Involvement of Parents of Diverse Cultural and Linguistic Backgrounds


Parent involvement is consistently cited as an important correlate of effective schools. For nearly a quarter of a century, research on parental and family involvement has documented that parents can do much to reinforce positive attitudes toward school, to prepare their children for school, and to support their children's efforts once they are in school.

Unfortunately, not all parents have the same level of participation in school-home collaborations. In spite of an increase in efforts to boost participation of culturally and linguistically diverse parents there is still a lack of systematic efforts to include these parents effectively. What follows is a summary of critical issues and promising practices in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Critical Issues & Statistics

We need to rethink ways to address this challenge drawing upon what we know works and modifying it when necessary to meet the needs of culturally diverse students. To do this, we need to look at the many indicators and factors that have an impact on student achievement. Among these factors is parental involvement. Numerous research studies show the positive impact of home-school partnerships and parental involvement on student achievement. There is no doubt that when parents become involved with the education of their children, students not only become more motivated to achieve but actually achieve significantly better (Epstein 1991; Griffith. Wade, & Loeb, 1997; Shaefer, 1972; Walberg, 1984).

The Need to Involve Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Parents

There is evidence that family practices concerning children's education are more important for helping students succeed in school, and in general, than are family structure, economic status, or characteristics such as race, parent education, family size, and age of child. According to these studies, children tend to do well in school when their parents express high expectations for school achievement; stress the value of schooling; conduct warm, nurturing and frequent interactions with their children; and encourage a purposeful use of time and space (Chavkin, 1989; Clark, 1983; Schiamberg & Chun, 1986).

In a longitudinal study of seven Chicano families in Southern California, Villanueva (1996) found that Latino families were able to provide support and have an impact in their children's education in spite of a lack of formal schooling, limited knowledge of English, and lack of skills to help their children with homework. She found that despite these limitations, families motivated their children to do well in school by providing them with cultural practices that fostered a positive attitude towards work and responsibility and the importance of education.

The following additional benefits are found in the research of parental involvement and parents of diverse backgrounds:

Additionally, it has been documented that meaningful parent participation results in benefits to parents and children that extend beyond the individual school. Parents who participate in joint efforts with schools, develop increased self confidence, have more positive attitudes towards schools and staff, help gather support in the community for their schools, and enroll in other educational programs (Becher, 1984; Chavkin, 1989; Cummins, 1986).

Existence of Barriers That Inhibit Latino Parents' Participation

Linguistically and culturally diverse parents face barriers that make their interactions with schools particularly challenging. Some of the common barriers that these parents face include:

  1. work interference;
  2. lack of confidence interacting in a culture different than their own;
  3. lack of English language skills;
  4. insufficient information on home-school collaboration and/or partnerships;
  5. different expectations of the school role; and
  6. in some cases, lack of sensitivity and understanding on the part of the school personnel.

Although these barriers might affect parents differently according to parents' personal backgrounds and characteristics, (socio-economic status; educational level; ethnic backgroun& country of origin; knowledge of English language and level of understanding of the U.S. school system and specific types of schools), they continue to be commonly attributed barriers to the involvement of culturally and linguistically diverse parents.

Existing Barriers Perceived by School Personnel

Since successful partnerships between schools and communities require providing tools to both school staff and parents, attention must be paid to the barriers that are closely related to involving culturally and linguistically diverse parents.

Culturally and linguistically diverse parents are many times blamed (consciously and unconsciously) by teachers, administrators, and mainstream parents for their children's failure to succeed in school. In addition, teachers and administrators have cited the following barriers to effective communication with parents:

  1. fear and distrust of different cultures and life styles
  2. lack of an understanding of the home language
  3. endorsement of negative stereotypes (e.g. parental apathy); and
  4. lack of formal training in dealing with culturally and linguistically diverse parents (Bermudez, 1989).

Need for Mechanisms to Effectively Deal with Tensions That May Arise From
the Active Participation of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Parents

Tensions between parents and schools are to be expected in many different stages of forging partnerships (Ochoa, in press). Tensions may actually occur as a result of empowering initiatives of the school designed to promote equal partnerships. It is important that schools prepare themselves to approach these tensions as a positive step that will allow a better dialogue between school and homes.

Promising Trends in the Mid-Atlantic Region: When Culturally and Linguistically
Diverse Parents are Reached, the Response is Overwhelmingly Positive

School-home experiences in Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, show that when culturally and linguistically diverse parents are reached, they respond in very positive ways.

In 1997, Montgomery County Public Schools conducted an evaluation of family -school partnerships initiatives in sixteen elementary schools in Montgomery County (Griffith et al., 1997). The main purpose of the study was to determine how well family-school partnerships were implemented in the participating schools and to assess how well these initiatives have accomplished their goals. Partnership activities were conducted under a four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education through Family Works, a collaboration between Child Care Connection -- the child care resource and referral agency for Montgomery County-- and Montgomery County Public Schools.

One of the questions of the study was to find out if parents targeted for parent involvement actually reported greater familiarity and use of the school-family partnership initiatives. The target populations included parents having children enrolled in lower grade levels and parents of African American and Latino racial/ethnic identification. The primary data sources for this study were survey questionnaires that included items that addressed Epstein's six levels of parental involvement. Results indicate that in spite of the fact that Latino and African American parents were generally less likely than other parents to have experienced family-school partnerships, when they did experience a partnership, their response was overwhelmingly positive. Specifically, findings indicate that when reached, the effect of the family-school partnership on both parent involvement and student achievement was greater for African American and Latino parents and students than for white parents and students.

Furthermore, Latino parents reported significant changes in their parent involvement activities from the previous to the current year. In fact, they reported the largest increases in attending activities to help with their children's school work and to know what their children were being taught, as well as helping in their children's classrooms and attending PTA meetings.

