Motivations, Sacriﬁces, and Challenges: Black Parents’
Decisions to Home School
Cheryl Fields-Smith ÆMeca Williams
Published online: 6 December 2008
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008
Abstract This study examines home schooling among Black parents by providing
insight to Black families’ beliefs, concerns, and desires for their children’s educa-
tion. To date, the literature remains void of empirical work related to home
education among African American families. However, the present study directly
addresses this void. Findings demonstrated that parents’ motivations to home school
included issues related to race and home-school interaction. In addition, Black
parents reported that religious beliefs inﬂuenced their decisions to home school.
But, unlike their Caucasian counterparts, Black home educators described a more
liberatory form of religion.
Keywords Home schooling African American education
African American families
Parental choice has been expanded through the accountability structure of No Child
Left Behind, which supports options such as charter schools and vouchers.
However, families have chosen to educate their children through home schooling to
the extent that the number of children educated in the home is greater than the
number of students participating in either school voucher programs or charter based
schools (Apple 2006; Bauman 2001; Princiotta and Bielick 2006).
Reports on the total number of families that choose to educate their children at
home vary, but all reports suggest a national trend toward increasing participation in
home school. Nationally, estimates have suggested that approximately 1, 096, 000
C. Fields-Smith (&)
Department of Elementary and Social Studies Education, University of Georgia, 427 Aderhold Hall,
Athens, GA 30606, USA
Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GAUSA
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
families chose to home school in the year 2003 (Princiotta and Bielick 2006). Using
Census Bureau data, Bauman (2001) reported that approximately two million
children in the U.S. were educated at home. The author further suggested that the
number of home-schooled children is increasing as much as 15–20% each year.
Despite increasing trends toward home education, empirical research on the
beneﬁts and challenges of home schooling remains limited. The scant research
available on home schooling tends to focus on White, middle class families. These
studies document how well home school students perform academically (Rudner
1999; Wartes 1988), socially and psychologically (Medlin 2000; Shyers 1992). This
work tends to report positive educational outcomes, which may partially explain the
popularity of home schooling.
Van Galen’s (1991) seminal work categorized home school parents into two
groups: ideologues and pedagogues. The author reported that ideologues chose to
home school to teach values to their children and strengthen family bonds. Previous
studies identify the ideologues as the predominant group of parents who choose
home schooling (Madden 1991; Mayberry 1988; McIntyre and Windham 1995;
Wartes 1988). Conversely, Van Galen (1991) described pedagogues as families that
were primarily concerned with academic achievement, and they reportedly left
traditional public schools because the curriculum was not challenging their
children. These parents reject the traditional school system and attempt to give their
children a different education at great personal sacriﬁce (Knowles 1988; Madden
1991; Van Galen and Pitman 1991). Studies on pedagogues show that this
group includes a large number of children who are gifted or have special needs
Researchers have not speciﬁcally focused on the perceptions of Black home
educators, how they made the choices to home school, and how these choices were
tied to the outcomes parents desired for their children. As parents of traditionally
marginalized groups gain mandated power to make choices for their children, it is
necessary to study the choices that they make, such as home schooling, possibly the
most extreme form of parental involvement. Such investigations contribute toward
the understanding of schooling from the perspective of families.
This study examines home schooling, and subsequently family involvement,
among Black parents by providing insight to Black families’ beliefs, concerns, and
desires for their children’s education. Thus, this work offers an ethnological
perspective of home schooling. Black parents have historically fought for equality
of opportunity in the learning experiences of their children. However, their children
remain the least served by public schools as exempliﬁed by a persistent Black-White
achievement gap (Princiotta and Bielick 2006), and disproportionate representation
in both, remedial and gifted programs. In order to have a greater conception of
parental choice and parental empowerment among African American families, this
investigation explores what happens when Black parents assume full ownership of
their children’s education through the process of home schooling.
This paper presents a portion of the ﬁndings from a two-year study designed to
address the issue of limited research that explicitly connects home schooling and
perceptions of Black families. To address the extensive gap in the literature
370 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
regarding Black family’s decisions to home school the following questions guides
1. What self-reported factors inﬂuenced Black parents’ decisions to home school
2. What challenges do Black families experience in implementing their home
The study informs both the family involvement and the school choice literature.
Additionally, this work begins to lay a foundation for continued empirical research
in this area.
At the height of family involvement in education, home schooling is the most
intense and enmeshed practice families can undertake (Van Galen and Pitman
1991). Research aimed toward understanding home schooling among African
American communities has the potential to inform the parental involvement
literature. Therefore, the conceptual framework for this study has been derived
partially from family involvement research. Throughout this work, family
involvement is operationalized as the commitment and voluntary action parents
perform in designing educational content and pedagogy to educate their children.
This examination of Black parents’ decisions to home school has been informed
by a theoretical framework that extends Bronfenbrenner’s (1986) socioecological
model, which acknowledges the multiple contexts in which family involvement
takes place. Additionally, Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1997) combined psycho-
logical and social ecological conceptualizations to develop the parental role
construction model. Simply stated, the model posits that overtime parents’ decisions
to be involved in their children’s schooling are shaped by their beliefs and
experiences related to the parenting roles, ability to inﬂuence their children’s
learning (parent self-efﬁcacy), group norms (i.e. ethnic, community, school), and
opportunities to be involved.
