|Denise Armstrong helps her son, Timothy, 8, pick out a book in a local library in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005.
Denise Armstrong decided to home school her daughter and two sons because she thought she could do a better job of instilling her values in her children than a public school could. And while she once found herself the lone black parent at home-education gatherings that usually were dominated by white Christian evangelicals, she's noticed more black parents joining the ranks.
"I've been delighted to be running into people in the African-American home-schooling community," Armstrong said.
Home-school advocates say the apparent increase in black families opting to educate their children at home reflects a wider desire among families of all races to guide their children's moralupbringing, along with growing concerns about issues such as sub-par school conditions and preserving cultural heritage.
"About 10 years ago, we started seeing more and more black families showing up at conferences and it's been steadily increasing since then," said Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a national advocacy group.
Nationwide, about 1.1 million children were home schooled in 2003, or 2.2 percent of the school-age population. That was up from about 850,000, or 1.7 percent, in 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. A racialbreakdownof home-schooled students isn't yet available, the center said.
However, the Home School Legal Defense Association says the percentage of black home-schooling families has increased, though hard numbers weren't available.
The numbers are still very low because most black families lack the time or economic resources to devote to home schooling, said Michael Apple, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin who tracks home schooling. He said much of the increase is seen in cities with histories of racial tensions and where black people feel alienated and marginalized.
Some families decide to do it because public schools don't adequately teach African-American history and culture, some want to protect their children from school violence, "and for some, it's all of this and religion," Apple said.
Armstrong said she wants her children - ages 12, 10 and 7 - to have a "moral Judeo-Christian foundation" that public schools can't provide.
"I felt that my husband and I would be able to give more of a tutorial, individual learning situation than a teacher trying to address 40 kids at one time," said Armstrong.
She said she also was concerned that schools wrongly label some black boys as learning-disabled while white children with similar behavior are not.