Families & the Community

Report Advises Schools on How to Relate to Minority Parents

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 17, 2010 2 min read
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Some parents of minority students may not be inclined to get involved in their children’s schools if they feel the staff make negative assumptions about them and aren’t interested in their cultural background, a report released today by the National Education Association and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund says.

The report, “Minority Parent and Community Engagement: Best Practices and Policy Recommendations for Closing the Gaps in Student Achievement,” spells out how educators can improve their relationships with parents of several different minority groups, including Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans. Among them are to investigate and give serious attention to complaints from minority parents or students, and to be aware of staff who may be making inappropriate statements about a person’s race or ethnicity or legal status. When schools provide interpretation and translation services to parents, they shouldn’t assume that parents understand educational terminology, the report advises. Parents may need some extra explanations of education jargon.

For each minority group, the report lists the activities of organizations that support parents in that group to learn more about education. A parent program run by ASPIRA, Inc., for example, has a 10-session curriculum for Latino parents on topics such as leadership skills and school structure. The Parent Institute for Quality Education runs classes, taught in 16 different languages by people who are members of the communities they serve, about how parents can create a positive educational environment for their children at home and also connect better with schools.

Earlier this week, the Center on Education Policy released a report that showed that in some states it could take decades to close some of the achievement gaps between whites and some minority groups, at the rate they are going. The report estimated, for example, that it will take 105 years for Washington State to close the achievement gap between white students and African-American students, if progress to narrow the gap continues at the same rate in that state that has been the case recently.

The report showed that overall states are succeeding in narrowing the gap between whites and Latinos at a faster past than they are for closing it between whites and African-Americans or whites and Native Americans. You can learn more about the report in my story for EdWeek, “Study: States Must Move Faster to Close Achievement Gaps.”

The issue of the importance of parent engagement in schools came up in a web chat hosted by EdWeek yesterday with Juan Sepúlveda, the director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

“We know from speaking to thousands of people across the country that one crucial issue for our families is just understanding the overall education system and how families can navigate the entire process,” Sepúlveda said, noting that only 13 percent of the Latino population has a college degree. He added that “for most of our [Latino] families there is no set of experiences on how to deal with the education system, particularly in relationship to going to college.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.