Saturday, December 3, 2022

This Homeschooling Co-Op Gives Detroit Families a Choice Amid Crisis

During National School Choice Week, education advocates amplify the importance of giving parents access to the best K-12 education options for their children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

Among Black parents in the United States, homeschooling is a growing trend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey the proportion of Black families homeschooling increased by five times, from 3.3% (April 23-May 5) to 16.1% in the fall (Sept 30-Oct 12). In many instances, the global COVID-19 crisis that shuttered schools was the catalyst. 

Such was the case for social entrepreneur and advocate Bernita Bradley, who in August 2020, formed Engaged Detroit, a homeschooling cooperative in response to COVID-19 school disruptions. The cooperative would grow to serve 32 Black families in Detroit.

“Children were tapping out … and we couldn’t wait for the school system to get it together,” said Bradley. Her own daughter, a high schooler frustrated by online learning, had threatened to drop out of high school and seek a GED. Bradley sprang into action to help her daughter, who is now a high-school graduate and college student, and in the process, helped a growing number of families and formed a supportive learning community.

What began as virtual pop-up opportunities on Facebook to share helpful resources with families struggling to keep their children engaged and learning evolved into a community of loosely-associated parents with a single goal to provide their children with quality educational opportunities in safe and culturally-affirming learning spaces.

We are trying to empower other parents to take control of their children’s education, to also take away some of the preconceived ideas about what education is supposed to look like, along with beginning to better understand and learn their children and their core desires and interests.

Eleanor*, an Engaged Detroit homeschool coach and parent.

The child-centered approach to learning resonated with many of the parents.

My motivation for homeschooling is really controlling the information that my daughter receives, as well as keeping up with her academic pace. I just never want to slow her down… It’s an individualized, tailored curriculum and that is what I prefer.

Jordan*, a homeschool dad.

My daughter is more of a visual learner, and she needs to have hands-on projects or project-based learning. It is better for her to see it in action to understand it. And sometimes, kids also need a little bit more time to spend on things … One of the things she told me she liked about homeschooling was that she gets a little bit more time like when math is a subject that is hard for her. She has the entire day to really understand the concept, maybe look up some videos to help her or ask additional questions. And then, she has a one-on-one tutor who sits in and really breaks everything down to her. I understand teachers don’t have that time, but some kids need that.

Zoey*, a homeschool mom.

According to Dr. Cheryl Fields Smith, a leading Black homeschool researcher, Black parents’ motivation to homeschool “evoke [bell] hooks’s (1990) notion of homeplace to argue that Black home education represents a vehicle of resistance to institutionalized racism and ideological mismatches between Black families and their children’s educational needs.”

Engaged Detroit set out to center childrens’ needs and provide parents with the tools to support them. Word-of-mouth spread quickly about what they were doing and the number of families who were interested soon multiplied. Bradley and her team helped families find curricula, navigate state laws regarding homeschooling, and provided “morale support” for parents. Through grants, and a network built over years of advocacy in her community, Bradley was able to get desks, supplies and printers donated to more than 300 children both within and outside of the homeschool network. 

The cooperative took on many characteristics of mutual aid societies of old and helped parents meet other exigencies as they arose, gathering resources that would help the families persist. This included partnering with more than 20 community partners to ensure that students had some aspects of a core curriculum. 

Among the partners were Brilliant Detroit, Detroit Area Pre-College of Engineering, Michigan State University Community School of Music for music classes from pre-K to seniors, and Detroit College Access Network to aid parents and students in understanding how to get their kids into college, to name a few. Black Scroll Collective provided virtual tours centered around Black history. Online resources, including Outschool, provided extracurricular activities.

Parents who were interviewed reported discovering their children’s varying learning preferences, interests and aptitudes. Some found that even among their own children they had different types of learners. “That was a paradigm shift for some of the parents,” said Bradley, “because we had some parents who had their kids in three different schools.” 

Veritably, each parent reflected that their child experienced a new love for learning. 

It is not just about my one kid, it is about all of our kids finding their joy and us helping them to curate that in the way they need to.

“It is not just about my one kid, it is about all of our kids finding their joy and us helping them to curate that in the way they need to,” said coach *Lashawn. 

Children and parents experienced the myriad benefits of learning together. 

Parents are learning things about their children—how to homeschool effectively for their family and learning subject matter along the way, whether it’s having to refresh their skills so that they can teach it more effectively, or just in time as their children are learning to help them understand the information that they’re teaching.

*Eleanor, coach.

What’s been going well is the resources, communicating with other families, connecting with them, and learning from them.

Jessica*, an engaged parent.

The growing of confidence in these parents—that has been a huge increase, from being unsure if they even wanted to fully commit to homeschooling, many of them to the point where they’re not sure if they’re going to stop … That has been the biggest leap and indicator that this is going well, and then to hear them talk about their children thriving, their mood has improved, their relationship has improved, their desire to learn has increased, and their initiative to learn has begun to take place. Those are huge.

Eleanor,* coach.

While there were barriers experienced, including some parents doubting their efficacy and ability to teach their children, perceptions by some members in the community that they were not a bona fide homeschool collective and thereby ineligible for resources, Bradley and her team have persevered. Nearly all of the families interviewed said they would continue homeschooling even when schools reopened.

Nearly all of the families interviewed said they would continue homeschooling even when schools reopened.

The phenomena of increasing Black home education represents a radical transformative act of self-determination, the likes of which have not been witnessed since the 1960s and 70s.”

During this critical inflection point in American K-12 education, Engaged Detroit has emerged as an exemplar among Black homeschool cooperatives. As the educational landscape continues to evolve, culture wars rage, achievement gaps widen and the education debt remains unpaid, homeschooling may emerge as a choice especially suited for Black families to exercise agency in ensuring that their children indeed have the best quality education that educates, empowers and inoculates them. Writes W.E.B. DuBois, “education must not simply teach work; it must teach life.” 

All parents may learn from the cooperative’s example and implement homeschooling best practices to supplement their own children’s learning.

“Our government is no better than the education we provide for its most marginalized communities. If schools won’t reimagine learning, parents will do it for their children,” Bradley said. 


To learn more, visit Engaged Detroit.

For more about homeschooling, read Homeschooling Black Children in the U.S. Theory, Practice, and Popular Culture.” 

*Interviews with parents and coaches who are a part of the Engaged Detroit Homeschool Cooperative were conducted as part of a research study. Interviewees’ names that appear with asterisks are pseudonyms.

Joy S. Jones
Joy S. Jones serves as Outreach and Program Coordinator for the Albany State University Center for Educational Opportunity. The Center's mission is to advance educational research in order to strengthen and empower fragile communities from the bottom up. ctrforeduopp.org

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