Academic journal article School Community Journal

Beyond the Greatest Hits: A Counterstory of English Learner Parent Involvement

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Beyond the Greatest Hits: A Counterstory of English Learner Parent Involvement

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the United States the notion of parents being involved in their children's education is a widely accepted cultural norm rooted in ideals about the importance of education and the parent-child relationship. Numerous federal, state, and local policy initiatives are in place to train and support parents who might be viewed as uninvolved in their children's education. For example, several pieces of federal legislation, including the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (1994) and the last two reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act-the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA; 1994) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; 2002)-all require that schools develop parent involvement plans. The Goals 2000: Education America Act explicitly states that "every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children." IASA and NCLB both include provisions-through Title I funds-to support involvement initiatives with the explicit intent of improving student achievement. Specifically, this legislation emphasizes that parent involvement initiatives pay particular attention to "parents who are disadvantaged, are disabled, have limited English proficiency, have limited literacy, or are of any racial or ethnic minority background" (NCLB, 2002, Sec. 1118).

Moreover, much academic research has examined the role of parental involvement in children's education. Google Scholar returns over 22,000 hits when searching for "parent involvement" AND "education" since 1994 (the year IASA and Goals 2000 were passed). Popular media outlets are also filled with articles on parenting, early learning, and parent involvement in education.

These policy, research, and social emphases on parent involvement have resulted in a narrow list of activities that constitute a "greatest hits" of parent involvement practices. Hong (2011) quotes an urban school principal in Chicago explicating this phenomenon:

With the influx of middle-class families at my school, I am realizing that some of the strategies are written for them. If you look at our events, it looks like we have more parent involvement, but really, we just have more middle-class parents who are responding to our use of the "greatest hits" in parent involvement. (p. 19)

The greatest hits that this principal mentions refer to observable practices that often occur within the school. These may include attending school events (parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school nights, PTA/O meetings, ceremonies, celebrations, sporting events, etc.), communication with the school, helping with homework, and reading to children (Jeynes, 2010). Implicit in this principal's statement is the recognition that such practices are insufficient for engaging all parents. Moreover, Doucet (2011) argues that such ritualized practices in parent involvement lead to a group identity and solidarity among mainstream parents that excludes culturally diverse families-the same families that many of these initiatives intend to target.

Problem Statement

Often discussions of parent involvement do not include a consideration of the ways in which families' cultural and linguistic backgrounds may factor into their involvement. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that families who may speak a home language other than or in addition to English-and whom for the purposes of this review I will refer to as English learners (EL)-are involved in their children's education in ways that differ from those of other social groups (Lee & Bowen, 2006). Yet teachers and schools frequently view linguistic minority parents as uninterested and/or uninvolved in their children's education when they do not attend school events (Hong, 2011; Ngo, 2012; Poza, Brooks, & Valdés, 2014). This is despite substantial research on immigrant and minority families that demonstrates how they are deeply concerned about their children's education (e. …

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