Green and Hoover-Dempsey (2007) recently applied the parental role construc-
tion model quantitatively to examine parents’ decisions to home school compared to
parents’ decisions to participate in public schooling. The sample population
consisted of primarily White mothers. The authors also developed a scale to assess
factors that motivate parents’ decisions to home school as found within the
literature. The factors related to parents’ perceptions of a school’s capacity to teach
their children, school teaching practices, parents’ religious and moral value beliefs,
their children’s unique needs (i.e. academic, behavioral), and parents’ perceptions of
their ability to home school in terms of having the time and energy to do so.
As one might consider, ﬁndings from Green and Hoover-Dempsey’s study
indicated that home school parents believed very strongly that they should play a
role in their children’s education and that they had the ability to teach their own
children effectively. Other ﬁndings, pertinent to the present study, indicated that
home school educators held salient contentions with their public schools’ ability to
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 371
address instruction related to values, meet the speciﬁc needs of their children, and to
use appropriate instructional methods. Yet, when the authors conducted analysis on
parental role construction and personal belief variables they found, ‘‘Home school
parents appear to decide to home school not so much because they believe that
public schools cannot educate their children, but because they believe that they are
personally responsible for their child’s education and that are capable of educating
their children well in ways consistent with their priorities, Green and Hoover-
Dempsey (2007), p. 278. Therefore, decisions to home school were not always
made in complete opposition to public schooling.
The current work utilizes the lens of parental role construction in a slightly
different way with the use of interviews and focus groups. As suggested by Green
and Hoover-Dempsey (2007) using interviews will, ‘‘…provide a richer and deeper
understanding of the constructs involved and would allow further insight into how
parents think about these constructs in making their decisions about home
schooling, p. 282.’’ The constructs identiﬁed by Green and Hoover-Dempsey have
informed the analysis and ﬁndings of the present study.
To date, the literature remains void of empirical work related to home education
among African American families. However, the present study directly addresses
This study used qualitative methods to examine home schooling among Black
families located within a southeastern metropolitan area. Speciﬁcally, the study used
a phenomenological approach to investigate the ways in which Black families
experience and interpret their decisions to home school, which Creswell (1998)
describes as a study of ‘‘….the meaning of the lived experiences for several
individuals about a concept or the phenomenon’’ (p. 51). Participating families
made the decision to home school individually rather than as a collective. Therefore,
data analysis began at the individual family level. Next, cross-case analysis resulted
in a clustering of themes, which were then developed into a structural and
contextual understanding of the ways in which Black families interpreted their
decisions to home school. Themes were presented, discussed, and at times debated
within three focus group sessions. The objective of this study is to understand the
phenomena of home school through the eyes of Black families.
As researchers of African American heritage, the authors of this study had to
balance two, sometimes contentious, positions in relation to the participants. Banks’
(1998) topology of cross-cultural researchers offered insight. According to the
topology we were positioned as indigenous insiders as well as indigenous outsiders
within our study. On the one hand, African American families embraced and
entrusted their voices to us as fellow African Americans and mothers. On the other
hand, their impassioned quest for meaningful educational opportunities for their
children seemingly conﬂicted with our roles within teacher education and our
commitments to prepare pre-service and in-service public school teachers. As
Alridge (2003) found, we existed in a state of double-consciousness. Because we
372 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
had not disconnected ourselves from the Black community or the struggle for equity
in schooling experiences for all, the families placed tremendous conﬁdence in our
ability to tell their stories accurately. Our researcher training along with classroom
experience and commitment to public schools fostered insightful inquiry and
contributed to the ‘‘…systematic and balanced examination, Alridge (2003, p. 26)’’,
we have offered in this article.
Data Sources and Analysis
Data were gathered from three sources for this study, surveys, interviews, and focus
groups, to compile a panoramic view of the home education. The survey provided
demographic and descriptive background data for each family. Second, the
researchers conducted in-depth interviews with at least one parent representing the
home school family. Three fathers participated in interviews; two simultaneously
with their wives and the other as the sole representative of his family. Interviews
ranged from roughly one and a half hours to three hours in length. Finally, three
focus groups sessions provided deeper understanding and clariﬁcation of patterns
found among the data. Focus group sessions were conducted approximately six
months apart within the two-year study, and participants consisted of 10–12 mothers
with some mothers participating in more than one session. Data collection and
analysis occurred simultaneously throughout the research process as suggested
Data were analyzed using a process as described by Merriam (1997). The process
entailed an initial coding of parents’ narratives regarding their decisions to home
school. Next, codes were collapsed into common patterns among families, which
were then developed into reoccurring themes. The results of this analysis guided the
focus group discussions on topics such as the juncture of parenting and teaching
roles, the concept of caring among school teachers, and the role of race in parents’
decisions to home school. Data generated from each of the three sources have
contributed toward the understanding of African American parents’ attitudes,
beliefs, and motivations related to their children’s schooling.
A community nomination process, as described by Foster (1997), was used to
identify participants. Outside contacts who knew Black home educators identiﬁed
initial nominators in three communities surrounding a major metropolitan area to
begin the nomination process. These initial nominators served as the gatekeepers to
three separate participant pools. Applying the nomination process in multiple
settings yielded a sample of 24 Black parents, each representing a different family.
Two parents represented single-parent families. Table 1demonstrates the demo-
graphic diversity of the families represented in this study.
