Tamsin Thomas of Orlando, Fla. said when she was in high school, public school officials determined her younger brother, a bright-but-shy fifth grader, should be in special education classes. She was horrified. She feared her brother was being shifted, for no good reason, into less-challenging classes and onto a lesser track in life. She urged her mother to fight it.
Mom won. Now Thomas’s brother is set to graduate with a standard diploma, and planning to enlist in the Marines. But that experience and others convinced Thomas that when it comes to public schools, African-American parents are rolling the dice with their children’s futures.
So, she homeschools.
“I don’t want my daughter to be short-changed because of the color of her skin,” Thomas said of Olivia, 5. “I feel like I’m the only one who has her best interests at heart.”
Thomas isn’t alone.
Researchers estimate 200,000 of the 2.4 million homeschoolers nationwide are African-American. Their parents are largely motivated by the same reasons that propel other homeschool parents. But a significant number also want to shield their children from schools they believe will shortchange them, leading to outcomes that are beyond troubling.
In this respect, the rise in black homeschoolers isn’t a trend on the fringe, but another thread in the educational freedom story that has always been part of the black experience in America. As a new report from the Black Alliance for Educational Options put it, “Black people’s struggle to obtain an education in America is older than the Declaration of Independence.”
It wouldn’t be surprising if the homeschool chapter was especially telling in Florida.
The state with the second-highest number of black students in the nation (after Texas), and arguably the most robust array of choice options, had 84,096 home-schooled students in 2014-15, up 21 percent in five years. The state doesn’t track the students by race, but many homeschool parents, both white and black, say the increase in African-American homeschooling families is clear.
Thomas said when she began homeschooling Olivia several years ago, she was the only African-American parent in her homeschooling networks. But now there are several, and she expects to see more.
“It’s the way things are going in society,” Thomas said. “We say we think racism is behind us, but … “