Tracie Yorke grew concerned about the quality of education her son was receiving after his school moved to remote learning during the pandemic in 2020.
Yorke, of Hyattsville, Maryland, described her fourth grader’s Zoom classes as chaotic – it looked as if teachers had not been trained in virtual instruction, she said.
That summer, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a national racial reckoning. With only one Black teacher at the school and none past the fourth grade, Yorke said her son Tyce, who is now 13 years old, had no one he could relate to.
“There was a lot of mayhem,” said Yorke. “I really realized, ‘I don’t think this environment is healthy for my child.’”
Yorke decided to homeschool Tyce, and has done so for the last three years. She has put together a curriculum that meets his specific needs and can teach him about race and African American history without the risk of politicians intervening.
While homeschooling isn’t new, advocates say a growing number of Black parents are educating their children at home so they can exercise more control over what they are taught and how they are treated. Many made the switch to homeschooling during the pandemic, but interest is growing as national debates over teaching systemic racism and Black history in the classroom continue, advocates say.
In the last few years, lawmakers, mostly Republicans, have called on schools to remove critical race theory – a concept that legal scholars say acknowledges that racism is both systemic and institutional in American society – from their curriculums. (Educators argue that critical race theory itself is generally not included in the grade school curriculum.) There have also been widespread efforts by lawmakers, parents and school boards to ban books about race, gender and sexuality. And most recently, Florida’s Department of Education rejected an Advanced Placement African American studies course.
According to census data, the number of Black households homeschooling their children jumped from 3.3.% at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to 16.1% by the fall of that year. That jump was the largest of any racial group. Meanwhile, the proportion of homeschooled children in the US overall nearly doubled from 2.8% before the pandemic to 5.4% in the 2020-21 school year, according to the US Department of Education. The data may not present a complete count of families because every state regulates and tracks homeschooling differently.
Cheryl Fields-Smith, a professor in elementary education at the University of Georgia, cited several reasons why more Black families are choosing to homeschool, including the disproportionate rates of discipline against Black students, the resegregation of schools, the denied access to gifted education in Black and brown communities, and bullying compounded by school safety concerns.
Fields-Smith said while these issues are often researched in isolation, many Black families are having to face them all at the same time. So they are developing learning routines that fit their children’s needs and forming homeschooling co-op groups with other families to teach their children together and socialize them, Fields-Smith said.
“I conceptualize it as a form of resistance,” Fields-Smith told CNN. “Instead of accepting the status quo, families are resisting what’s happening in their schools.”
Some families say they chose to homeschool because they were living in majority White school districts and wanted to teach their children to have confidence in their Black identity. Others expressed a desire to shield their children from the nation’s polarizing racial climate.
Sherri Mehta, of Laurel, Maryland, said she first turned to homeschooling in 2020 to help her young son who wasn’t doing well with remote learning as a kindergartner.
Mehta said she was also becoming concerned about her two children facing a “cultural gap” or racism because they were not around teachers who looked like them in their school district. And she saw few Black children included in the school’s gifted program.
With homeschooling, Mehta said she and her husband can split the responsibilities of teaching different subjects, teaching the truth about Black history and slavery, and can rely on co-op groups for hands-on learning, such as woodworking.
Mehta said she doesn’t want her children to experience the same racial trauma she experienced in public school. She recalled growing up in Richmond, Virginia, and competing against sports teams with names such as the Rebels and the Confederates.
“There is a sort of innocence lost and I just think my kids are deserving of something different,” Mehta said. “They’ll face racism. It’s not going away. But having the experience they have now of being surrounded by this nurturing of their entire being, I think what they have now will help them face challenges as they get older.”
Carlos Birdsong, of Charlotte, North Carolina, said he wanted his two daughters to have “a greater sense of cultural identity” amid the political divisiveness in the country.
“We moved here from South Carolina to this area because these public schools were supposedly good,” Birdsong said. “The charter schools in our area are mostly White. The private schools are White. They are very good schools, but they may not be the best fit because they’re majority White,” he said.
Some families who homeschool are driven by their own experiences with traditional schooling or because they want to emphasize religious training in their instruction.
Aurora Bean, a mother of three from Matawan, New Jersey, began homeschooling her children four years ago because she was uncomfortable with schools discussing gender identity issues at a young age and wanted to be able to teach her children about their faith. She was also opposed to the Covid-19 vaccine requirements many schools introduced during the pandemic.
She supplements her children’s learning with coursework provided through Acellus Academy, an online K-12 private school that offers classes in Spanish, history and other subjects. Bean said she has embraced the freedom homeschooling provides, including the ability for her family to spend several months traveling the world as part of a Christian discipleship training program this spring.
“It’s so important for my kids to see beyond our nice neighborhood,” Bean said. “It’s important for them to see the other side of things, more of the world, less of the privilege.”
Many families have leaned on support groups and virtual education providers such as Outschool – which Yorke uses – to help them navigate teaching their children at home.
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman and Fields-Smith created the group Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars in 2020 to help families who want to homeschool but don’t know where to start. Ali-Coleman, now the organization’s sole owner and managing director, said she had homeschooled her daughter, Khari, off and on for years. And Khari was later able to attend the University of San Francisco on a full scholarship, she said.
Families who homeschool come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, Ali-Coleman and Fields-Smith say.
“When I homeschooled, I was not upper-middle-class, married – although I live with my partner who is my daughter’s father – Christian or politically conservative,” Ali-Coleman told CNN.
She advises parents who want to homeschool to start with a mission statement spelling out their goals, and she holds virtual teach-ins to help families navigate challenges. Ali-Coleman said some families turn to homeschooling because institutional schoolwork isn’t challenging enough.
“We’re now seeing the way people are speaking out loud about how they have a problem with the way we’re teaching history,” Ali-Coleman said.
Ali-Coleman also said homeschooling requires parents to adjust their thinking and potentially change what they do to earn money. While homeschooling, she worked jobs that offered her flexibility, she said.
“This gig economy that is now more formalized is something homeschooling parents have been doing for ages,” she said. “You have to think ‘what are the unique needs of your family and what are the support systems you need to create?’ I never want to give the impression that it’s easy. It’s always based on what the unique needs of the family are. Adjustments are definitely required and that’s something that you need to go in knowing.”
Back in Maryland, the Yorkes explore Black history all year as part of Tyce’s curriculum. Last year, he studied Amharic, an Ethiopian language not offered in most schools and took a course on “Blacks in Comics” through a local Black homeschool co-op. This year, he took a class on astronomy that highlighted African and Black contributions to the field.
“I’ve always had concerns about educating a young Black boy, with the perceptions and stereotypes and coming off of George Floyd,” Yorke said. “I want to be able to discuss race in the classroom.”