As seen in Table 1, a majority of the home educators in this study have earned a
bachelor’s degree. However, four parents had not completed their undergraduate
degrees (two high school graduates and two parents held associate degrees).
Conversely, three parents had exceeded the undergraduate level; two of the parents
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 373
held master level degrees and one parent had a law degree. In addition, $55,000 per
year served has a dividing point among household income levels for the families
represented with 12 families reporting household incomes below this point and 11
families reporting household incomes above $55, 000. The self-reported household
income levels ranged from less than $15,000 per year to more than $75,000.
Home educators ranged in age from 31 years old to 51 years old. Home educator
moms had a mean age of 41 years old and a median of 42. Further, the parents in
this study represent a wide range of experience as home educators from less than a
year to 16 years of home schooling. Of the 24 home educators interviewed, 14
parents reported that they had been home schooling their children for more than
5 years. Most parents had 2–4 children. Families in this study pulled their children
out of public schools, private schools, as well as Christian school in order to home
For the most part, mothers assumed most of the responsibility of home education
within the families represented in this study. According to mothers’ self-reports
fathers assume responsibility for teaching their children as well usually in a
particular area, or for reinforcement.
To assume the role of home educator, mothers left careers in a variety of ﬁelds.
Slightly more than one-third (nine) of the home educators worked clerical, retail, or
entrepreneurial roles prior to beginning to home school their children. In addition, a
third of the group (eight) previously held positions in businesses including computer
program analyst, marketing managers, and accountants. Three home educators
represented in this study reported being stay-at-home moms prior to starting home
education. Additionally, home school moms among this study included former
lawyers, musicians, and registered nurses. The majority of the home educators in
our study were not formally trained teachers. Only two of the 24 home educators
represented in this family reported having a career as a teacher prior to the start of
home schooling. Additionally, four parents in this study continued to manage their
own businesses or worked a part-time basis as they home schooled.
Table 1 Home school family demographics N=24
time as a
Undergraduate =14 $35,000/year or
31–36 years =4\1 year =2 1 child =6
$35,001–55,000 =7 38–42 years =11 1–2 years =4 2 children =4
$55,001–$75,000 =6 43–46 years =5 3–5 years =4 3–5 children =11
$75,001 or more =5 47–51 years =4 6–8 years =6 6 children =4
Law degree =1 9–10 years =4 9 children =1
12–16 years =4
374 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
Black parents in this study entered into home schooling at varying stages of their
children’s learning experiences. These points of entry provided insight towards
understanding families’ motivations to home school. Table 2below demonstrates
the range of entry points found in the study.
As seen in Table 2, families made the decision to home school as early as birth
and as late as entrance into middle school grades. Parents that chose to home school
at birth based their decisions primarily on their religious and parental role and
responsibility beliefs. Conversely, a majority of the families (10) decided to home
school their children during the early elementary years (K-2). These parents
reported that they had intended to have their children educated through a public or
However, differences between parents’ pedagogical beliefs for the early years
and their perceptions of school practices led to changes to parents’ original
intentions. Families perceived that emphasis on pence to paper activities rather than
play represented a trickle-down effect of today’s testing pressures. Special
education experiences and a perceived lack of focus on their children’s needs
contributed to four families’ decision to home school in the upper elementary school
years. Finally, three families made the decision to home school during the middle
school grades due to their perceptions increased peer pressure, increased exposure to
negative inﬂuences (drugs, sex, and alcohol etc.), and a lack of a nurturing
Use of the community nomination process for participant sampling yielded a
diverse set of home school families. Families varied in income level, educational
level, structure (two-family and single-parent), and their point of entry into home
schooling. Their participation in this study has provided insight toward under-
standing the factors that inﬂuence Black parents’ decisions to participate in home
education and the challenges they face as a result of their decisions.
Mrs. Charles, a Black home educator of three children disclosed, ‘‘Sometimes it gets
kind of frustrating because you’re not only a homeschooler, but you’re a Black
homeschooler.’’ The results presented in this section illuminated some of the factors
that underpin this sentiment. Similar to ﬁndings from previous studies, parents in
this study based the decisions to home school their children on prior experiences in
public or private schools. Further, media reports of failing public schools, whether
substantiated or not, also heartened parents’ decisions to home school. However,
Table 2 Entry points into home
schooling Point of entry (grade level) Number of families
From birth 7 Families
Early elementary (K-2) 10 Families
Upper elementary (3–5) 4 Families
Middle school (6–8) 3 Families
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 375
ﬁndings from this study also revealed that parents’ motivations to home school
included ethnological factors related to their roles as parents of Black children.
The ﬁndings have been divided into four sections. The ﬁrst section presents
themes found related to the role of ethnicity in Black families’ decisions to home
school. Next, I present the ﬁndings related to the role of religion in parents’
motivations to home school. The third section highlights ﬁndings related to the
sacriﬁces families made in order to home school. Finally, the fourth section presents
families’ self-reported challenges faced as home educators.
The Role of Ethnicity in Deciding to Home School
Black families’ perceived that institutional norms and structures within schools
created destructive, rather than supportive, learning environments for children of
African descent. In turn, these perceptions prompted their decisions to educate
children at home. Speciﬁcally, of the 24 Black home educators interviewed, 19
attributed their decisions to home school on perceptions of, or experiences with,
inequities, prejudice, discrimination, or racism in public and private schools. Data
from three focus group sessions corroborated these ﬁndings among Black home
Black home educators believed that school norms and structures sometimes work
against Black children; they expressed heightened concern for their Black boys in
particular. For example, reﬂecting on the norms of public schools, Mrs. Howard
shared, ‘‘My husbands’ theory is that by the time the children become aware of how
the world sees them [as Black people] and subsequently as not being high achievers
then it won’t affect our boys. There isn’t any preconceived notion of them not being
able to achieve, and everyone around them has been afﬁrming them.’’ Further, Mr.
