Few issues in education are of greater concern than the plight of the ethnic and racial minority and economically deprived students in the nationís urban schools. Of course, many of these young people receive high-quality educations, achieve at admirable levels, and complete high school in possession of the knowledge and skills needed for further education or entry-level employment. An alarming number of these students, however, leave school- either through dropping out early or at graduation- lacking the skills and knowledge required by employers, colleges, and trade schools.
Research demonstrates that parent involvement in instruction, in support of classroom and extracurricular activities, and in school governance is related to positive student learning outcomes and attitudes. Research also shows that such involvement is especially beneficial for many minority children, who may otherwise feel torn between the differing norms and values represented by the home and school.
Seventy-one percent of minority children attend inner-city schools. (Fernandez) Many are economically deprived. In these homes, it is a constant struggle to secure even the most basic necessities of life. Teachers see education as a means to future success and fulfillment. They stress the possibility of attaining high prestige through academic accomplishment and book learning; they expect children to be able to forego temporary pleasures for future rewards. Many of these children are not able to understand success and fulfillment in terms of the future. In exceptionally rough neighborhoods, children do not even take for granted that they will have a future at all. Their main goal is just to survive the present- taking one day at a time. The parents of these children often have problems of their own to deal with, and often do not meet the standard of success that the teachers are expecting their students to strive for.
The children have few models around them to confirm the validity of the proposition that school education and book learning lead to success. Many of the economically deprived children find that the greatest prestige comes from behaviors which the public school thoroughly disapproves of- sexual prowess, ability to fight, and development of ways to outmaneuver or circumvent established law. Many of these children believe only in today because tomorrow is just another day of poverty, jail, or despair. They do not have the motivation. It is the teachers job to find that motivation. But at the same time, the teacher is in charge of convincing them that their values, commitments, beliefs, indeed much of their entire lives, are wrong. A majority of these children reject these foreign values and cling to the more familiar ones they are exposed to in the home. (Corcoran)
Is it any wonder that our public schools have failed dismally with this group of children? The failure of the public schools has been the failure of American society as a whole to show genuine concern for and meet the needs of the economically deprived and the racial minorities of our nation. One need only to look at Harlem, San Antonio, East St. Louis, Chicago, or read Jonathan Kozolís Savage Inequalities or Alex Kotlowitzís There Are No Children Here to see the destruction of so many potentially capable children.
Many school officials believe that the answer to many of these problems lies with the parents. They feel that it is imperative that the parent be an active partner in his/her childís education, if it is at all possible. In the most minimal ways of supporting his/her childís education, the parent could encourage regular attendance and make school a top priority. If a parent feels that education is important, the child is more likely to think so as well. These parents want their children to have better lives and more opportunities than they had. The most effective way to make this wish come true is to see that their children get the most out of their education.
Lonnie Anderson attends P.S. 261, a public school in the Bronx. He is in 7th grade. His teachers are not all certified in the subjects they are teaching; in fact, many are not certified at all. He is surrounded by violence, drugs, and poverty. But he is making it. His mother is determined to help Lonnie reach his full potential, and to achieve all that he possibly can. If Lonnie is doing poorly in a class, his mother will go to the school to talk to his teacher and find out exactly why. If the teacher says the reason is homework, she makes sure that he gets back on track and does his homework, offering whatever assistance she can give to prevent him from getting discouraged. If the problem is that Lonnie is slacking off in class, she goes to class with him and sits in the back of the room to make sure he stays focused. Lonnieís English teacher feels that this is extremely beneficial to Lonnieís learning process. In a different environment, so much work on the parents part would not be as beneficial and could even be detrimental to fostering a childís sense of independence. But in this situation, the teacher feels strongly that all students get more out of class when a supportive parent places themselves directly in the childís learning environment. (Moyer)
Many schools are beginning to implement new programs which encourage parents to play an active role in their childís education. The Family English Literacy Program (FLEP) was designed to promote the participation of linguistically and culturally diverse parents in the educational process of their children. It is currently instituted at 25 urban elementary schools in South Florida. This program attempts to bridge the generation gap with culturally relevant curricula and strategies specifically designed for minority parents. While in the program, families participate in intensive cycles of parent-child training sessions and intergenerational activities geared to suit the academic needs of the family unit. Content in the subject area of school involvement is taught in a step by step process while parents acquire English/literacy.
St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota sponsor National African American Parent Involvement Day. This call to action is to address the achievement gap facing African American students. The day is intended to generate a dialogue among teachers, parents and students which will help create a better learning environment for African American students.
Chicagoís Child Parent Center and Extension Program was developed to: (1) stimulate and enrich the early childhood environment; (2) enhance the childís preschool readiness for kindergarten; (3) modify the child rearing practices and home environment; (4) provide educational support during elementary school; and (5) involve parents in the school process. This program has succeeded in considerably improving the standardized achievement, student attitudes, teacher ratings and performance samples of children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Even Start is a Houston-based program which was designed to prepare limited English proficient children for school entry and success. The program provides training in adult literacy, parenting skills, and job skills. The program incorporates working with children before they start school, working with parents to improve their literacy, and teaching parents how to work with their children in developmentally appropriate ways.
The Families Learning At School and Home (FLASH) Program serves to improve academic skills through a more intensive approach than students would encounter in the normal classroom. At the same time, it assists parents/caregivers in developing specific competencies which will enable them to play a more active role in their childrenís education.
Parents can get involved on the highest level that is possible for them whether it be as little as promoting a positive image of school, to taking individual initiative like Lonnieís mom, to taking part of a specially funded program like the ones listed above. Programs such as these unite the community toward working for the greater good of the children. Everything starts in the home, and the parents are seen as role models. If parents support and encourage their children, and keep their best interests in mind, the interest in their own education is sure to increase. And so, they might be able to attain that level of success that their teachers talk of, the level their parents never quite reached.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.