In The Color of Homeschooling: How Inequality Shapes School Choice, Assistant Professor of Sociology Mahala Stewart exposes the racial differences in homeschooling and what that might mean for the nation’s education system. The book, published by New York University Press this fall, is based on more than 100 interviews with homeschooling families conducted by Stewart.
While families of color make up 41 percent of homeschoolers in America, little is known about the racial dimensions of this alternate form of education. Stewart investigated why this percentage has grown exponentially in the past two decades.
Stewart’s findings contradict many commonly held beliefs about the rationales for homeschooling. Rather than choosing to homeschool based on religious or political beliefs, many middle-class Black mothers cited their schooling choices as motivated by concerns of racial discrimination in public schools and the school-to-prison pipeline. Because the majority of mothers she interviewed did not know other Black homeschooling families, opting out of traditional schools isolated these families from their Black communities, while they were also disconnected from their white homeschooling peers.
Conversely, middle-class white mothers had the privilege of not having to consider race in their decision-making process, opting for homeschooling because of concerns that traditional schools would not adequately cater to their child’s behavioral or academic needs. Stewart found white parents’ decisions resulted in removing their children from more race and class-diverse classrooms for whiter (homeschool) communities and thereby contributing to educational racial segregation. “Despite the assorted challenges that Black and white mothers alike attributed to homeschooling, white families reported access to a wide network of support from other (white) homeschoolers,” Stewart wrote.
“Black and white homeschooling mothers’ decision-making highlights the significance of racial injustice that is embedded within school choice: the policies and practices that divest from traditional neighborhood public schools and encourage parents to select from a suite of schooling options including public, but also private, charter, and homeschools.”
Stewart observed that, “Homeschooling serves as a canary in the coal mine: exposing the perils of school choice policies for reproducing, rather than correcting, long-standing inequalities.”