Academic journal article School Community Journal

Great Expectations? Critical Discourse Analysis of Title I School-Family Compacts

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Great Expectations? Critical Discourse Analysis of Title I School-Family Compacts

Article excerpt

Introduction

Policymakers, researchers, and education leaders agree that family, school, and community partnerships are a critical part of student achievement (Weiss, Lopez, & Rosenberg, 2010). Positive outcomes include higher graduation rates (Ferrara & Ferrara, 2005), improved attitudes toward school (Rivera & Waxman, 2011), and increased test scores (Van Voorhis, 2011). Yet, the establishment of strong home and school connections can be challenging. In particular, meaningful partnerships with low-income and minority populations are elusive (FJenderson & Mapp, 2002). In an attempt to address this challenge, legislators in the United States passed a version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1994 that included several parental involvement mandates. Among these legislative requirements is a demand for the development of a school-family compact for schools receiving Title I funding. Title I is a federal program that provides additional funds to districts and schools with high percentages of children who are economically disadvantaged. According to the ESEA legislation, the compact

is a written agreement between the school and the parents of children participating in Title I, Part A programs that identifies the activities that the parents, the entire school staff, and the students will undertake to share the responsibility for improved student academic achievement. In addition, the school-parent compact outlines the activities that the parents, school staff, and students will undertake to build and develop a partnership to help the children achieve to the State's high academic standards. (Improving America's Schools Act, 1994, sec. 1118)

The compacts are intended to be collaborative documents outlining the shared insights of multiple stakeholders and reflecting the unique sociocultural context of each school building. These compacts are examples of social discourse that contribute to the production of family engagement practices writ large. They are an attempt to promote interaction between educators and families by requiring schools to initiate communication regarding shared expectations. This article seeks to understand how the language in these school-family compacts contributes to the framing of family, school, and community partnerships, how the role of power is addressed within these documents, and potential implications for authentic engagement activities.

Family Engagement and Title I Schools

In the United States, 44% of children currently live in low-income families (Addy & Wight, 2012). Poverty impacts the whole child, as research indicates that there are negative effects on cognitive development, health, and behavior (Anyon, 2005; Sparks, 2012). Families living in poverty may have difficulty accessing quality healthcare, early childhood education, summer or after school activities, and affordable housing (Ladd, 2012). Children in low-income families are also more likely to attend poorly funded schools and thus have access to fewer resources, experience increased class size, and are often taught by less qualified and experienced teachers (Anyon, 2005). Title I legislation provides additional resources for schools with a high concentration of poverty. The goal is to improve academic outcomes for students and to support low-income families by bridging the gap between home and school (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).

Title I legislation requires schools to implement practices that will further engage low-income families and to report on their building's progress. The emphasis on family engagement is in recognition of extensive research indicating that strong school and family relationships can improve student outcomes such as attendance, test scores, graduation rates, and attitudes toward school (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). While the research in support of family engagement is promising, there are a number of challenges that may hinder low-income families' ability to become more involved with schools, including: a lack of transportation and childcare; inflexible work schedules; and feelings of intimidation based on a lack of educational attainment, cultural differences, and language barriers (Bower & Griffin, 2011; Breitborde & Swiniarski, 2002; Huss-Keeler, 1997). …

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