Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Successful African American Students: The Role of Parental Involvement

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Successful African American Students: The Role of Parental Involvement

Article excerpt

Research on parental involvement suggests that families play a key role in students' school success. Using social capital theory as a conceptual framework, this study sought to identify unique characteristics of social capital held by successful African American students compared to those of successful White and nonsuccessful Black peers. It examined social capital along four dimensions: (a) parent-teen interactions, (b) parent-school interactions, (c) parent-parent interactions, and (d) family norms. Despite their comparatively more disadvantaged home environments, successful African American students demonstrated higher levels of social capital on 6 of the 11 indicators examined. The implications of these findings for parents, educators, and educational policymakers are discussed.


Changes in technology are increasing the necessity for participants in the U.S. labor market to possess a postsecondary degree. Although the high school completion rate for African American students has increased over the past several decades, attaining postsecondary educational opportunities and achieving lofty academic goals represents a critical challenge for many African American students (Solorzano, 1992). In the search for strategies that foster academic success among African American students, attention has been focused on increasing parental involvement in these students' schooling. However, parental involvement has multiple meanings (Cassanova, 1996), and it has been operationalized in studies in a variety of ways. Nonetheless, parental involvement is widely recognized as an important contributor to the academic success of African American students (Coleman,1991; Comer & Haynes,1991; Cooper & Datnow, in press; Epstein,1995; Lareau,1989).

The majority of the studies that have investigated the issue of parental involvement are primarily based on samplings of White students. However, the evidence of positive parental involvement on children's school performance based on that demonstrated with White students may not hold true for students of other racial/ethnic groups (Steinberg, Dombush, & Brown,1992). Likewise, studies examining the effect of parental involvement on African American students often focus on the factors that place these students at risk and ignore the ways in which African American families promote successful school achievement and experiences.

More recently, the focus of studies of African American students has shifted to include other factors that contribute to these students' success. Clark (1983) studied high-achieving African American students from low-income home environments. Through intensive interviews and observations, Clark discovered that the parents of such students engaged in distinctive parent-child interactions. That is, they typically created emotionally supportive home environments, engaged in frequent and meaningful dialogue with their children, helped them with homework, and communicated clear and consistent behavioral limits to them. Other studies have supported these findings. Sanders (1997), for example, interviewed high-achieving African American students from urban areas and reported that Black parents' efforts to promote their children's positive racial/ethnic socialization helped promote the latter's academic success as a response to racism and discrimination. Datnow and Cooper (1996) studied the role of peer networks in affirming academic success and racial identity among African American students attending predominantly White independent schools. Using national representative data, Lee, Winfield, and Wilson (1991) examined both family and school factors as they contribute to the academic behaviors of high-achieving African American students.

A notable limitation of the research mentioned above, with the exception of the study by Lee et al. (1991), is that they represent small-scale qualitative studies. In order to address the limitations of previous studies of parental involvement and African American students' educational attainment, the present study utilizes national sample data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88). …

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