Opinion
Families & the Community Letter to the Editor

Stereotypes of Parents Are Ill-Informed

November 26, 2019 1 min read

To the Editor:

We are disappointed that Education Week has not only featured but prompted commentary on stereotypes of families in its Oct. 16 graphic “Principals, Have You Met These Parents in Your School?,” part of the special report “Inside the Principal-Teacher Relationship.” The piece regurgitates a set of ill-informed categories of parents ranging from those who are “tigers” to those who are “permissive.”

This oversimplification about how families approach their role in their children’s education panders to ugly biases in education. Would Education Week use a similar approach for students, categorizing them based on our superficial beliefs about what they can achieve? As a group of researchers and practitioners with expertise in family-school partnerships, we encourage readers not to be misled by this depiction of parents in your school.

Research by Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp from 2002 shows that how families engage in their child’s education is complex and subject to change over time or depending on their circumstances. Rather than rehashing age-old stereotypes, Education Week would have better served readers by telling them the truth—that what principals and teachers do to invite families’ involvement influences what type of parent they are.

A more constructive commentary could have been started by asking readers to share ways they’ve encouraged family engagement. Educators who treat families as partners—taking the time to get to know them beyond superficial labels—see better results for their students.

Principals and teachers, we urge you to avoid stereotypes and learn more by exploring the “Dual-Capacity Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships (Version 2),” which was authored in 2019 by Karen L. Mapp and Eyal Bergman. This framework provides research-based strategies principals and teachers can use to partner with families in meaningful ways, which will positively impact their students and schools.

Helen Westmoreland

National PTA Center for Family Engagement

Alexandria, Va.

Karen L. Mapp

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Boston, Mass.

Vito Borello

National Association of Family, School, and Community Engagement

Washington, D.C.

Anne T. Henderson

Researcher and Author

Washington, D.C.

Michele Brooks

Transformative Solutions in Education

Boston, Mass.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Stereotypes of Parents Are Ill-Informed

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