Blacks turn to home-schooling

An increasing number of black families nationwide are choosing to home-school their children as they become fed up with what they call the country's "inadequate" public school system.

Blacks now make up nearly 5 percent of the estimated 1.7 million children who were home-schooled last year, according to estimates by the National Home Educators Research Institute in Oregon, a non-profit organization devoted to research on home-based education.

That's about 85,000 black children almost 10 times as many the federal government estimated in 1999, when blacks made up only 1 percent, or 8,500, of the estimated 850,000 home-schooled children.

"It's growing, and it's happening every day, in every county, in every state," said Joyce Burges, co-founder of the Louisiana-based National Black Home Educators Resource Association. Mrs. Burges has collected the names of about 500 black families from around the country in the group's database since she and her husband, Eric, founded the association in 2000.

"We're finding that there are more and more African-American home-schoolers out there every day," said Mrs. Burges, who has home-schooled her five children for the past 14 years.

Pockets of black home-schooling families are popping up in Virginia, Maryland, the District, Georgia, Louisiana, California, New Jersey and Texas.

The increase has been most evident in Prince George's County and Atlanta, Ga., where home-schooling advocates say they have been seeing in recent years more black families attending home-schooling workshops and conventions or establishing home-schooling support groups in their communities.

Black children also are dominating the ranks of local gym classes, religious Scouting troops for home-schooled children, Christian support groups and curriculum-supervision programs for their parents another sign home-schooling advocates say that more black families are joining the movement.

"The number of support groups and programs available for home-schoolers is limitless," said Anita Gibson, an administrator at the Landover-based SHABACH Homeschool Academy, which oversees black home-schooling families in Maryland.

"We've seen an increase in general, and we can say that the numbers are exploding," Ms. Gibson said, adding her academy membership has grown from seven to 17 families since it was founded seven years ago.

The reasons black parents provide for giving up full-time jobs to home-school their children varies from family to family.

Most of them said public and private schools in their neighborhoods are failing to provide their children with strong moral values, a quality education or a history of black culture and identity. Large class sizes and lack of one-on-one instruction also are to blame.

"People are just getting disappointed with public schools," said Gilbert Wilkerson, a home-schooling father of four children and founder of the Virginia-based Network of Black Homeschoolers, which has about 300 members nationwide. "We're finding that the public schools today are not doing enough to make black children competitive."

Karla McKinney, an Atlanta mother who home-schools her two daughters, said the city's public schools were not living up to her standards. Black families make up about 10 percent of the nearly 29,000 home-schooled students in Georgia, advocates said.

"Kids are falling through the cracks in our public schools here, and the children are not being provided the same quality of education as their counterparts in other neighborhoods," said Mrs. McKinney, who founded the Village Lights Homeschool Association, which is based in south metropolitan Atlanta.

"So parents are getting savvy, and they're taking matters into their own hands," she said.

Wendy Ward, who lives in Northeast in the District, said she turned to home schooling so her three children could build family relationships and get the moral grounding she believes public schools don't provide.

"It's about educating the whole child and preparing them for life in general," Mrs. Ward said. "Home schooling is not a foreign concept anymore. It's catching on, and more and more people are choosing to do it. It's all about building family relationships, something you wouldn't be able to do if your children were at school."

Another factor that may be fueling home schooling's popularity is that it is no longer considered as a faith-based movement.

"Now it's about parents spending quality time with their children and giving them the best opportunity for a quality education," said Kelly Painter, director of academic services with the Calvert School Education Services, a Baltimore-based home-schooling curriculum provider.

The movement may not compete with or eliminate public schools, "but it will certainly cause the bar to raise," Ms. Painter said. "It lets everyone know that there are options out there, and that benefits everyone."