WASHINGTON – The number of home-schooled students in Baltimore jumped 66 percent last year, the largest increase in the state, according to new statistics from the state Department of Education.
While the overall number of home schoolers across the state increased 9.4 percent from 1998-99 to 1999-2000, Baltimore City saw a growth rate seven times that of the state.
The increase in Baltimore home schoolers comes as 34 city schools have been put on probation by the state, which monitors the schools and can take them away from local control if they do not improve. Four other schools have been taken over by the state since last year.
City school officials also voted this week to shut down nine of the city’s 180 schools due to faltering enrollment.
The 1,301 home-schooled Baltimore children represent only a fraction of the city’s public school enrollment of 98,000 students, but home-school groups said there are several reasons parents typically might not want to put their children in a school.
Parents often have concerns about the quality of education, or religious and philosophical reasons for teaching their kids at home, said officials with area home-school organizations. But they also said that school safety concerns have inched their way up the list in recent years.
“I’m confident that there are people who would’ve never thought about home schooling . . . if it wasn’t for their child’s safety,” said Karen Apple, founder of the Christian Home Educators Network Inc., which claims about 1,200 members in the state and 100 in Baltimore.
“I have been hearing that more now than many years ago,” Apple said. “And I don’t hear it as much from suburban parents.”
Statewide, the number of home schoolers continues to climb, but the rate of increase has slowed from the recent years of explosive growth. The number of home schoolers in the state rose from 15,651 to 17,122 last year, according to the department.
Officials with the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Department of Education Ministries said they have also seen concerns about public school safety growing among parents who are putting their children in parochial school.
“Safety and security . . . is up there with quality of education,” said Janis Peck, director of marketing and public relations for the archdiocese’s schools. “It’s one of parents’ top concerns in cities.”
A state Department of Education spokesman said that while safety may be a reason for some parents to take their kids out of public schools, he stressed that the percentage is likely to be “very small.”
“We hope that our programs and policies are working,” said Neil Greenberger, the spokesman. “Overall we’ve been, in Maryland, more fortunate than anything else for not having any major incidents.”
The president of the Maryland State Teacher’s Association insists that “schools are still the safest place for our kids.”
“And it (violence) is not just confined to inner-city urban areas,” said Pat Foerster, the MSTA president. She noted that the Santee, Calif., high school where two were killed and 13 injured in a shooting spree last week was not an inner-city school.
And a state Department of Education report last week showed that suspensions for weapons violations fell by 11 percent from the 1998-99 to the 1999-2000 school year.
Baltimore’s 518 new home-school students last year gave the city the fourth-highest number of home schoolers in the state, up from eighth place the year before.
Greenberger said one reason for the increase may be the recent school closings in the city. He theorized that “people have seen this coming” and may have decided to pull their children out of school before it could be closed on them.
But the state report does not indicate whether the new home-schooled students were from those nine closed schools — or from any school system at all, public or private. It only gives numbers of home-schooled students for each county in the state.