In the back of my mind, I see our actions [decision to home school their son]
as being racially motivated because of the history of Black males in the school
system, especially the school system in this city. They have the lowest
graduation rate for African American men, so I can’t help but to think that that
had something to do with it because the structure wasn’t in place, whether it
was because of resources, teaching – whatever it may be. . . I don’t think they
could deal with that type of personality and person. His learning style is not
based on sitting down and being lectured to. He’s more of – a lot of
interaction, on-hands type, you know learning styles.
Similarly, Mrs. Sharp, home educator to three sons and twin daughters,
I have African American boys and I think particularly African American boys
are very distanced in school often, especially if they’re not that typical bright
student and they’re immediately tagged as being slow or maybe they need to
be in a special education class. So, having African American boys I just
wanted them to be freer, I wanted them to take the initiative more and be
creative and critical thinkers and I just don’t think these are things they
376 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
necessarily accept even in many private schools. You can’t expect that from
In each of these representative quotes, Black home educators situated
motivates to home school in the sociocultural issues related Black male school
experiences. Mr. Richards’ perspective was derived from his child’s school
experiences while Mrs. Sharp’s perspective developed prior to the birth of her
In addition to concern for Black boys in particular, home educators indicated
concerns that schools adhered to a monocultural approach to education with
no provisions for variations in Black students’ learning styles, behaviors, or
Interestingly, one-third of the families represented in this study (eight) shared
that at least one of their children received special education services, while two
additional families reported that school personnel has at some point recommended
their children for referral to special education. Black home educators sometimes
associated teachers’ referrals to special education with racism as suggested by Mrs.
Blackwell, ‘‘I know my oldest is very active, but teachers said he’s ADHD. But we
didn’t want any of that kind of labeling. So, I think what has been nice, [with home
schooling], is that the boys have been able to achieve, without the negativity
associated with our race.’’
Similarly, Mrs. Johnston expressed concerns with school personnel’s responses
to and interactions with Black children. She shared,
Home schooling means we are free of the negativity associated with racism. In
the school, children of color tend to not be expected to excel. I think
sometimes some negative behavior, if it is handled correctly, can be diffused,
but I think the school environment can go overboard making it more
destructive. It’s not a perfect world. I don’t expect that, but I do take every
advantage I enable my kids to grow up with a good sense of who they are in
this world without people dumping on them.
Along with referrals to special education services Black students received very
little consideration of the possibility that they were not being challenged by their
school work even when they completed the work early. Parents reported that school
personnel had labeled their children troublemakers and they insisted that the issue
was low expectations and teachers’ refusals to provide differentiated instruction for
their children. Teachers’ focus on punitive responses to perceived ‘‘off task’’
behavior, rather than higher expectations for their children contributed to parents’
decisions to home school.
Additionally, although Brown v. Board of Education passed in 1954 mandating
the integration of public schools, Black families in this study reported that home
schooling offered greater access to fully integrated educational experiences for their
children. Schools in the southern portion of the school district primarily represented
in this study had predominantly Black student populations. Mrs. Peters’ remarks
exempliﬁed parents’ views toward the contemporary segregated communities in
which they live and the decision to home school,
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 377
We moved from the suburbs of New Jersey to Georgia, and realized that the
school system here was very segregated so where race is concerned home
schooling was one of the decisions we had to make because of the segregation.
In our neighborhood, many children are bussed north where the schooling is
better, but they travel over an hour just to get to school. That wasn’t an option
It is important to note that schools in the northern portion of the school district
tended have predominantly White student populations, based on the demographic
statistics provided by the district and state websites. For these Black parents, home
schooling became the vehicle through which their children could participate in
integrated learning experiences. Parents reported that their children experienced
integrated learning through activities sponsored by home school associations such
as ﬁeld trips and co-ops. Co-ops were usually developed by parents to provide
children with a variety of classes, which were taught by the parents themselves. In
addition, Black home educators enrolled their children in home school schools,
which employed certiﬁed teachers to provide an array of courses including
advanced science, math, English as well as art classes. Integration also occurred
through recreational and competitive level sport programs, which home educators
believed they had more time for outside of the public and private schools due to the
release from tremendous homework loads.
Moreover, the lack of, or limited, representations of African American
perspective found Within school curriculum also inﬂuenced Black parents’
decisions to home school and subsequently informed their home school practice.
As a home educator explained,
I mean if they read a textbook, they’ve got to see little White kids in the
textbook instead of seeing themselves…It’s important for your children to
succeed if they see other people that look like them in those positions and
when everybody you see who has accomplished something is White, it’s kind
of hard to…. How can I achieve that when it’s only them up there?
