By Marc H. Morial
“Every parent wants their child to achieve, thrive and succeed. Too often though, negative perceptions of children of color and their parents can influence the ability of parents and children to get the supports they need.”
– Chanelle P. Hardy, Executive Director, National Urban League Washington Bureau
In recent years, the debate about ways to close the achievement gap and adequately prepare primary and secondary African American students for success has focused on such remedies as ensuring resource equity, expanding pre-school opportunities, and raising teacher quality. While all of these are necessary, one area that is often overlooked is the importance of parental involvement.
No one disputes the fact that children are more likely to perform better, graduate from high school and be better prepared for college and the world of work when their parents are actively involved, both at home and at school, in their education. But for many low-income African American parents who may be single and struggling to make ends meet, finding the time and energy to help with homework, volunteer at school and communicate regularly with teachers, can be especially challenging. They need help. And schools and districts that serve low-income students and students of color must do more to overcome greater barriers to effectively engaging parents. These and other findings are revealed in a new National Urban League survey, “Engaged to Achieve: A Community Perspective on How Parents are Engaged in Their Children’s Education.”
The survey solicited the views and opinions of K-12 teachers, school administrators and volunteers in communities across the country about their perceived differences in parental awareness, parental involvement and opportunities for student achievement and success based on race and economic background.
A joint effort of the National Urban League Washington Bureau and the National Voices Project with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the study shows that when there was a difference in how parents were perceived, African-American parents were more commonly perceived as being less aware and less involved in their children’s education than white parents. Report authors suggest that when these perceived disparities are not addressed constructively, they may affect the type and depth of parent engagement efforts directed to low-income parents and parents of color. Other key findings include:
- African American parents’ engagement in their children’s education was felt to be more reactive than proactive, i.e. confronting perceived racial bias or addressing discipline issues. Parents who resided in communities where efforts were made to address racial disparities were nearly twice as likely (82 percent vs. 45percent) to report they felt more aware of their child’s academic progress than parents in communities where no such efforts were made.
- Though most respondents felt that students and parents typically understand the connection between education and economic opportunity, they felt that race and income played a significant role in students’ access to the experiences that help to promote success. The survey suggests ways to bridge some of the gaps in parent engagement, including:
- Educational requirements should be clear and easy to understand for all parents, regardless of their educational background.
- Parents must be regularly updated about their children’s academic performance in a manner that provides clarity about how students are meeting, or not meeting, specific requirements.
- Efforts to engage parents must take into account practical barriers to entry that parents may face and tailor such efforts accordingly.
- In communities where racial and ethnic disparities are pervasive, there must be targeted investments and customized approaches to improving parent engagement.
For more information on Engage to Achieve, visit:
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.