For years, Joyce Burges enjoyed attending home schooling conferences across the country. A veteran of homeschooling and a mother of five, she taught all of her children at home for 25 years. In July 2000, Burges realized that she wanted to do something about the lack of black speakers, educational materials and black families at these national conferences. So she launched the National Black Home Educators (NBHE).
“It was like opening a Pandora’s Box — in positive way,” says Burges. In just one week, black families from around the country flocked to her new organization.
Homeschooling is one of the fastest growing forms of education in the United States. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), about 2.2 million students are homeschooled in the United States — a number that has steadily increased since the 1970s. Originally considered “alternative,” many Americans now consider it mainstream.
NHERI estimates that 15 percent of homeschool families are non-white/non-Hispanic. Burges concurs, and says she believes black students comprise about 15 to 20 percent of the total homeschool population.
The failure of urban public schools to properly educate children is a constant source of frustration for many black parents, as well as educational experts and school choice advocates. Large school districts such as Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles spend tens of thousands of dollars per pupil without corresponding academic benefits. Parents want alternatives.
A recent study in the Journal of School Choice looked at the motivations of black parents for educating their children at home. Not surprisingly, 47 percent of parents in the study cited a preference “to teach the child at home so that you can provide religious or moral instruction” as the main reason for homeschooling.
Parents also cited the ability to accomplish more at home than what is offered in a conventional public school. More importantly, the data revealed that black homeschooled children outperformed black children in public schools on standardized tests by 42 percentile points in reading, 26 percentile points in language and 23 percentile points in math.
After 16 years at the helm of NBHE, Burges is certain that a personalized curriculum, not a one-size-fits all approach to education, is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling.
“Public schools are missing it when they try to put all kids in one box and not bring out the creativity in kids,” she said.
Burges cites another important benefit — strengthening the family. The father-son relationship blossoms when the father is in the home. The same applies for mothers and daughters. Overall, the entire family thrives.
Single parents often ask Burges whether homeschooling is practical. It is possible with the support of extended family, especially grandparents, she says. Burges fondly recalls a single father who homeschooled his children for many years. Luckily, his parents lived on his property and stayed with the children in the evening when the father worked. NBHE hopes to launch a specific conference for single parents within the next five years to provide resources for this community.
Through the structure and support of NBHE, black homeschooling parents have continued to thrive and are not only teaching core academic subjects, but have become standardized test instructors and college prep coaches for their children.
In Burges’ hometown in Louisiana, the home school co-op, hosted by a church, offered extra-curriculum classes in gardening, sewing, and dance. Parents taught each class.
A personalized curriculum, not a one-size-fits all approach to education, is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling
While Burges is clear on the benefits of homeschooling, she often shares some best practices with parents. She cautions parents to avoid focusing so much on academics that the family relationship suffers. “It is important for a husband and wife to spend time together. If you are a single mom, make sure you take time for yourself,” Burges said.
“Homeschooling is not your entire life, but a part of your life,” she added.
Burges’ five grown children are now between the ages of 20 and 40. The second generation of Burgeses has experienced the positive results of their mother’s pioneering work. Burges’ son and daughter-in-law, Sylinthia, now live in the New York City area. Sylinthia was a military wife and sent their older son to private school until high school graduation. After third grade, however, their daughter, Madison, asked to be homeschooled. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, they easily transitioned to homeschooling with support from homeschooling co-ops and other military families.
In her experience, Sylinthia observed, “Schools take away the fun in learning. They make it a task, rather than an experience. When you teach your child the love of learning, your child will view it as an adventure.” Madison, now 17, will soon graduate from high school and wants to major in history and dance in college.
Sylinthia admits that their homeschooling experience in the Long Island area has been frustrating and isolating. This year, after submitting their Individualized Home School Plan (IHP), they were informed that Madison is unable to take English at a community college because she needs a high school English credit. As a result, she will take an Advanced Placement English homeschool class in order to fulfill the IHP requirement. Madison has tested at a post-high school English level since 8th grade.
Despite these hurdles, Sylinthia urges parents to eschew fears of homeschooling. “Give your child a chance to see if they can prosper,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, find another solution.”
Gus and Irene Tucker of Huntsville, Alabama, are the parents of five children, ages three to 14. Irene believes that Alabama laws are more hospitable to homeschooling. She estimates that 200 to 300 black families homeschool in the Huntsville area.
Irene is a strong believer in the data cited in the Journal of School Choice regarding the academic progress of black homeschooled children and confirms that homeschooling has allowed her children to excel. Homeschooling also exposes her children to courses they could not access in public school. Irene’s 14-year-old son is already taking classes at community college. She also points to a recent article profiling a 17-year-old homeschooled student in Georgia, who is now ready to graduate from Morehouse College as further evidence.
Irene argues that her experience in the black homeschooling community presents a stark contrast to the media narrative and studies that lament the breakdown of the black family and the academic failures of black children.
Burges also objects to the narrative. “In the midst of tough times, these (homeschooling) kids stand tall with character and virtue,” Burges said. “Their standards are amazing. They believe in getting married, they believe in fatherhood and strong families, and doing the right thing.”
Cherylyn LeBon is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter .