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

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:
other live
site, art
Zoo or

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. 

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.


For further information, see: 

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


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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/03/2014 - 09:10 pm.


    I want to point out that the results mentioned in this article are based on the received surveys which means that only parents willing to participate did so. And I can guess that parents who were willing to participate were the ones who care more about their kids’ education.

    On the other hand, the statement that “teachers perceive African American students as exerting less classroom effort than White students” seems strange: usually it takes a teacher not more than a month to figure out which students are willing to work and which are not. Plus, teachers talk among themselves and share information. So even if they have some perceptions, very soon the truth will come out.

  2. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/03/2014 - 10:59 pm.

    Here we go again

    “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?”

    Appendix A: Technical Notes

    To increase the number of
    Blacks and Hispanics in the sample, Black and Hispanic households were sampled at a higher
    rate than other households by identifying census tracts with higher percentages of these residents.
    After the sample was selected, the data were collected using printed questionnaires that were
    mailed to the sampled respondents.

    • Submitted by Madaline Edison on 04/04/2014 - 03:51 pm.

      Your point isn’t clear. What are you suggesting? Are you arguing with the data analysis technique of oversampling?

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/04/2014 - 04:55 pm.

        Response Bias

        “Non-response bias is not the opposite of “response bias” and is not a type of cognitive bias: it occurs in a statistical survey if those who respond to the survey differ in the outcome variable (for example, evaluation of the need for financial aid) from those who do not respond; or in other words, the statistical sample is not sufficiently random. For example, if a telephone survey is conducted, the results will only include people who are willing to sit and answer questions from a stranger over the telephone, and if those responses differ from the rest of the population, the survey results may be skewed. Often, the differences, which may include race, gender or socioeconomic status, are reported and/or accounted for through statistical modelling in any publication of the results.”

        In this survey they published the results of those who responded. That means more motivated parents responded. What about those who tossed the survey. That’s what i’m pointing to when i point to the fact they had to increase the sample size for certain groups.

  3. Submitted by Victoria Wilson on 04/04/2014 - 08:55 am.

    parental involvement and child performance

    Thank you for providing the link to this data. I am curious as to why they do not indicate or did not collect how the subject child is doing in school. To me the cornerstone piece of information is the correlation between parental involvement and student performance.

  4. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/04/2014 - 09:11 am.

    Well done

    Thanks, well done.

  5. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/04/2014 - 09:20 am.

    Thanks for pointing out this data

    However, it is a case of self-reporting by parents on their own behavior. It would be absolutely fascinating to compare the students’ assessment of their own parents behaviors !! Here, I’m not talking about the parents’ attitudes, but the actual behaviors of, e.g., reviewing homework on a daily basis.

    I’ve searched for such data out of curiosity, but can’t find any. So the descriptions the parents give of their own behaviors is not supported by any cross-checking by another source. This has nothing to do with race, as most parents would describe themselves glowingly, I’m pretty sure.

    The closest I could come in searching for data that would test the parents’ self-opinion as espoused by the author and the NCES conclusions:


    “The survey indicates that:

    Few parents can identify signs of learning progress. Less than one parent in four (22 percent) can name a basic milestone that their child should have learned in school over the previous year, such as learning multiplication tables, meeting a certain reading level, or being able to write an essay.”

    This is coming at the behaviors of parents from a different direction or angle. I am pretty sure these same parents would fit right into the NCES data as supportive, based on self-reporting. There is a contradiction here between these two data sets.

    More: there is the matter of what IS effective parent involvement, anyway ? What practices actually promote student achievement ?

    The same parents in this study:

    “Parents said that the following strategies would be “very effective” at improving parent involvement:

    Knowing more about what benchmarks and skills your child should be mastering at the end of every school year. (58 percent); and…

    Requiring the parents of failing students to attend programs that teach them how to help their kids learn. (45 percent) ”

    THEN, in another eye-opener, the parents were asked, and their answers given below:

    ” ‘What do you think is the best thing that you do to stay involved in your child’s education?” (The first column are the results for ‘Low Involvement, Low Knowledge’ parents, and the second column is for those parents ranked as ‘High Involvement, High Knowledge’)

    31% 20% Help with / monitor homework / Work with child on studies

    5% 5% Read to / with child

    3% 5% Encourage / Support / Make education a priority

    9% 9% Monitor progress / grades / Set expectations / Be ‘on them’

    6% 4% Be aware / Interested / informed / Know what’s going on ”

    The NCES data and this study’s data DO NOT comport with one another !!

  6. Submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds on 04/04/2014 - 03:25 pm.

    Excellent Work!

    Thanks, Kate, for a well-written, informative article that busts some of the myths that are perpetuated about the involvement of parents of color in their children’s education. If we could shift our mindsets to assuming the best about children and their families, when it comes to education, we could accomplish so much more and move beyond blame and the harsh, unnecessary stereotyping that goes in too often in our state by folks from privileged backgrounds.

    Thank you for shedding light in an area that is too often clouded with half-truths and speculation.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/04/2014 - 07:08 pm.


    There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics, said Mark Twain and he was right. Statistics is often misleading and it is even more misleading when people grab it, without understanding how it has been derived, and use to promote a certain idea. And when the deficiencies of certain statistics are pointed out, those people just ignore them. Unfortunately, that is not how the truth can be found.

    I also wonder, even if we assume that 42% of the achievement gap is caused by racism, where does the rest 58% come from?

  8. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 04/04/2014 - 09:13 pm.

    Example of Misleading statistic.

    Group A – 100 forms sent out – 80 responses – 40 say they do home work with their kids

    Group B – 100 forms sent out – 50 responses – 25 say they do home work with their kids.

    Method 1
    So Do we say 40/80 (A) and 25/50 (B) . Therefore 50 percent of each group does homework with their kids

    Method 2
    Of Do we say 40/100 (A) and 25/100 (B). Therefore 40 percent of group A and 25 percent of B does homework with their kids.

    The research uses Method1. Then what happened to the 50 people in group B who did not do bother to respond.

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