African-American Homeschoolers on the Rise

Homeschooling is one of the fastest growing forms of education, expanding about 10 percent per year. Until recently, African Americans have made up only a tiny percentage of homeschoolers. But researchers say they are now the fastest growing minority in the homeschool movement.

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On the other side of the country, a mother and her 11-year-old son have started the school year at home. They're part of the growing homeschool movement. It's estimated that close to two million kids are now being educated outside the traditional school structure. And more and more of them are African-American.

In Oakland, California, Nancy Mullane's report begins in a child's bedroom that's doubling as a classroom.

Ms. SERITA TAYLOR(ph) (Resident, Oakland, California): But what's going to happen is We're going to move this over. This is going to be our learning area.

NANCY MULLANE: Serita Taylor and Andre Johnson(ph) live in a bright purple house on a top street in Oakland. The tidy front room with its wide curtain windows serves as Andre's bedroom. And now, by moving a closing wardrobe to the side, Taylor says it will be her son's classroom as well.

Ms. TAYLOR: So that when it's time for school to start. He can - some of the - he's going to actually - learning center so that we don't have the distractions.

Mr. ANDRE JOHNSON: We got a computer, a sound system. And I got my alarm clock.

MULLANE: For Andre's mom, turning their home into a classroom has been exciting. Her overnight job as an editor means she can take a quick nap when she gets home and then start teaching at around 8 each morning. She's calling her one-student unaccredited school field city in academy. A daily class schedule and a list of school rules are pasted on a large poster board.

Ms. TAYLOR: What I don't want is for us to lose any grounds that he already has and then the approach is like a solely nonchalant. Okay, I don't really have to learn because my mom is teaching me because it's so not that.

MULLANE: Looking over at Sheldon(ph), his turtle, gargling in the nearby fish tank, Andre says he is just happy he doesn't have to go back to the local public school.

Mr. JOHNSON: It was fun. I get - the first day of second grade. But then after that, it kind of got bad. And got bad as the years went on. It was the worst last year. I'm so glad I never have to go back.

MULLANE: Taylor says last year Andre's fifth grade year was the worst. One day towards the end of the school year, he came home shaking.

Ms. TAYLOR: He was jumped. You know, fortunately, he wasn't hurt. But it could have been very, very - you know. And he just happened to be this victim this time, but what about the next child? You know, what if it's more serious next time?

MULLANE: While safety was an issue, another serious concern was the local school district's high dropout rate. According to a recent report, about half of Oakland's ninth graders never graduate from high school.

Ms. TAYLOR: Statistically, black boys, now children, this is where they fall off - actually, around the fourth grade. A lot of the children on this classroom, the boys, they couldn't read or they couldn't - not at grade level. But if you continue and you just keep getting pushed up, you'll never be able to do it. And by the time you get to high school, no one is going to care anymore. They're just going to write you off. And that's not what I want for him.

MULLANE: Taylor's views are shared by a growing number of African-American parents. Over the past three years, there's been an estimated increase of about 40,000 African-American homeschooled students nationwide, bringing the total to about 140,000.

That's according to Dr. Brian Ray, the executive director of the National Home Educators Research Institute and an advocate for homeschooling. He says African-Americans are becoming homeschoolers faster than any other minority population in the country.

Dr. BRIAN RAY (Executive Director, National Home Education Research Institute): Public schools have been (unintelligible) this as the way to change your station in life for the minorities or for the, quote, "downtrodden." And if I not - it's still not working for a lot of them. And now homeschooling has gotten big enough and popular enough so there are enough support systems that it looks more possible for them.

Ms. TAYLOR: My goal is to have a strong black man who knows his place in this world, that he'll be able to provide for his family, that he'll have the ability to understand the things that are going on in this world.

MULLANE: Taylor says she's hoping to find a black home educator support group in her area. So far, she's gotten direction and legal advise from a statewide homeschooling network. And now she says she's confident she's doing the right thing for her son.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane.

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