In all, 19 families reported that they intentionally infused an afrocentric or Black
American focus into their home school practice. Demonstrating how they connect
their ethnicity to the curriculum, Mrs. Flemming stated,
For example, if we are teaching math, a lot of times people show
mathematicians and they are always White people shown as the leaders or
authorities in math. But, then we’ll take them back to Egypt and we’ll take
them back to Samaria and we instill in them, Ok, these were the ﬁrst people
that were the mathematicians. These were the ﬁrst people that developed
science. So we do that for them so they can understand that this is the
transition from Egypt to Greek and from the Greeks, down here and that’s
where it’s all coming from.
Similarly, when Black home school families instinctively selected, or modiﬁed,
curriculum to reﬂect Black historical and contemporary perspectives they typically
do so to rectify what they deemed as lacking in the more traditional school contexts
378 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
and their curriculum, but necessary for their Black children’s well-being and
In sum, Black families decided to home school as a means to escape the
perceived tendency of traditional school structure and culture to impose negative
stereotypes and images on their Black children, particularly Black males. In this
study, some examples of school structures and culture included implementation of
the special education process, teachers’ expectations in general, and the curriculum.
Families deemed public, private, and Christian school curriculums as too narrow in
focus, monocultural, and their environments tended to destroy children’s joy of
learning. Instead, Black families sought home schooling in order to foster their
children’s thinking abilities, rather than just improving test scores. Most
importantly, Black families sought home schooling as a refuge from the subtle,
yet subvert messages of racism that they perceived would be directed at their
children within the more traditional forms of schooling.
The Role of Religion
A majority, (21), home school families reported that religious beliefs inﬂuenced
their decisions to home school. However, parents differed in the role in which
religion played in their home schooling decision. Only six families directly shared a
belief that God had actually led them to home schooling. For example, after
attending a home schooling exposition at the invitation of a friend, Mrs. Brown
reported that she and her husband, ‘‘…prayed about it and the Lord deﬁnitely said, I
brought you home to do this’’, which Mrs. Brown interpreted as the Lord led her to
leave her career in order to home school and raise her children.
In contrast, ﬁfteen families described home schooling as a complement and
support to their religious beliefs. In interviews and focus group sessions, parents
shared Scriptural passages that they believed not only coincided with their beliefs
regarding parent responsibilities, but also supported their decisions to home school.
Offering an explanation of the role of religion in families’ early decision to home
Mrs. Dunlap remarked,
That [religion] was a part, but initially it wasn’t major. It became major when
my husband and I looked over how were raised and what we desired for our
children. In public schools, religion and schooling are to be separate. But,
home schooling gives us an opportunity to be more in line with our beliefs.
In this way, religion played a supporting role to parents’ decisions to home
school. Another home educator of two children explained the relationship between
her families’ decision to home school and religion,
I have never had a problem picking up and going…and, I think God knew that
home schooling my children would be a perfect solution for my mentality and
my lifestyle because now their stability comes from me and not from a school
environment so I have never had to worry about uprooting them from this
school and going to another school and starting all over again. So we’ve never
had a problem moving like in most cases with children moving around tends to
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 379
promote a sense of instability in their lives because they are constantly
uprooted. But fortunately, God provided us with the opportunity to still
provide a sense of stability and conﬁdence in them through home schooling
regardless of how many times we moved.
Seven families shared this perspective of the relationship between religion and
home education; these families moved as frequently as every two years due to
careers such military, corporations, or the trucking industry. Overall, Black home
educators’ described a primarily liberative role of religion in connection to their
decisions to home school, which differed from the Ideologues described by Van
Galen (1991). Instead of, and sometimes in addition to, having a primary focus of
home education as a fulﬁllment of God’s will for Christian parents, Black parents
indicated that their religious beliefs empowered their decisions to home school.
Differences in Black parents’ perspectives on religion linked to previous research
on the role of religion and African American communities. Hill (1997) synthesized
the literature on African American families and identiﬁed a strong religious
orientation as a prominent strength among Black families. Historically, Black
churches have been one of the cornerstones of African American schooling
(Anderson 1988; Hill 1997). More recently, according to Hill (1997) previous
research found positive relationships between religion and positive educational
The home education movement has made signiﬁcant sacriﬁces to work in the home
and teach their children. The obvious ﬁnancial sacriﬁce required adjustments of
great proportions. Participants explained while their family income would be
considered middle class, it took creative and strategic budgeting to live on one
income instead of two. In addition to ﬁnancial creativity with limited budgets, some
parents paid for additional classes to intensify their child’s learning experiences.
Sandra, a home school mother of two, described the importance her son attending
classes at one of the local colleges to support his growing interest in engineering,
‘‘We had to pay $900.00 for him to go to the three week class, but It was well worth
it. Now he has a taste of college campus life and I think he’s going to push himself
harder’’. Parents would not only sacriﬁce their careers and second income, but they
also invested more money to encourage stimulating learning experiences.
Most parents interviewed for this study had previous work experience in
professional ﬁelds, for example a lawyer, certiﬁed public accountant, and realtor.
Sacriﬁcing their income to stay home and teach has been a classic argument among
women who debate continuing their professional careers versus becoming a stay at
home mom. At times the decision to stay home fed negative reactions from family
members and friends. Mrs. House provided a poignant example of the sacriﬁce
women made when deciding to forgo a career to become a home educator. She
I was raised by my grandmother in New York City. She had struggled so hard
to make sure that I stayed on the right track to go through college, even if it
380 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
meant working more than one job. When I told her that I was homeschooling
the children said couldn’t understand. She said, ‘‘You home? You’re not
working? But you were a tax examiner for the IRS. You had this position and
this job and I could just see you moving on in the corporate world. You just
gonna waste your education’’?
