Record: Brian Ray, “African American Homeschool Parents’ Motivations for Homeschooling and Their Black Children’s Academic Achievement” in Journal of School Choice, 9, no. 1 (2015): 71-96. [Abstract]
Summary: Brian D. Ray is the founder and current president of the National Home Education Research Institute. In this study he explores the academic achievement of Black homeschool students in grades 4 through 8 as well as their parents’ motivations for homeschooling. The rate of Black homeschoolers nearly doubled from 1999 to 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In that time, many Black parents became actively involved in the choice of their children’s school. Ray ponders why so many African Americans are choosing homeschooling when they fought so hard to be mainstreamed into the public-school system.
Ray begins with a literature review, noting that previous studies have found that improved academic achievement, religion, and race/ethnicity problems such as racism and eurocentrism in public schools are common homeschooling motivators for Black parents. The rest of the literature review deals with the academic success of homeschoolers, their social/emotional/psychological development, adults who were homeschooled, and some general remarks about homeschooling in society. Some of the research he cites is inconclusive or methodologically questionable, but at the very least, there does not appear to be any long-term negative effects to homeschooling. Finally, Ray says that there is still little known about homeschooling by Black families.
To rectify that Ray studied both African American homeschooling parents and children. The parents completed a 39-item survey, and the students completed an ITBS achievement test. The population was primarily middle-class, African-American homeschool families with students in grades 4 to 8. The students had to have been homeschooled for at least half of their schooling, and both of the parents had to identify as Black. With all these restrictions, Ray had some difficulty finding a sample, so he recruited people through many avenues. The majority of participants came from a national support organization for African-American homeschoolers, but the study was also promoted through other groups, organizations, and word-of-mouth.
In total, 81 families met the qualifications. Ray compared them to a sample of 1,299 Black public school students. The homeschool families came from all four regions of the United States, but 64% were from the South. 39.5% of the students were male, their mean age was 11.62, and their mean grade level was 5.96. The average number of children (ages 21 and younger) in the home was 4.15. Parents were asked to mark all the reasons or motivations for homeschooling out of 21 possible options. The most commonly chosen motivations were:
- “Prefer to teach the child at home so that you [parent] can provide religious or moral instruction” (chosen by 96.3% of parents)
- “For the parents to transmit values, beliefs, and worldview to the child” (95.1%)
- “Develop stronger family relationships between children and parents and among brothers and sisters” (87.7%)
- “To customize or individualize the education of each child” (80.2%)
- “Accomplish more academically than in conventional schools” (76.5%)
- “Want to provide religious or moral instruction different from that taught in public schools” (76.5%)
Then they had to choose the top three reasons. The reasons most often put in the top three reasons were:
- “Prefer to teach the child at home so that you can provide religious or moral instruction” (selected as one of the three main reasons by 46.9% of parents)
- “Accomplish more academically than in conventional schools” (38.3%)
- “For the parents to transmit values, beliefs, and worldview to the child” (34.6%)
- “To customize or individualize the education of each child” (28.4%)
- “Want to provide religious or moral instruction different from that taught in public schools” (27.2%)
The race-specific options of “Desire to avoid racism in public schools” and “Give the child more instruction on African American/Black culture and history” were not among the most common. Avoiding racism was listed as a reason by 19.8% of parents and only by 2.5% as one of the main three. Instruction on African-American culture was listed by 39.5% of parents and as a main reason by only 2.5%. Overall, argues Ray, African-American parents homeschool their children for the same reasons as any other ethnic group. Ray refutes the claim made by Mazama and Lundy in 2013 that, “many African American homeschoolers believe that a Eurocentric curriculum is bound to gravely interfere with their children’s self-esteem and sense of purpose” (p. 123).
Regarding academic achievement, the Black homeschool students performed above the national average for all students and well above the average for Blacks in public schools. They performed best in reading, as the mean percentile for Black homeschoolers was 68 vs. 50 for the national mean of all races/ethnicities. Controlling for variables like socioeconomic status or gender did not negate the performance of the homeschool students.
Appraisal: Ray’s work adds to a growing understanding of the African American homeschooler as discussed by Cheryl Fields-Smith and Meca Williams as well as the numerous studies by Ama Mazama and Garvey Lundy. Ray draws upon many of their studies throughout his article. Cheryl Fields-Smith and Meca Williams also investigated the motivations of Black homeschoolers, and in their study they found that almost 80% of their families were significantly motivated by racial discrimination or inequality, quite different from the 39.5% found by Ray. While Ray’s sample is much larger and more geographically diverse than the sample of Fields-Smith and Williams, which only drew from the greater Atlanta region, it is not necessarily more representative. Ray’s past studies have over-represented conservative Christians due to his standing and connections within that community. Did the same phenomenon occur here? The state with the largest representation in his sample is Texas, which is also where Voddie Baucham, a leading and very conservative Black pastor and homeschooling advocate is based. Given the profound difference here between Ray’s sample and the samples of many other recent studies (all of which were conducted by African Americans themselves), it would be helpful for Ray to be more explicit in his description of exactly what “nationwide organizations” he used to acquire his sample. Ray potentially has a very interesting finding, but it is of limited use without more information about where he found his sample.
Another troubling aspect of Ray’s study is his failure to control for marital status. As armies of sociologists have documented, fatherlessness rates run very high among African Americans. Ray controls for SES, which is a wonderful and welcome departure from his previous studies, but there are other vital family background variables that have long been known to be crucial for academic success. A stable, two-parent family is one such variable. He tells us that 98.8% of the parents in his sample are married couples, which is certainly much higher than the average for the public school students to which he is comparing them. Unfortunately he could not control for this variable and several others because the public school data he used did not include this information.
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