GLEN BURNIE – When Lisa Connor’s daughters came home from public school, she was troubled by what they were learning — and what they were not.
Other students had exposed her children to ideas she felt they were not ready for. And in class, they were not learning enough about concepts she thought were important.
“It made me realize, this is not what I want for my kids,” she said. “It was an eye opener, it was like a jungle,” she said of the schools.
Connor decided to homeschool her daughters, tailoring her lessons to include African-American heritage, women in history and Christianity.
As an African-American, Lisa Connor’s decision to educate her children at home makes her stand out in the predominantly white homeschooling community.
Over the last decade, the percentage of homeschooled students has almost doubled, with significant increases amongst whites, Hispanics and other every minority group except African-Americans. The percentage of African-American homeschool students has declined.
African-Americans who have chosen to homeschool said their kids notice that they stand out when they meet with other homeschooling families.
Jamia Eaton, a Kensington mother of four, began homeschooling her 9-year-old daughter Sanai two years ago. Sanai began to feel insecure about her race within the last year, Eaton said.
“I guess we’ve faced some challenges of her being more confident in her race, because in Montgomery County most of the homeschool families were white… so I was having a hard time meeting other cultures that were doing it,” she said.
Eaton said she had never heard of homeschooling before she moved from Washington, D.C., to Maryland. When she was told that her daughter would have to repeat pre-K because of a late birthday, she decided to homeschool her.
U.S. Dept. of Education data shows that the percentage of students nationally that were homeschooled jumped from 1.7 in 1999 to 2.9 in 2007. In Maryland, the percentage of students that were homeschooled grew from 1.5 to in 1999 to 2.3 in 2007, and stayed at 2.3 through 2010, according to the Maryland Dept. of Education.
According to a study by the U.S. Dept. of Education, the most common reasons parents gave for wanting to homeschool their children were concerns about the school environment, a desire to provide religious or moral instruction or dissatisfaction with academic instruction.
Maryland does not collect data on the racial breakdown of homeschooled students. The U.S. Dept. of Education has not released homeschooling data beyond 2007.
Nationally, the percentage of homeschooled students has increased for every racial and ethnic group except African-Americans, according to U.S. Dept. of Education statistics.
The rate for African-Americans declined from 1.0 percent in 1999 to 0.8 percent in 2007.
The rate for white homeschoolers grew from 2.0 percent in 1999 to 3.9 percent in 2007. The rate for Hispanic homeschoolers grew from 1.1 percent in 1999 to 1.5 percent in 2007. The rate for all other races grew from 1.9 percent in 1999 to 3.3 percent in 2007.
Some African-American homeschoolers said they faced resistance from family and friends, who were skeptical of the decision to remove children from public or private schools.
When Connor announced her plan to homeschool her kids seven years ago, her husband was supportive, she said, but her other relatives were not.
“Everybody thought I was nuts,” she said.
In the middle of the last decade, Connor’s family moved to Glen Burnie from Pennsylvania, where her children went to a public school they loved.
At their new school in Maryland, her oldest daughter, then in the sixth grade, began asking questions about things that Connor didn’t think were appropriate.
A neighbor suggested she try homeschooling after Connor expressed her frustration with the public school system.
During the school day, Connor prepares meals with her children, Bria, 17, Aleya, 13, Kera, 7, and Elisia, 4. They complete academic exercises , take music lessons and meet up with other homeschoolers in the area.
“I feel like I got my kids back, I really did,” Connor said.
Although data for the last four years is not available, homeschooling families said they see more African-Americans homeschooling than ever before.
Enid Franklin, who homeschools her three children in Glenarden, said she observed an increase among members of her stay-at-home parent support group, Mocha Moms.
“From my point of view, it does look like there’s been a pretty dramatic increase,” she said.
For Franklin, her dissatisfaction with her daughter’s charter school was the catalyst for her decision to homeschool her three children.
If others in the African-American community were exposed to homeschooling, it could provide some motivation for them to do it themselves, she said.
“When you see how they are operating you think, ‘Maybe this is something that I can do,’” she said.