Mothers’ decisions to leave behind career, in one regard, became the
abandonment of hopes and dreams of two generations. Further, from a woman’s
right perspective, Black home educators’ decisions to home school might appear to
be an abandonment of the rewards obtained from a long struggle toward equality in
the workplace. But for these Black home educators, the role of race justiﬁed the
sacriﬁces made in order to secure a better future for their children.
Families, peers, and others in their local areas judge home school parents through
the sacriﬁces that have made. Many African Americans perceived that schools
underserved their children (Shujaa 1994). The contention builds when some Black
parents recognize that their children are the least served by conventional schooling
and attempt something different like that of home education instead of challenging
the school and advocating for change. For example, Sandra states that she has
people who seemed to resent the fact that she has chosen to home educate. She
further explained, ‘‘I think that people know sometimes what they should be doing
and they’re not doing it. And when you’re doing it, there’s a little bit of jealousy.’’
Sandra described her experiences with other Black parents who have questioned her
decisions on home education. In turn, she challenges the opposition’s notion of
responsibility to their children. She repositioned the notion of sacriﬁce to question
directly those who doubt or dislike parents’ decisions to home educate. To what
extent should parents continue to sacriﬁce their children’s education to a public
school system they believe will deﬁciently instruct and negatively impact their
children’s learning? And is the sacriﬁce of keeping your child in such systems for
the sake of improving education for everybody else and to follow in the footsteps of
the Civil Rights Movement that campaigned for equitable education? Brown v.
Board, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Right Act, desegregation cases, sit-ins,
marches all played a signiﬁcant role drawing societal attention on inequities in
education. Is it every Black person’s responsibility to continue in this struggle, even
when many do not believe that equitable education will ever be attainable in public
schools? Sacriﬁce played a critical role in assessing the dilemmas associated home
schooling and intricately weaved in the participants’ perceptions of education and
Parents’ decisions to home school led to challenges characterized as systemic issues,
lifestyle changes, logistical issues, and home educator praxis. Systemic issues found
in this study refer to home school families’ struggle to gain access to services
provided by public schools. Families required access to services related to special
education such as testing and speech therapy. Other public services home school
families sought included access to participation in athletic experiences and
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 381
extracurricular activities. Teresa’s school district hired someone to serve in the
capacity of home school liaison. She described her experience with the home school
liaison when she requested speech therapy for her daughter,
She [home school liaison] gave me a hard time and I had to remind her that I
am still a tax paying citizen. There is a vacant desk in that school, you still
have my books, and you have everything you need as if my child was sitting in
that school. After that she did what she needed to do to let me have access. She
was counting it as extracurricular, and I wasn’t trying to get involved in sports
or anything, sometimes, they’re a little prejudice. You know, if our kids are
doing well, then they don’t get the credit.
Smith and Farris (2007) analyzed the legality of home school families’ access to
public school services. They found that home school laws vary from state to state.
As of this writing, 17 states mandated public schools to provide home educators
access to classes and services. Only one family resided in one of these states. Smith
and Farris (2007) captured the tension that exists between home school families and
state lawmakers, even in states that mandate home school access to public services.
Nationally, when states enabled home school children to access public school
services, they also mandated an extra burden of proof placed on the family to
demonstrate student achievement even if their state does not require such
documentation as part of the home school process itself.
Challenges also represented several aspects of the lifestyle change required of
home educators. For example, home educators reported that their decision to home
school caused them to work harder to balance between household responsibilities,
marital role, and schooling their children. As one home school mom put it, the
challenge is, ‘‘…the whole balance and dance with cooking, household manage-
ment, being married, and then on top of that, home schooling the children.’’
Home educators also discussed the challenge of having to balance the different
ages of their children. Most parents had to manage instruction for children with two
to three years age difference between the children. To accomplish this, home
educators employed a variety of strategies. Most often, home educators with
relatively large families (four or more children) reported that they promoted
independence among their children by requiring them to seek assistance from
siblings while mom worked with a particular child or children uninterrupted.
Individualized instruction was fostered by the spaces parents created in their home
that resembled classrooms. Sometimes the spaces were partitioned by subject
matter, or by activity. Families simply turned their kitchen table into a home school
area as well.
Strategies used to accommodate children’s grade levels also included having
students study the same topic, but at different levels with the older children studying
the topic in more depth and with higher expectations. Though parents reported some
sibling rivalry in the form of younger children who wanted to do the same work as
their older brothers and sisters, ultimately, this situation motivated younger siblings
to continue to want to do the work in order to reach the higher level. In addition,
home schooling had to occur around infant and toddler schedules.
382 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
Along with the challenge of how to structure the learning process, home
educators also faced challenges in understanding their children’s learning process
and fostering a love of learning in their children. As an example, one parent of three
shared that it took her two years for her to discover her children’s learning styles.
When we learned their learning styles it was a plus. Even though [son and
daughter twins] are in the same grade, I knew they learned differently, but the ﬁrst
two years I wanted it easy for me. You teach the same thing because it’s easy. You
deal with how they learn it on the side. Then, I would struggle trying to understand
why they didn’t seem to be learning as well as I thought they should. Now we are
using the same curriculum, but we teach them differently.
