Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families

By Roberta Rehner Iversen; Annie Laurie Armstrong | Go to book overview

7 Children's Schools, Parents' Work and Policy

Alignment and Misalignment

Education is so important and I will tell that to my children until I can't breathe
anymore.—Elizabeth Seabrook, New Orleans

[The teacher said,] “I need to see you before Friday.” Now this is like on a
Wednesday, and they call me and tell me, “Oh, I need to see you before Friday.”
You know, leave a message on my machine. So I will call them back and I'll get
the person: “As you well know, I work. Just like you. I cannot just up and come
into your office or into the school the next day or the day after. I have to give my
supervisor ample time so she can find somebody to replace me, just like you
would have to give your boss ample time.”—Ayesha Muhammad, Philadelphia

DECADES OF RESEARCH have addressed the vertical and longitudinal intersections between school and home and between school and children's futures (Patchen, 2004). However, few scholars have looked at the horizontal and simultaneous intersections among children's schools, families, parents' work, and policy. Findings from this multiyear, multisite ethnography illustrate that and how these institutions are aligned or misaligned in relation to family economic mobility.In brief, children's “work” at school influences parents' work, home life, and ultimately the family's ability to move forward economically through employment. Reciprocally, parents' work influences family life and children's school success. School and public policies are continuous but little-acknowledged players in these intersections, and as the family stories illustrate in the following sections, frequently do not work in harmony. School policies are often not aligned with the policies of low-income parents' employers, and firms' policies are not always designed to provide low-income workers with the means to be actively involved in their child's school. Public policies are often misaligned with both schools and firms.

Examination of the intersections among children's schools, parents' work, family, and policy shows that reciprocity is lacking among these institutions. Interinstitutional trust relations are either absent or extinguished. In a downward spiral then, children's school behavior and performance worsen, parents are drawn in more frequently and more frantically, workplace mobility is thwarted, and families experience reduced economic security. In response, school policies and teacher practices tend to address the proximal or more immediate targets of child and family rather than the distal, or distant and thus harder to influence, target of parents' work environments.

The educational equivalents of the mobility myths in Chapter 2, such as “hard work is all it takes to succeed” and “pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” are reflected daily in the assumptions made by teachers and administrators in inner-city schools

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