschool parents’ group.
Using learning tools, such as the free online Khan Academy tutorial program, plus other resources, Riley homeschooled her daughter, who is now achieving at grade level. Her daughter is happier and Riley plans to continue to homeschool her even after the pandemic ends.
Academics, however, are far from the only reason that blacks are turning to homeschooling.
Demetria Zinga, who created a popular homeschool YouTube channel, believes that black families “choose homeschooling for different reasons” and that “each family is unique.” Some, she says, choose to homeschool because of the time and schedule flexibility it offers, while others want to take their children out of public schools because their kids “are being dishonored or devalued.”
Further, she says that many African-American families want to “share our values and we want to pass on our heritage, which cannot be done holistically if we’re sending off our children for eight hours a day to be under the care of a system that doesn’t support that.”
Zinga used the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling affords to choose the type of curriculum that best suited her children’s needs. Her oldest daughter Nyomi thrived using a classical education curriculum, which she said was “a pretty hard challenge,” but which “was helpful to make me a better writer.”
“I believe homeschooling is growing and exploding amongst African Americans and there will be more and more homeschoolers,” Zinga predicts. She says that homeschooling has been “a journey well worth it” because “I really got to be there for [my kids] in a way that I wouldn’t have been any way else.”
Khadija Ali-Coleman, co-founder of the growing Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars, observed, “COVID-19 was the publicist for homeschooling.” With the success and satisfaction that many parents are experiencing with teaching their kids at home, expect homeschooling to be a key wave of the future in the black community.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the new PRI book, The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.