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Let’s acknowledge minority parents’ involvement in children’s schooling

It’s clear that families of all races and ethnicities, neighborhoods and incomes are involved in their children’s education to a similar degree.

An adult always checks that the homework is done in 71 percent of African-American and 69 percent of Latino families – compared to 65 percent of white families.

Most articles on racial disparities in education are followed by reader comments along the lines of: “Where are the parents?” “Some cultures just don’t value education.” “These kids live in chaos, what can we expect?” The phrasing isn’t usually this generous, although some commenters express a sympathetic intent.

Kate Sattler

So, what about the parents? What does parent and family involvement in education look like for students of color? And what does it look like for white students, whose study habits and family involvement are rarely mentioned?

Fortunately, it’s easy to find out. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics surveyed parents of U.S. students about their involvement in their children’s education. Among the findings: black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and “other, non-Hispanic” students (which includes Native and multiracial students) are all more likely than white students to do homework outside of school.

Students from non-English speaking families are more likely to do so than those with only English-speaking parents. Students at “assigned” public schools are more likely to do so than students who attend “chosen” public schools (e.g., charters and magnets). And 94 percent of students living in poverty do homework outside of school — a rate just 2 percentage points lower than that of their more affluent peers.

 And there’s more. For students who do homework outside of school:

  • Black parents are more likely than whites to have a designated space in the home for doing homework.
  • An adult always checks that the homework is done in 71 percent of African-American and 69 percent of Latino families – compared to 65 percent of white families.
  • It is more likely that an adult always checks homework in “poor” vs. “nonpoor” families (72 percent vs. 66 percent), in cities than in suburbs (68 percent vs. 65 percent), and in homes where the parents have less than a high-school diploma vs. a graduate degree (67 percent vs. 66 percent). 

White, black, Latino, Asian, and “other, non-Hispanic” parents attend regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences at comparable rates (77, 76, 73, 72, and 78 percent respectively).

Students of all races and ethnicities also participate in cultural and educational activities with their families outside of school:

Percentage of students in kindergarten through grade 12 whose parents reported participation in various acitivites, by race:
LibraryBookstorePlay,
concert,
other live
show
Museum,
historical
site, art
gallery
Zoo or
aquarium
White36%38332215
Black47%37322121
Latino38%36262024
Asian53%42332225
Other40%37292317

The survey data show that while poor families are less likely than nonpoor families to visit a bookstore, theater, or museum, they’re more likely to visit the library and the zoo or aquarium. 

Our community’s positive assumptions about white students go unspoken, untested and rewarded. Meanwhile, negative assumptions about students of color get repeated, go unproven and lead to very real, adverse consequences in life and in the classroom. 

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A 2012 study’s “results suggest that teachers perceive African American students as exerting less classroom effort than White students, which accounts for a substantial proportion of the racial gap in unrealized academic potential, even with several student characteristics held constant” (“How Teachers and Schools Contribute to Racial Differences in the Realization of Academic Potential,” by Tina Wildhagen, Teacher College Record, 11/4/12). According to the researcher, “teacher perceptions of students’ classroom effort and behavior have been shown to account for 42 percent of the black-white gap in realizing academic potential.”

This is likely why so many school leaders and teachers increasingly focus on “mindset” as they recruit and develop staff. And why it’s imperative for educators and our broader community to acknowledge, monitor the impacts of, and counter racial bias in school as with everywhere else.

Families experiencing homelessness – and many of those facing other challenges such as physical or mental illness, addiction, family conflict, violence, or loss – experience trauma and disruption in their lives. Yet it’s clear that families of all races and ethnicities, neighborhoods, and incomes are involved in their children’s education to a similar degree. Why would anyone expect otherwise?

Acknowledging that students of color and their families prioritize educational success – to the same extent our community does for white students — will go a long way toward ensuring they have equal opportunities to attain it.

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Kate Sattler runs a communications firm for social justice organizations and is the mother of two teenagers.

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