ERIC Identifier: ED293973
Publication Date: 1988-03-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Improving the School-Home Connection for Low-Income Urban
Parents. ERIC/CUE Digest Number 41.
The importance of a child's home, and parent participation in school
activities, to learning is undisputed. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the
poor achievement of low-income urban students has often coexisted with a
perceived lack of parent interest in schooling, creating a tendency to lift the
burden of these children's academic failure from the schools by blaming their
parents' lack of involvement in education. In fact, conversely, low-income
parents can and want to help with their children's schooling--both at home and
at school. Thus, teachers and other school staff need reach out to parents in
ways they can respond to, and help them help their children.
THE LOW-INCOME URBAN PARENT
Poverty weighs most heavily on
urban children. Most of these poor urban children live in the growing number of
single parent, female-headed households, where low wages and unemployment make
life an increasing economic battle. Among blacks and Hispanics living in poor
urban neighborhoods, the proportion of female-headed families is particularly
Even when a man is present in the household, families are increasingly
comprised of children with more than one parental relationship. Since many
mothers of school-age children are in the work force, not only stepmothers, but
custodial mothers, and a variety of paid helpers, are all part of the
complicated and imperfect patchwork of childcare.
SCHOOL-BASED ACTIVITIES AND SINGLE AND WORKING
Research suggests that the more parents participate in schooling, in
a sustained way, at every level--in advocacy, decision-making and oversight
roles, as fundraisers and boosters, as volunteers and paraprofessionals, and as
home teachers--the better for student achievement (Gordon, 1978). However, given
the pressures of daily life on urban parents, a number of questions are raised
about whether schools can engage poor, single, or working parents, who may be
busier or have more troubled households that middle-class parents.
Understandably, educators, whose own time and resources are limited, are wary
about expending inefficient effort in generating parent involvement. Yet, school
personnel tend to decide in advance that single and working parents cannot be
approached or relied on (Epstein, 1984, March). Though there may be a vast
distance between parents' worry or concern and their actually reaching out,
single working parents as well as dual working parent families are especially
likely to want more contact and consultation with teachers, and they are as
dissatisfied as the teachers about any loss of contact (The Metropolitan Life
In both dual working parent and single working parent families, parents'
involvement in school activities is usually partly related to the flexibility of
leave policies on their jobs. While most employers are still rigid about the
time and hours they demand of their workers, they can be encouraged to allow
flextime for working parents, and to extend short leaves beyond emergencies, so
that parents can observe their children in the classroom or attend meetings
(Espinosa, R., 1985). Where a corporation employs a large number of parents,
times can actually be arranged with the employer for parent-teacher conferences
and school meetings. These employer-school collaborations humanize the work
place, increasing productivity along with employee morale as they make clear the
employer's commitment to the next generation of workers.
IMPROVING SCHOOL-BASED PARTICIPATION
To generate better
communication between schools and single and working parents, schools can be
encouraged to move in a number of directions (Rich, 1985):
be sensitive to parents' scheduling difficulties, and announce
meetings and other events long enough in advance for parents to
arrange for time off from work;
create a more accepting environment for working and single
parents, as well as those undergoing separation, divorce, or
remarriage, or acting as a custodial parent;
schedule teacher-parent-counselor evening meetings, with
allow open-enrollment so that children can attend schools
near parents' work places;
provide before-school and after-school care;
be careful about canceling school at the last minute because
of weather conditions, and leaving working parents with no
resources for the care of their children;
facilitate teen, single, working, and custodial parent peer
provide both legal and custodial parents with regular
information on their child's classroom activities, and any
assistance they may need to become involved with the child's
HOME-BASED LEARNING AND SINGLE AND WORKING PARENTS
parents' time for school involvement is limited, home-based learning is said to
be one of the most efficient ways for parents to spend their time (Walberg,
1985). Nevertheless, teachers tend to favor parents who come to school, thus
creating a cycle of positive reinforcement leads to gains for those children
whose parents come to school and shuts out parents (and their children) who are
afraid or unable to do so (Toomey, 1986). Home-based learning breaks into this
cycle and helps those who need help the most.
