Academic journal article School Community Journal

Families' Goals, School Involvement, and Children's Academic Achievement: A Follow-Up Study Thirteen Years Later

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Families' Goals, School Involvement, and Children's Academic Achievement: A Follow-Up Study Thirteen Years Later

Article excerpt

Abstract

A study conducted from 1996-2000 focused on the academic development of children within a statewide educational reform effort, including changing the organizational structure of the early years of schooling into nongraded primary programs (formerly age-based classrooms for kindergarteners through third grade). The multisite study involved children from mainly poor and working class families and focused on supports and barriers to learning both in and out of school. Family visits throughout the years of the study viewed parents as experts on their children, with teachers seeking to learn from them through informal conversations and formal interviews. The data collected provided an impetus for restructuring classroom instruction and for exploring ways of engaging the families more intentionally and meaningfully with their children's classrooms. The study reported here is a follow-up with families in one of the sites. Again, family visits included taperecorded interviews about the children's academic performance at the end of high school, current goals, and parents' perceptions of their child's schooling experience and their own involvement with the schools over time. The discussion includes an update about the families, a description of the children's educational outcomes and future educational plans, and insights and implications about family connections and student success.

Key Words: family, parents, involvement, engagement, schools, home visits, goals, teachers, longitudinal research, perceptions, achievement, low income

Introduction

"You don't have to go to college, but you need to finish high school, because otherwise you are going to be doing like I've done as far as jobs."

"My biggest mistake was school, and I really feel like that ruined my whole life, because I didn't go to school."

This article introduces the children and parents of seven families from one small town who, over 13 years, invited their child's teacher and a university research partner (the author) into their homes. On these "family visits," each family shared insights about goals for their child, the child's academic progress, their own involvement their child's school, work and recreation activities of the family, as well as the family's challenges and celebrations. The sections that follow provide an explanation of the initial study that began the relationship with these families; contextual information about the setting; descriptions of the children as they began school; findings from a recent follow-up study; and implications for enhancing family engagement with schools. We begin this account in 1996.

Study of a State-Mandated Reform for Young Children

The two quotes above were shared by parents who participated in a funded study conducted from 1996-2000 focused on the academic development of children within a statewide educational reform effort (McIntyre & Kyle, 2001). An initial goal of equalizing state funding for school districts resulted in more sweeping changes which included a change in the organizational structure of the early years of schooling into nongraded primary programs (formerly age-based classrooms for kindergarteners through third grade), broadened decision-making to include more parent participation on site-based school councils, and redesigned curriculum and instruction and the assessment and reporting systems that would determine and communicate student progress.

Our multiyear and multisite study addressed the nongraded primary program aspect of the reform initiative. It focused on children from mainly poor and working class families, many of Appalachian descent, and addressed the following key questions: What inhibited learners in and out of school? What were the societal, institutional, and personal barriers to learning? What supports did the children receive at home and school that enabled some of them to transcend economic conditions to achieve at high levels? …

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