Academic journal article Childhood Education

Meaningful Learning with African American Families: The Freedom Quilt FunPacks

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Meaningful Learning with African American Families: The Freedom Quilt FunPacks

Article excerpt

Despite some characterization as being uninvolved in the education of their children, African American parents have always valued education and recognized it as the key to economic and political freedom. Despite laws in the United States prohibiting the education of slaves, African Americans were the first southerners to campaign for universal, state-supported public education. Yet, schools for African American children were not fully established in the United States until the middle of the 20th century. Even today, African American parents are still battling for equitable education for their children (Anderson, 1988).

Without equity in education, particularly in mathematics education, students cannot gain access to higher education and, subsequently, higher paying careers. Equity, defined here as equal resources, instruction, and outcomes (Allexsaht-Schider & Hart, 2001), has not been realized by people of color. Data from the National Association of Educational Progress (Brawell et al., 2001) documents a pervasive and persistent gap in mathematics test scores between African American and European American students. The gap is in part due to historical inequities in resources. For example, in Lowdes County, Alabama, during the early 20th century, the school district spent $20 per year on European American students, compared with 67 cents on African American students. During the same time, African American teachers' salaries were half that of their European American counterparts (Anderson, 1990).

While not as quantifiable as in the past, major issues concerning equity for African Americans and other students of color remain, attributable to the disproportionate number of African Americans in poverty (more than twice that of European Americans), the concentration of African Americans in urban environments (52 percent), and the way U.S. public schools are funded (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Students in wealthy districts have well-funded schools, while students in high poverty districts tend to receive considerably less funding and have teachers with less experience and education than their counterparts in better-off areas (Biddle & Berliner, 2002).

With fewer resources and less experienced teachers, it is no surprise that a gap exists in achievement test scores between African Americans and European Americans. While progress was made in narrowing the gap during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, little progress was made in the 1990s. What is conspicuous about the gap is that it widens perceptively in upper elementary school. Therefore, elementary teachers have a crucial role to play in closing the gap in mathematics achievement. They can do so by providing high and clear standards, assessing students' work in alignment with these standards, and encouraging parental involvement in mathematics (Haycock, 2001).

Mathematics FunPacks

While homework is an established practice in schools, research indicates that it is only effective if it is relevant, creative, and meaningful to the student and parent (Sullivan & Sequeira, 1996; Walberg, Paschal, & Weinstein, 1985). When homework meets these criteria, it can have significantly positive effects on African American students' educational aspirations and chances for academic success (Smith-Maddox, 1999). Mathematics FunPacks replace the traditional homework of paper-and-pencil drills with meaningful, hands-on learning for the whole family (Koskoski & Patton, 1997). FunPacks can best be described as traveling learning centers, in that they contain all the materials needed to engage the whole family in mathematics explorations. Every FunPack includes:

* Activities that are hands-on, inquiry-based, and interactive

* Children's literature and information books that promote parent-child engagement in active analytical talk

* A family letter to invite parent participation and explain the importance of the mathematics concepts reinforced in the FunPack

* A family journal to promote home-to-school communication and evaluation of the FunPack

* Ideas for extending the activities in the FunPack through suggestions for books, Web sites, and family outings related to the topic. …

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