Finally, results of the evaluation also indicate that parent involvement activities had a greater effect on Latino families (10 percent of the variance) than it had on Asian Americans (5 percent) and whites (4 percent).

Recommended Policies:

Nationwide, we are beginning to witness a variety of promising changes and trends in the attitudes and the perception of school personnal and culturally/linguistically diverse parents towards each other. As a nation however, we still need to devote time and effort to promote and develop systemic and effective school-home partnerships between schools and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. What follows is a list of recommended policies and practices.

Mid-Atlantic Center Materials on the Involvement of
Parents of Diverse Cultural and Linguistic Backgrounds

Basterra, M. Overcoming Structural Barriers to Promote Latino Parental Involvement. Paper presented at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association Symposium Empowering Latino Families and Students to Overcome Structural Barriers that Inhibit their Academic Achievement, San Diego, CA, April, 1998. To obtain a copy, contact Charo Basterra at .

Ochoa, A. (in press). "The Involvement of Latino Parents in School-Home Partnerships: Critical Issues." In Mid-Atlantic Equity Center (Ed.), Excellence and Equity for Language Minority Students: Critical Issues and Promising Practices. Chevy Chase, MD: Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, 1998.

Violand-Sanchez, E., Bratt, T., & Briceno, R. (in press). "Building Effective Family-School Partnerships." In Mid-Atlantic Equity Center (Ed.), Excellence and Equity for Language Minority Students: Critical Issues and Promising Practices. Chevy Chase, MD: Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, 1998.

Bibliography & References

Becher, R. M. (1984, January). Parent Involvement: A Review of Research and Principles of Successful Practice. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education.

Bermudez A., & Padron, Y. N. (1987). "Integrating Parental Education Into Teacher Training Programs," Journal of Educational Equity and Leadership, 7(4), 23 5-244.

Bermudez A., & Padron, Y. N. (1988. Winter). "University-School Collaboration That Increases Minority Parent Involvement," Educational Horizons, 66, 83-86.

Bermudez A., & Padron, Y. N. (1989). "Improving Language Skills for Hispanics Students Through Home-School Partnerships," The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students, 6, 33-43.

Chavkin, N. F. (1989, Summer). "Debunking the Myth About Minority Parents," Educational Horizons, 119-123.

Clark, R. M. (1983). Family Life and School Achievement: Why Poor Black Children Succeed or Fail. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cummins, J. (1986). "Empowering Minority Students: A Framework for Intervention,". Harvard Educational Review, 56(1), 18-36.

Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1991, November). "Involving Parents in the Schools: A Process of Empowerment," American Journal of Education, 100(1), 20-46.

Epstein, J. (1990). "School and Family Connections: Theory, Research, and Implications for Integrating Sociologies of Education and Family," In D. G. Unger and M. B. Sussman (Eds.), Families in Community Settings: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (pp.99-126). New York: Haworth Press.

Epstein, J. (1991). "Effects on Student Achievement of Teachers' Practices of Parent Involvement," Advances in Reading/Language Research, 5, 261-276.

Griffith, J., Wade J., & Loeb, C. (1997). An Evaluation of Family-School Partnership Initiatives in Sixteen Elementary Schools. Montgomery County, MD: Department of Educational Accountability, Montgomery County Public Schools.

Henderson, A. T. (1988). "Good News: An Ecologically Balanced Approach to Academic Improvement," Educational Horizons, 66(2), 60-67.

Henderson, R. W., & Garcia. A. B. (1973). "The Effects of a Parent-Training Program on Question Asking Behavior of Mexican-American Children," American Educational Research Journal, 10, 193-201.

Herman, J. L., & Yeh, J. P. (1980). Some Effects of Parent Involvement in Schools. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston.

Levenstein, P. A. (1974). A Message From Home: A Home-Based Intervention Method for Low Income Preschoolers. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 095 992.

Nunez,R. (1994). School, Parents, and Empowerment: An Ethnographic Study of Mexican-Origin Parents' Participation in Their Children `s Schools. Unpublished dissertation. Claremont Graduate School/SDSU Doctoral Program, Claremont, CA.

Oakes, J., & Lipton, M. (1990). Making the Best of Schools: A Handbook for Parents, Teachers and Policymakers. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Schaefer, E. 5. (1972, April). "Parents as Educators: Evidence from Cross-Sectional, Longitudinal, and Intervention Research," Young Children, 27, 227-239.

Schiamberg, L. B., & Chun, C. (1986). The Influence of Family on Educational and Occupational Achievement. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Philadelphia, PA.

Swap, S. (1990, Spring). "Comparing Three Philosophies of Home-School Collaboration," Equity and Choice, 6(3), 9-19.

Villanueva, I. (1996, November). "Change in the Educational Life of Chicano Families Across Three Generations," Education and Urban Society, 29, 13-34.

Walberg, H. (1984). "Families as Partners in Educational Productivity," Phi Delta Kappan, 65, 397-400.

Weikart, D. (1973). Development of Effective Preschool Programs: A Report on the Results of the High/Scope Ypsilanti Preschool Projects. Ypsilanti, MI: High Scope Research Foundation.

Other Organizations and Resources

Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships
John Hopkins University
3505 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MID 21218
Telephone: (410) 516-8807

Family Math Project
Lawrence Hall of Science
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720
Telephone: (510) 642-1823

Harvard Family Research Project
38 Concord Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
Telephone: (617) 496-4304

National Clearinghouse on Bilingual Education
1118 22nd Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037

This document is based on a paper presented by Maria del Rosario Basterra at the American Education Research Association Symposium in San Diego, California, April 1998.