Category Archives: Equity

“I’d Better Bring Home An A”: The Power Of Parent Expectations

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

It’s the beginning of the school year, and I’m already behind on my assignments — that is, the flurry of forms to fill out, orientations to attend, and Back-to-School nights to add to the calendar. As an education researcher, I applaud all the efforts to engage me in what’s going on at school — and I love hearing about what my kids are learning — but as a working parent of a middle schooler and a high schooler, I admit I groan a little trying to fit it all in.

Often, parent involvement gets framed as caregivers’ level of interaction with the school — coming to school events and volunteering with the PTA, for example. While such activities may present minor scheduling headaches for me, many caregivers face much bigger obstacles, including lack of childcare, language barriers, or working multiple jobs. Framing engagement around school-based activities can lead to the assumption that the parents who don’t appear, especially low-income parents, are apathetic about their children’s education.

But that assumption is off the mark. A parent or guardian can have a powerful impact on a child’s achievement even if they never set foot in the school. A 2013 meta-synthesis of research on parental involvement drives this point home: out of a wide variety of types of involvement explored in many different studies, parents’ expectations for academic achievement had the strongest impact on students’ academic performance.

A student I met once in a focus group at a large city high school made this point even more succinctly. When asked her thoughts on parent involvement during high school, she said emphatically: “My mom is working in another city right now, so she’s not at home. But I know I better bring home an A, or else!” Even though they were physically separated, her mother’s expectations for high achievement were a very real motivating factor.

Ultimately, a central goal of family engagement is to increase the alignment between home and school in support of each child’s education. One way to do that is by inviting caregivers to the school, but there are many other ways to provide families with the tools they need to champion learning at home. For school leaders and policymakers seeking to engage a wider range of families, below are several examples of strategies that empower parents and guardians to reinforce high expectations for academic achievement, even if they are not able to physically come to the school. Continue reading

Assets, Not Barriers: 5 Ways Teachers Can Connect With and Empower Families Across Language Barriers

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

We know that parent engagement makes a difference. Students whose family members are involved in their education, regardless of their background or income, have better attendance, higher grades, and more rigorous course schedules.

But what if a language barrier keeps schools from fully connecting with parents and families?  English Language Learners are the fastest growing segment of the student population — in 2014, 11.8 million students spoke a language other than English at home. It’s imperative for schools and teachers to collaborate in support of students and families across languages. Not only that, but embracing and encouraging multiple languages and cultures (in the classroom) can be an educational asset. In order to get there, teachers must be willing to engage.

Christian Martínez-Canchola, photo via author

I spoke with my friend and former colleague, Christian Martínez-Canchola, about the best strategies teachers can employ to connect across language barriers. Christian currently serves as the Primary Years Programme Dean at Uplift Grand Preparatory in Dallas, Texas. As a classroom teacher, Christian led her bilingual students to outstanding outcomes — they consistently outperformed district averages by 30-point margins on district, state, and national assessments.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, Christian suggests five ways teachers — regardless of their language abilities — can engage multilingual families and communities in a partnership for student success:

  1. Establish trust: Speaking in a language you aren’t comfortable with is a vulnerable experience; building a trusting relationship with students and families should be one of a teacher’s first priorities. To foster this, Christian is a proponent of starting the year off with a bilingual parent survey. The outreach effort signals immediate investment to parents, and allows teachers an early look into their students’ lives. Questions range from basic contact information, to more personal inquiries. “I ask parents to describe their child’s strengths, their weaknesses, what they want to be when they grow up,” says Christian. “These are the people who know their children best.”
  2. Listen and then act: It can be easy for teachers and school staff to make well-intentioned assumptions even without a language barrier — when communication is challenging, the danger for misdiagnosis intensifies. Make conscious contact with parents and community members to identify needs.“There are always parents talking to one another. Leverage conversations with those key stakeholders — you may think parents would benefit most from a car seat drive, but in reality, they may need assistance calling the electric company or accessing dental care instead.”
  3. Redefine what engagement looks like: A narrow definition of family engagement can lead otherwise interested parents to count themselves out. Says Christian, “the parents who typically volunteer in classrooms can afford the time. For most parents though, that’s a privilege. I found that there was this misconception that parents had to physically be in the school to help, when that wasn’t the case at all.” Family members, regardless of language, can assist teachers in other ways. Classroom support can happen at home, from cutting out math manipulatives to assembling packets and leveled books. Christian adds: “Parents want to be involved. Even something small, like sending home classroom materials to be cut out, allows them to have a role in the success of their kids.”
  4. Prioritize intentionality and structure: Home visits and back-to-school nights can provide opportunities to establish trust and build partnerships. At the same time, Christian stresses the importance of planning these interactions and of not allowing them to be too ad-hoc. “If they’re intentional, [home visits] can be really impactful, but they lose all power when flimsily done,” she says. “I like when they’re structured, when schools or even outside agencies provide [teachers with] training on their actual impact and the logistical needs a bilingual home visit requires.”
  5. Empower teachers with existing resources: Districts and school leaders can connect their teaching staff with free and low-cost tools to make translation easier. Many large districts, including District of Columbia Public Schools, New York City Department of Education, and Dallas Independent School District, have translation hotlines, where teachers can reach interpreters and teams dedicated to translating documents. In addition, the Google Translate app has text translation for over 100 languages, and can translate bilingual conversations for 32 others. While not a true replacement for face-to-face translation, these tools can serve as a point of entry.