In fact, low-income single and working parents often can and do spend as much
time helping their children at home as do middle-class parents with more
education and leisure (Epstein, 1984, March). As with school-based involvement,
it can be the teachers who hesitate to give these children work to take home,
wrongly fearing that the parents will not be available to help. However, when
teachers reach out to parents, these parents are generally more than willing to
help. More impressive, WHEN TEACHERS HELP PARENTS TO HELP THEIR CHILDREN, these
parents can be as effective with their children as those parents with more
education and leisure, whom teachers expect to help their children (Epstein,
THE BEST WAYS TO HELP CHILDREN AT HOME
Recent research on
parental involvement in home learning differs about how the home and school
should relate. While some researchers emphasize changing what goes on in the low
income or minority home in order to create learning situations that are more
consistent with school learning (Walberg, 1984; Grau, Weinstein, & Walberg,
1983), others focus more on what can be done to increase teachers' understanding
of the "natural" learning that goes on in any low-income home (Brice-Heath,
1983), or even to help these families help "empower" each other (Cochran, 1987).
One author concludes that the "school-to-home pathway...is more likely to be
effective if the two-way nature of the path is explicitly recognized by
educators" (Cole & Griffin, 1987).
A first step in fostering home learning is letting parents know that there
are simple, time-efficient ways to help their children. This can be done in a
variety of ways (Rich, 1985):
bilingual media campaigns on the important role of the home
in educating children;
support for home learning from ministers and other respected
family learning centers in schools, storefronts, and churches
that offer help (bilingual, when necessary) to parents wanting
to help their children learn;
bilingual hot-lines for parents who need help in helping their
children with their homework; and
school-designed learning activities that parents and their
children can do together.
ENHANCED SCHOOLING THROUGH PARENT INVOLVEMENT
projects are critical for many low-income families who do not automatically give
their children the assistance and stimulation necessary for success in school.
Although both schools and parents must be inventive to increase parent
involvement, it is important to keep in mind that every activity a child engages
in can be enriching, and that the time children spend at home with their parents
can be made as educational as the time they spend in school.
Brice Heath, S. (1983). Way with words. New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Cochran, M. (1987, Fall). The parental empowerment process: Building on
family strengths. Equity & Choice, 4 (1), 9-23.
Cole, M., & Griffin, P. (1987). Contextual factors in education:
Improving science and mathematics education for minorities and women. Madison,
WI: University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Center for Educational Research.
Epstein, J. (1984, March). Single parents and the schools: The effect of
marital status on parent and teacher evaluations. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
University, Center for Social Organization of Schools.
Epstein, J.L. (1984, April). Effects of teacher practices of parental
involvement on change in student achievement in reading and math. Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, April 1984. ED 256-863
Espinosa, R. (1985, November 30). Working parents project. Final report
(December 1, 1984-November 30, 1985). Austin, TX: Southwest Educational
Development Lab. ED 266-871
Gordon, I. (1978). What does research say about the effects of parent
involvement on schooling? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Grau, M.E., Weinstein, T., & Walberg, H.J. (1983). School-based home
instruction and learning: A quantitative synthesis, Journal of Educational
Research, 76, 351-360.
The Metropolitan Life Survey. (1987). The American teacher, 1987:
Strengthening links between home and school. New York: Louis Harris and
Rich, D. (1985). The forgotten factor in school success: The family. A
Policymaker's guide. Washington, D.C.: The Home & School Institute, Inc.
Toomey, D. (1986, February). Home-school relations and inequality in
education. School of Education, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
Address given to a Conference on Education and the Family, Brigham Young
Walberg, H.J. Families as partners in educational productivity, Phi Delta
Kappan, 65 (6), 397-400.