Saturday, June 2, 2012

SES and Parent Involvement

A post at NYC Educator points to the serious, often unmentioned problem of truancy and parent involvement.
"My school's intrepid guidance counselor and I spent yesterday making phone calls to parents--about attendance, Regents tutoring, and classes that students are still failing.  As you can imagine, there's a pretty strong link between that first item and the last one.  And while I'm sorry to keep harping on this subject, I can't deny that trying to cajole parents into doing their legal duty to educate their children is starting to wear on me and my guidance counselor partner in all this.

One young lady whose guardian was just here last week has already missed two more days of school.  Two other sets of parents have respectively broken nearly half a dozen appointments to come to the school.  And I teach high school, and it's May...and if not now, when?"
This is a huge problem.  Truancy is obviously the most blatant example, but it speaks to a larger problem of academic inclination in families..  There are a few things going on.  Some parents just don't care much for education.  Some parents don't know how to prioritize it.  Some parents are so busy with work that they must leave much of the parenting up to relatives, siblings, student peers or neighbors.  Some parents have developed relationships with their children such that they have authority in their lives.  For some parents it is a mix of all of these factors.

And this is all highly correlated with family capital.  In a 1987 paper , Lareau describes parent night at two schools of different SES make-ups, fictionally named Colton (low -SES) and Prescott (high-SES).(1)
Ironically, teachers at Prescott actually complained of too much parent involvement, and at Colton, too little.  Prescott parents were felt to sometimes get in the way, while Colton parents were not present enough.  At back to school night, Lareau describes the differences between teacher-parent interactions at the two schools.

At Colton, the interactions between parents and teachers were stiff and awkward. The parents often showed signs of discomfort: nervous shifting, blushing, stuttering, sweating, and generally looking ill at ease. During the Open House, parents wandered around the room looking at the children's pictures. Many of the parents did not speak with the teacher during their visit. When they did, the interaction tended to be short, rather formal, and serious.....

At Prescott, the interactions between parents and teachers were more frequent, more centered around academic matters, and much less formal. Parents often wrote notes to the teacher, telephoned the teacher at school, or dropped by during the day to discuss a problem. These interactions often centered around the child's academic progress; many Prescott parents monitored their children's education and requested additional resources for them if there were problems. Parents, for example, asked that children be signed up to see the reading resource teacher, be tested by the school psychologist, or be enrolled in the gifted program. Parents also asked for homework for their children or for materials that they could complete at home with their children.
Lareau's research mirrors my own experiences and those of colleagues in poor schools.  This issue speaks both to issues of the practical nature of poverty, in which it is often impossible for a parent to be as involved as they might want to be because of life circumstances.  However, parents who not only truly want to, but know how to be involved, will find a way.  More often than not, low-SES populations simply don't possess the human capital sufficient to provide the sort of involvement a child's education demands.

These are all situations in which there is little a teacher can do but work with the student when he or she shows up in class.  But that is obviously not enough.  How is it then, that we a society, might intervene in a way that secures for the child a proper education?

1 - Social Class Differences in Family-School Relationships: The Importance of Cultural Capital, Author(s): Annette LareauSource: Sociology of Education, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Apr., 1987), pp. 73-85

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