Examining Parent Involvement in Reversing the Underachievement of African American Students in Middle-Class Schools

Article excerpt

Introduced in 2001, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was hailed as the most significant education legislation since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The legislation purported to be a "landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America's schools" (U.S. Department of Education, 2003, p. 1). Shortly after the enactment, the bill was scrutinized by school officials and policy makers and later criticized for multiple reasons, such as a lack of funding, an overemphasis on testing, and inconsistency in standards at the federal, state and local levels (Dingerson, Beam, & Brown, 2004). Despite the criticism that NCLB has received over the past five years, there are some promising features of the legislation that seek to involve various historically excluded stakeholders in the educational process (Fege & Smith, 2002) and empower parents with decision-making power (Rogers, 2006; U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Central to its mission was the assurance of academic success for all students through authentic partnerships between schools, parents and communities. Parent involvement is specifically addressed by the authors of NCLB and loosely described in the legislation as a partnership that envisions parents with governance power within a democratic process (Rogers, 2006).

While the provision seeks to mandate parent engagement in schools, what remains unclear under NCLB's parent involvement mandate is the extent to which parents are actually engaged in schools. One consistent critique of NCLB posits that it falls short in providing enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance at the state and local levels (Davis, 2004). School systems cannot be sure that schools are actually complying with the federal mandate. Moreover, school officials cannot determine the roles race and class play when parents do make efforts to assume leadership roles in schools. Therefore, we, the researchers, seek to gain insight into these issues through this work.

As the authors of this study, we examined the school experiences of middle-class African American parents and students, because they are largely overlooked in the professional literature when it comes to underachievement and parent involvement. Although NCLB highlights parent involvement and school accountability through the use of test data, we posit that non-White and non-Asian students in middle-class schools are frequently overlooked in the reporting and investigation of school achievement, particularly as it relates to parental involvement and engagement. Using Critical Race Theory (CRT) (Ladson-Bilings & Tate, 1995; Solorzano, 1998) as a conceptual framework to examine parent involvement as it pertains to African Americans in middle-class (1) schools, we attempt to account for an explicit intersection of race and class to be used in our analysis. CRT allows for the incorporation of counterstorytelling as a methodological tool so that parent voice can be a focus of this study.

Because NCLB's emphasis on providing equal access to quality instruction to students of color, low income populations, and students with disabilities, it is clear that schools must be in compliance with this mandate. Further, educators must provide focused attention and additional resources to subgroups who fail to reach established performance benchmarks (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). To this end, schools are required to show evidence of "continuous progress" towards academic goals by meeting an annual benchmark for all subgroups within the school and demonstrate adequate yearly progress (AYP). The AYP benchmarks can include standardized test scores, graduation rates, attendance and other indicators determined by the state. Schools that fail to meet AYP targets for any subgroup or other school-wide benchmarks are designated as "in need of improvement." As a result, high achieving schools are unable to laud the overall success or high academic scores without a full accountability of the academic performance of all its subgroups (e. …