Why you should care
Because homeschooling isn’t just for white religious folks anymore.
When Gabriel Concha’s oldest daughter was in second grade, she started falling behind in her New York City school. Monica Olivera was living with her kids in what she called a “failed school district” in North Carolina, and William Estrada’s parents wanted to make sure their faith was part of their kids’ education but didn’t want to pay for a private school.
Each family had different concerns, but they all turned to the same solution: homeschooling. Concha, Olivera and Estrada are part of a rapidly growing group of American Hispanic families that are increasingly driving the country’s homeschooling movement. Hispanic students now make up more than a quarter of the U.S. homeschooling population — a figure of 26 percent that’s up from 16 percent in 2012 and 5.3 percent back in 2003, according to data from the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES).
There’s clearly something interesting happening.
Milton Gaither, researcher on homeschooling
Concern about school environment is the leading factor driving Hispanic families to homeschool, with 48 percent of Hispanic respondents in the NHES survey citing that as the most important reason for taking kids out of other educational options. Other common concerns included a desire to provide moral instruction and a dissatisfaction with academic instruction at schools.
A paucity of research on Hispanic homeschoolers means many questions remain unanswered, says Milton Gaither, a professor at Messiah College and author of the book Homeschool: An American History. What is the demographic profile of these Latino homeschoolers? What sort of pedagogy and curriculum are common? There’s little formal understanding of what pulls Hispanic families toward homeschooling. And even the statistics thrown up by the NHES aren’t beyond doubt, suggests Gaither. But none of these questions and doubts take away from a surprising turn in America’s homeschooling movement.
“It’s hard to believe that statistic is accurate, but even if it’s an overcount, there’s clearly something interesting happening,” says Gaither.
The attraction of the learning medium over traditional schooling is less of a mystery to analysts within the Hispanic-American community. Monica Olivera, who runs a blog called Mommy Maestra, says Hispanic families are probably motivated in three unique ways.
“The first one might be to raise a bilingual child,” says Olivera, who focuses much of her lessons on world cultures and her family’s Spanish and Mexican-American heritage. “A lot of Hispanic parents are really trying to go back to that and raise bilingual kids because they see the advantage that it provides for their children.”
In the Trump era, racism is also a factor. She says she’s received feedback, especially within the past year, of Hispanic parents interested in homeschooling because they are afraid to send their kids to school. “The reality is that Hispanic kids are facing a lot of racism and racist remarks,” she says. Finally, because a larger proportion of Hispanic people live in struggling school districts, they may feel like their kids’ educational needs aren’t being met through their public schools, Olivera says.
That last factor was partly instrumental in the choice William Estrada’s parents made for their kids. Their first concern was to provide religious education, but they were also worried about the quality of education their kids would get while living in rural Pennsylvania, says Estrada, now a director of federal relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association and a product of homeschooling. “Latino families are more likely to be saying, ‘Our kids are struggling with the academic instruction available in public schools. We’re going to choose to homeschool them,’” he says.
Gabriel Concha and his wife, Lauren Wigo, decided to homeschool their two daughters — they also have a young son who’s going to a playgroup a couple days a week — but the motivation was different for each girl. Their first daughter was the youngest in her class, and she started struggling to keep up in school, so the couple decided to pursue a bilingual education with her three years ago. Their second daughter, Concha says, was good at academics, but she started feeling overwhelmed by peer pressure when she was also in second grade.
Now, besides traditional subjects like math and English, his kids have the chance to pursue other interests. One daughter is in a rock band, and the other is doing piano. Concha focuses on developing his kids’ self-esteem, mindfulness and physical activity, and he hopes he can teach them how to be good people.
Estrada says he thinks the increase in the Hispanic homeschooling population can be attributed to shifting demographics in the U.S. But while Hispanics accounted for 15 percent of the nation’s population in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, they make up a larger share of the homeschooling population.
Concha isn’t sure if he’ll continue homeschooling his kids. He says everything right now is going well, but sometimes the family talks about whether to reenter public school for high school, and they’ll decide whether to homeschool their son after second grade. Regardless, he says, although homeschooling is hard work, it’s enabled him to build a closer relationship with his kids. Most important, his daughters “look so happy.”