[Her daughter] is very visual and very hands-on when it comes to math. But
[her son] can hear it and he’s got it. My little seven year old [youngest of the
three], he is very good at listening and getting the information which I learned
when I had him in the kitchen playing on the ﬂoor with pots and pans and cars.
He appears not to be paying attention, but I will ask him something and he will
Understanding their children’s learning styles presented a challenge for many
home educators who also reported having to learn to teach in a way that was
different from their own learning styles and even their own personalities.
Teaching their children at home also presented a challenge to home educators
who strove to keep learning fun for their children in order to achieve parents’
overall goal of instilling a love of learning in their children. In an exemplary
response to a question about challenges one home educator stated,
Keeping learning interesting and fun [is a challenge] because I know there is
going to be a time when I’m no longer her ofﬁcial teacher and directing her
learning. I don’t want her to ever stop learning, or to not be inquisitive and not
seek out more information about whatever.
Further, instilling the love of learning and keeping it fun reportedly became more
challenging for home educators as the students advanced in grade level. Parents’
own schooling experiences inﬂuenced the situation as demonstrated by this home
When they get up into 6th grade and above, there is this change in the
curriculum and what’s available to you. It almost becomes more boring. So,
the challenge I think is not getting caught up in how boring some subjects can
be, or how boring I remember them being. I hated science until I became an
adult, now science is so cool to me. There’s so many things that you didn’t
even realize were science, like basic everyday things, because it was made to
be so boring. History the same thing, so I think keeping it interesting is my
Home educators’ attempts to instill the joy of learning in their children were
further challenged by limitations on parents’ ability to be patient with both
themselves and their children. As one mom disclosed, ‘‘The biggest challenge for
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 383
me has been having the patience for myself, and them, in knowing that I wasn’t
going to jack them up. You know, overcoming the feeling of not being able to do
it.’’ Parents’ reported that they frequently felt overwhelmed by the process of
educating their own children. However, home educators stated that membership in
home school groups assist with overcoming such challenges. In addition, many
home educators relied on their faith to address this challenge.
The negative reactions and general lack of understanding from family members
as well as strangers was another factor frequently listed as a challenge among home
educators. Every home educator in this study reported that they have to overcome
initial negative comments from family members, friends or strangers. Some of the
remarks endured by parents were aimed at their abilities such as, ‘But, you didn’t go
to school to be a teacher’. In other cases, home school moms reported that their
families, particularly their parents or caregivers as children, demonstrated disap-
pointment in their decision to stay home to teach their children. For example,
Sandy’s grandmother who raised her responded, ‘‘You’re home? You’re not
working? But you were a tax examiner for the IRS. You just gonna waste your
education’’? Sandy explained that her grandmother had sacriﬁced tremendously in
order to provide her with a college education. However, as with each of the
participants, acceptance from family members and friends often developed after
several years of home schooling.
In conclusion, this study found that Black families decided to home school at
different points in their children’s education and for a variety of reasons. Families
choose to leave public, private, and Christian schools due to factors related to
perceived racism, or because they perceived the school represented destructive
environments for Black children. Their decisions to home school led to multiple
challenges and sacriﬁces. Parents were willing to endure these consequences on
behalf of their children and through their faith. These ﬁndings will be further
explored in the next section.
Though Black home school families are diverse demographically as well as in their
approach to education, they are united in the belief ‘‘that parents can and should be
deeply involved in the education and development of their own children’’ (Lines
2001). This study found parents’ motivations for home schooling similar to those
described in the literature. In particular, the parents stated they are better able to
facilitate students learning, choose appropriate curriculum, regulate scheduling and
teach moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual principals. Green and Hoover-Dempsey
(2007), Ray (2000), Thomas (2001), Van Galen (1987) all stated similar issues
when studying populations of home educators.
However, as Pedroni (2007) found with African American parents participating
in voucher programs, the narratives of African American families that home school
do not necessarily represent the ‘Conservative Right’, ideologue, or pedagogue
images typically associated with home schooling in the literature. Where the
African American home educators in this study diverge is their concern for the
384 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
negative inﬂuences associated with racism perceived in schools, negative responses
of families and their desire for more positive role models for their children. African
American parents represent a new category of home educator, which we call
Ethnological because they are concerned with negative stereotypes and labels within
schools that are used to identify Black children. While parents talked about
institutionalized racism, they described their motivation to home school as a way to
protect their children from the limited possibilities and opportunities schools
seemingly present to them.
Parents believed that both boys and girls are judged harshly, but they indicated
that school structures and climates were especially destructive for Black males.
There is evidence that supports that Black males face even more negative
perceptions (Kunjufu 1990,2005; Madhubuti 1991; Oyserman et al. 1995; Taylor
1991). Researchers state that while young African Americans in general confront a
peculiar negotiation of self-conceptualization, there are differences between the
socially-constructed identities of African American males and females (Oyserman
et al. 1995). African American boys and men have the added burden of being
labeled as dangerous, deviant, dumb, and deprived (Madhubuti 1991; Taylor 1991).
Parents in this study started home schooling their children because they perceived
that their boys, and girls, encountered unconventional and unfair treatment
including low expectations and an unwillingness to consider the children’s possible
giftedness. Teachers’ focus on behavior issues instead of promotion of higher
academic standards may contribute to the overrepresentation of Blacks students in
special education services (Klingner and Edwards 2006).
