Homeschooling Stereotypes Shattered

, Kristen Blair, Leave a comment

No longer in the throes of adolescence,
North Carolina’s homeschooling movement celebrated its 20th
birthday this year. Much has changed since the General
Assembly moved to legalize homeschooling in 1988. Here and across the
nation, the homeschooling movement has grown in stature and
popularity – defying stereotypes and occasionally, disarming

Conjure up a mental image of the “typical”
homeschooler these days and you’re apt to be wrong. Indeed, a
2005 St. Petersburg Times headline
trumpeted, “Homeschooling: It’s not what you think.” Once
viewed – at times quite unfairly – as the province of white,
fanatical parents, homeschooling has morphed into an
increasingly diverse and credible movement.

In fact,
according to an article in the News and Observer of Raleigh on
Tuesday, more and more African-American families are joining
the ranks of homeschoolers. Jennifer James, founder of North Carolina African-American
and the National African-American Homeschoolers
, told the News and Observer, “Blacks are
the fastest-growing demographic among homeschoolers.”
Nationally, one in 10 homeschool students is

Data on the socioeconomic status of homeschooling
families may challenge some stereotypes as well. According to
the National Center for Education Statistics,
homeschool students are slightly less likely to be
affluent than their public school peers: 22 percent of
homeschool kids and 25 percent of public school students live
in families with an annual income above $75,000, compared to
half of private school students. Notably, one-quarter of both
homeschool and public school students live in homes with
annual incomes at or below $25,000.

Families are
attracted to homeschooling for a number of reasons. Chief
among the reasons cited by parents is the desire to
provide a safer, more wholesome school environment, according
to federal education data. Parents also choose
to teach at home because they are unhappy with the academic
instruction at other schools or want to provide religious or
moral training.

Whatever their motivations, more and
more parents are signing on as teachers. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, some
two million children are homeschooled across the country. Last
year in North Carolina, almost 69,000 students were
enrolled in more than 36,000 homeschools. The number of
students taught at home in our state has more than doubled
since 2000.

As homeschool enrollments boom, public
attitudes are slowly shifting to reflect an increased
acceptance of home education. According to a survey by Ellison Research released last month,
“Americans see homeschooling in a slightly more positive light
than they do public schools.” Eleven percent rated homeschools
as “excellent” compared to six percent who said public schools
were “excellent.”

Yet obstacles remain. In California, a battle is raging over whether
homeschooling parents should be certified. A court decision in
February said they should; that ruling has since been vacated
and the California Court of Appeal has agreed to a rehearing.
Oral arguments are set to begin in June. The group North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE)
is monitoring developments in California closely. But
according to a statement by NCHE President Ernest Hodges,
North Carolinians have “greater protection than most states”
since “freedoms to homeschool are supported by two separate
Supreme Court rulings.”

Obviously, homeschooling isn’t
for everyone. Most students still find a good fit in public or
private schools. In many families, work or other circumstances
preclude home instruction. But for a growing number of
children, homeschooling provides the rigorous and nurturing
learning environment they desperately need.

I would
know. A former homeschooling skeptic (and sometime critic), I
have spent the past year educating my fifth-grade son and
first-grade daughter at home. I now have experience as a
private, public, and homeschool parent. Know this: there are
many others like me.

Some of us work part-time, some do
not. Some of us are white, some are black or Hispanic. Some
are wealthy. Most of us are not. But we are surely united in
this: we value our freedom to choose what’s best for our kids.
And there’s nothing fanatical about that.

Kristin Blair is a fellow at the North Carolina Education Alliance This article originally appeared in The K-12 Update that she assembles for the NCEA.