Fixing the Miseducation of Black Children

Show Me the Numbers: Black students need parent-school partnerships. Here's how to build those bridges.

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Generic image (Thinkstock)

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Research from 2009 found three distinct categories of parental involvement that had an impact on children’s academic success: 1) academic socialization (socialization around the goals and purposes of education and strategies for success), 2) school-based involvement (volunteering at school) and 3) home-based involvement (helping with homework). Many are surprised to learn that among the three, academic socialization has the strongest relationship with academic success, and home-based involvement ranks last.

When I analyzed data from Health Behaviours in School-Aged Children for my first “Breaking Barriers” (pdf) report, the strongest parenting indicators of academic success were holistic factors, including parents who often told children they were proud of them and parents who let students know when they did a good job. Interestingly, restricting children’s behavior, such as the amount of time they spend with friends or watch TV, did not produce significant effects on grades.

In a nutshell, parents who frequently express love and esteem for their children produced better scholars than parents who place a premium on discipline. In addition, parents who help their kids with school-related problems, are comfortable talking to teachers, encourage their children to do well in school and maintain high expectations have higher-performing children.

What Do Black Parents Need From Schools?

Schools should avoid placing unfair and unfounded judgments on race and household configurations. In a recent research study (pdf), Howard University doctoral student Brianna Lemmons and I found that beyond race and household composition, many socio-demographic variables influence parents’ participation in school. Parents who live in urban areas and unsafe neighborhoods and have young children in the home participate in school less often. In addition, parents participate in school less frequently when they have children with learning disorders, speak English as a second language, have low expectations for their children’s future and receive less communication from the school.

All of these factors have a stronger statistical relationship to children’s academic performance than household composition; however, these factors should not be used to stigmatize parents. Rather, they can be used to assess the needs of parents and provide the appropriate school-level resources.

My analysis of the National Household Education Surveys Program‘s Parent and Family Involvement Survey found that schools have distinct ways of communicating with parents across race. Parents of black children are significantly more likely to receive incidental phone calls from the school, while parents of white children are more likely to receive regular newsletters and memos. Parents of black children were also significantly more likely to have schools contact them to complain about their children’s behavior or academic performance. These patterns create festering tensions with black parents and reduce their motivation to participate in the school.