Recent changes to the federally mandated approach to special education may, in
theory, have the potential to begin to reverse the overrepresentation of Black
students in special education. Speciﬁcally, Response to Intervention (RTI)
establishes a pyramid of phases teachers must work through prior to making
special education referrals (Fuchs and Fuchs 2006). Although implementation of
RTI varies state to state, and sometimes school to school, an underlying beneﬁt of
the approach is the shift in focus from students’ deﬁcits to an investigation of the
classroom environment. Teachers become researchers of their own classrooms
collecting data that may suggest a need to modify instructional methods or other
aspects of the classroom to meet student needs. As well intentioned as RTI appears,
Klingner and Edwards (2006) stress the importance of ensuring that all students
have ample opportunity to learn. They state, ‘‘This concept of adequate opportunity
to learn is a fundamental aspect of the deﬁnition of learning disabilities as part of its
exclusionary clause: When children have not had sufﬁcient opportunity to learn, the
determination cannot be made that they have a learning disability, p. 109.’’
Adequate opportunity to learn requires implementation of cultural responsive
instruction. Klingner and Edwards (2006) outline the features of culturally
responsive instruction in the ﬁeld of reading. However, many of these features
apply to instruction in general. For example, the authors espouse, ‘‘culturally
responsive teachers make connections with their students as individuals while
understanding the sociocultural historical contexts that inﬂuence their interactions,
p. 109.’’ Black home educators’ perceptions that school environments are destruc-
tive to their Black children may have been fed by a lack of consideration of
Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389 385
sociocultural and historical context of African American schooling as well as
teachers not making connections for their children.
Frasier et al. (1995a) presents a framework for identifying giftedness, which
provides a potential solution to some of the schooling issues raised by this study.
Frasier’s Talent Assessment Proﬁle (F-TAP) utilizes 10 attributes of giftedness
based on characteristics of gifted children found in the research literature. Humor,
motivation, interests, insight, and problem-solving ability are among these
characteristics. F-TAP is intended to provide a more equitable approach to
identifying gifted and talented students than historically used methods of
identiﬁcation, which Frasier et al. (1995b) found created barriers to identiﬁcation
for ethnic-minorities, English as second language students, and low-income
students. Traditional methods of identifying gifted and talented students rely
largely on teacher observation and referral (Frasier et al. 1995b). However, Frasier
et al. (1995b) found that the largest barriers to identiﬁcation among low-income and
English as a second language students included test bias and teachers inability to
recognize potential in these groups of children. Utilizing equitable and culturally
relevant strategies such as the F-TAP approach to identifying giftedness would
empower teachers to look beyond their preconceived notions and possibly begin to
recognize and value giftedness in children of color.
In many ways the home school families engaged in this research echo previous
studies in voicing their concerns with time commitment, limited personal time, and
limited ﬁnances due to living on one household income (Knowles 1988; Mayberry
1988; McIntyre and Windham 1995). Families noted that these sacriﬁces are an
integral part in the nature of choosing home education. Nevertheless, the unique
position of African American home schoolers also raised some unexpected and
unrecognized circumstances that further detail their experiences with sacriﬁce.
Many of the parents described how they choose not to sacriﬁce their child’s
education by remaining in the schools to ﬁght the signiﬁcant problems in schools
that affect many African American children.
While trends suggest people are voting with their feet and moving toward an
alternative educational method as a way to improve their children’s educational
experience in doing so their actions affect the larger school and community. Do
parents who choose alternatives to public schools consider the students and school
system they have left behind? Some African Americans believe home schooling to
be an unacceptable educational alternative (Llewellyn 1996). Withdrawing from
school to receive private education is viewed by some as undermining the collective
effort African Americans have historically exerted for school improvements (Torry
1992). This is seen as a breakdown in the solidarity that has historically existed
among Black people (Crosby 1976). However, many public schools have not lived
up to their promise to provide equal educational opportunity.
Frustrated with the longstanding negative issues in public schools, some African
American families are pursuing educational reform through the refusal of public
schooling and home schooling. The families engaged in this study were unwavering
in their responsibility to educate their children, however most mentioned they
debate with family, friends and community members their issues with the
expectation that they were to sacriﬁce their child’s education to struggle with
386 Urban Rev (2009) 41:369–389
inequitable schools for the sake of the saving everybody while protesting for better
In connection with the parents’ description of the challenges presented in home
schooling, this study conﬁrmed several ﬁndings from other works related to this
issue. Gaining access to services, balancing household responsibilities, understand-
ing children’s learning styles, working with several children at one time, developing
patience, and making learning fun were general comments made by parents in this
study and widely noticed in the literature (Green and Hoover-Dempsey 2007;
Knowles 1988; Llewellyn 1996; Mayberry 1988;Ray2000; Thomas 2001; Van
Galen and Pitman 1991).
In closing, this data adds to existent literature on home schooling by deﬁning
components that present challenges and sacriﬁces but also empower parents to
continue home schooling. Through the participants stories this research adds to our
knowledge that African American parents have similar concerns of all parents who
value their child’s educational experience. However what remains strikingly
different is that African American parents are motivated to home school because of
negative stereotypes they perceive as perpetuated by more traditional school
policies and procedures. This distinctive characteristic emphasizes a difference
within the home school population, and adds clarity to home school parents’ desires
to teach their own children.
Acknowledgements The authors are grateful for a Spencer Foundation Small Research Grant that
supported the project presented in this article. The statements made with the article however, do not
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