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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.


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 high.

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.


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 Survey, 1987).

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.


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

support groups;

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



When 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, 1984, April).


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 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.


Home-learning 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.

--Carol Ascher


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 Associates, Inc.

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 University.

Walberg, H.J. Families as partners in educational productivity, Phi Delta Kappan, 65 (6), 397-400.


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