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Please know that this website is a work in progress - and be encouraged to contribute.


The Scholars and Institutions

During the 1980s and early 2000s, the Toussaint Institute Fund, the Institute for Independent Education, and the Council of Independent Black Institutions all conducted and published research on historically black independent schools.  Joan Ratteray of the Institute for Independent Education, Mwalimu J. Shujaa of the Council of Independent Black Institutions, and Gail Foster, of the Toussaint Institute  were leading scholars producing research in this field.  They sometimes collaborated and often discussed the impact of educational policy on the schools.  A review of the literature will make visible other scholars on this topic.


The Impact of the School Choice Movement

Conferences were sponsored by these three organizations where School Choice  legislation, charter schools, vouchers, and their  potential impact on Historically Black Independent Schools was explored and discussed. What would be the impact of this movement? Could the schools collectively help shape school choice legislation to assure their survival? Or even allow HBI schools to benefit? Would more parents have access to HBI schools as an option if state legislation was properly written, or would HBI schools be driven to close, and parents loose this rich educational option? Would the conservatives leading the movement reject these schools as a legitimate choice for African American parents?  Lawson Bush explored some of these questions in 2004.  More than a decade has passed since those discussions. The charter school movement has become a major force in education.   In places like Detroit, where African American leaders were able to influence the writing of school choice legislation, the legislation  was friendly to HBIS.  Some HBI schools in Detroit were able to retain their character and even strengthen programs.  In places like New York City, where the legislation barred existing private schools from converting to charter, the charter school movement has led to the closing of many of these schools. And the current movement to place early childhood care under the Department of Education is leading to the closing of additional schools according to many of their founders.


Impact on Funding 

The research on these schools was conducted not only to document their existence and performance, but also to create a pathway for private foundation funding.  So many schools were started as not-for-profits with the founders harboring aspirations of one day being eligible for grants from foundations and philanthropists.  But as with most agencies founded by African Americans who did not cede control of their boards to European Americans, the institutions had no standing outside the black community.  Without European Americans on their board, they were dismissed or viewed with suspicion, and deemed a philanthropic risk.  The research by these African American scholars and organizations did attracted sight-seers, but virtually no funding.  The research was successful in raising  the schools' visibility to school choice movement leaders, who encouraged the work of the schools and invited them to collaborate in advocating for school choice. 



Impact on Broader Educational Policy

Although no research on HBI schools was conducted on behalf of the RAND corporation, the findings from Toussaint Institute and Institute for Independent Education research, did impact the public schools of New York City.  Those findings related to the powerful positive impact of small, low tuition, shared-values-community schools on low income and working class communities, was used to inform the RAND research on inner city Catholic Schools and alternative schools.  The RAND findings led to the re-organization of New York City public schools.  These schools were transformed from large high schools with four or five thousand students; and elementary schools with over a thousand students; to the small, theme-based schools within a single large school building, that we recognize in NYC as the norm today.


This website is a work in progress.  It is by no means exhaustive.  We have posted and researched as much information as possible within our current resources.  If you know of scholarly works, or even news articles related to this topic, please do share.  We would be happy to post.  If you would like to contribute resources of time or funding, please let us know.  

Congressional Testimony
Expand Educational Options
for Black Children 
Gail Foster. Ed.D.
City Schools Book Cover.png

Historically Black Independent Schools

Gail Foster, Ed.D

See Chapter 12 in 

City Schools

Editors: Ravitch & Viteritti

New York's Wealth of Historically Black  Independent Schools
Gail Foster, Ed.D. in
Journal of Negro Education

In the HBIS chapter in this book, Gail Foster presents her research on these schools. Topic headings include: Historical Overview; Academic Efficacy (includes a comparison of performance on NYS tests between HBIS and public schools); Mission, Expectations, Identity and Culture; School Profiles (examines two schools in depth); Conclusions and Recommendations.

Historically Black Independent Schools

Gail Foster, Ed.D.

(cont. from Homepage)

View full chapter with citations and tables

in City Schools, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.


African Americans have never been satisfied with inferior educational opportunities.  Whenever possible, at cost of life or scarce financial resources, black people have sought to circumvent the established order of the day which set limits on what their children could learn.  Historically, Africans in America (and later, after citizenship was granted, African Americans) opened independent schools in response to unsuccessful attempts to either integrate segregated schools, or gain influence over the policy, curriculum, and instruction at schools operated for them by European Americans....*

Academic expectations have long been an issue.  In his Black Education in New York State, Carelton Mabee notes that in the early nineteen-century Black parents complained that white teachers did not expect enough of black students in the private schools operated by white religious and benevolent societies.*    Many parents waged boycotts to protest the lack of Black teachers in the public schools. Others responded by starting their own schools.* In 1815, Peter Cruger, a free African, opened The African School in his home in Brooklyn; it was the earliest weekday HBI school on record in New York State.*

In the 1830s and 1840s, frustrated by their inability to gain seats on segregated school boards run by white benevolent societies, Africans established charitable societies of their own for the purposes of setting up private schools. Among these were the African Woolman Benevolent Society; the Phoenix Society (founded with the assistance of whites), and the Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children.  Founding mainly elementary schools, these groups also created some private high schools, since their white counterparts would fund only elementary schools for Blacks.*

* For citations, footnotes, research, tables, and the entire chapter see the original published document.

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