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Closing the Distance Between Home and School

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In the following excerpts from Within Our Reach, Lisbeth B. Schorr suggests that schools can improve disadvantaged children's chances for success by helping their parents learn ways to support education in the home:

All children learn best when parents and teachers share similar visions, when there is a "sense of constancy" between home and school, says the discerning sociologist of education, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot. ...

Urbanization and increased mobility, greater family stress, and the sapping of family authority by television have all widened the distance between home and school. That distance is of course greater still for children whose class, race, education, and family income differ most from those of the school staff.

When the social network and style of the school are too dissonant from home and neighborhood, and the parents' alienation from the school is communicated to the children, the perception that school is the enemy can effectively destroy the chances that a child will learn.

Parents are not willing accomplices in this process. Poor and minority parents often have an especially high--even passionate--regard for education, and view it as the most promising means to improve their children's futures. ...

But parents often need help in translating their yearning for their children's achievement into useful action. ...

In one study, children in four inner-city London primary schools were asked to take their readers home three or four nights a week, and parents were asked to listen to them read aloud. Over a period of two years, not only did the children's reading improve significantly more than that of a comparison group--even in families where parents could not read or spoke little English--but the experimental group also behaved better and showed "an increased keenness for learning" at school. ...

There is clear evidence that family concern for education can become practical support for children and for schools, that low educational attainment of a parent need not be a barrier to the parent's providing effective support, and that the more far-reaching the parental involvement--the more roles there are in a school for parents to play--the more effective it will be.


Copyright 1988 by Lisbeth Bamberger Schorr. With permission of the publisher.

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