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

Abstract

Family, school, and community partnerships are a critical part of student achievement, but the successful establishment of meaningful partnerships with low-income and minority populations remains elusive. In 1994, legislators in the United States passed a version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that seeks to address this challenge with the inclusion of several parental involvement mandates, including the development of a school-family compact in every school receiving Title I funding. This study combines critical discourse analysis with a corpus linguistic approach to examine such compacts in the Midwest region of the United States. The authors seek to understand how discourse in these documents contributes to the framing of family, school, and community partnerships and how the role of power is addressed within these compacts. Findings indicate that Title I compacts primarily reinforce hierarchical models of parental involvement and emphasize transactional encounters over and above partnership activity. A model of co-construction that fosters more authentic engagement is introduced as an alternative approach to current school-family compact development practices.

Key Words: Title I school-family compacts, families, parents, partnerships

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). …

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