Christian’s work is fueled by a fervent desire to exemplify the strength and power of her students and their families. As one of the few Latinx and bilingual school leaders in her network, Christian says she is passionate about building a pipeline of educators who both reflect the communities that they serve and driving transformational, sustainable change. We can borrow lessons from her work empowering teachers to connect across lines of differences in the pursuit of positive outcomes for all children.

Silenced But Not Complacent: Limited English Proficient Parents

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

Parents and advocates at the June 2016 Fresno AAPI stakeholder engagement session. Photo courtesy of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.

Plenty of research demonstrates improved student outcomes from robust parent engagement, yet not enough has been done to make sure that limited English proficient (LEP) parents are engaged.

In June 2016, I helped coordinate a series of stakeholder engagement sessions for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) parents and advocates in Sacramento, Fresno, and Long Beach, CA. I was a Civil Rights Fellow at OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates working on K-12 education issues, and the sessions were designed to allow parents and advocates to tell state and local education agency officials their major concerns around engaging with teachers and schools.

Many of the people we spoke to were limited English Proficient (LEP). In fact, there are an estimated 4.6 million students in the U.S. who are LEP. Among the 8.3 million Americans aged five or older who speak an Asian or Pacific Island language, approximately one in three are LEP. Coupled with difficulties in communicating and engaging with schools, the LEP population is less educated and more likely to live in poverty.

Attendees of the stakeholder engagement sessions identified with refugee backgrounds, were low-income, and spoke a variety of different languages at home, including Khmer (Cambodian), Hmong, and Vietnamese. Here’s what we learned:

When local leaders do not reflect the communities they serve, they may overlook specific language needs. In Long Beach, CA, the school board was unaware of the need for language interpreters in Khmer (Cambodian), and as a result, Khmer-speaking parents were unable to effectively engage with teachers and schools. School robo-calls and important paperwork sent home with students were only available in English or Spanish. These barriers persisted due to lack of diversity and representation on school boards and other levels of school leadership.

Community liaisons are important resources, but they are not prioritized in district budgets. Community liaisons can act as a bridge between schools and LEP parents. Liaisons assist students, staff, teachers, and community members by providing and conveying important information on school resources and programs while also gathering input to address student and parent needs. For immigrant families, community liaisons provide culturally competent services, and may also act as translators. However, at these stakeholder convenings, parents expressed that the number of community liaisons had been downsized due to budget cuts, leaving the district with only 2-3 liaisons. As a result, LEP parents had limited access to the information schools provided.

Limited translated materials make it nearly impossible to navigate the college application process. When the time comes for students to transition to higher education, LEP parents are limited in their ability to help with the college application process, much less to navigate the complex systems of financial aid. Currently, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has only been translated into Spanish, preventing a number of first-generation students from successfully completing the application and receiving federal financial aid.

Immigrant students are legally entitled to equal educational opportunities, but failing to provide the translation and interpretation services shuts students and their families out from those opportunities. As a result, the cycle of exclusion from resources and services vital to student success continues, leading first-generation immigrant students to face higher barriers to entry when pursuing higher education. Furthermore, when such language and cultural obstacles exist, parental engagement tends to become focused on resolving the issues students experience rather than preventing these issues from occurring in the first place.

The number of parents and students affected by poor LEP parental engagement are significant, yet there are not a lot of schools that actively address these barriers. Schools and teachers looking to meaningfully engage with LEP parents can consult the U.S. Department of Education’s English Learner Toolkit and Teaching Tolerance.

In Light of DACA Repeal, What Can Educators Do Now?

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peoplesworld/6649238679/in/photolist-b8z61c-4RQmyt-9Cyku1-9CvmU4-datE3o-dEusfL-buDiFk-4FQ457-4FQjJw-c1eLxL-hCp4i-8V26FA-c1ELVw-d9GmjA-kW5Dg-H3zvXa-d9Gm7K-hCoTs-8xVpix-v2QfRK-RxuMq5-c1ELJq-hCoKv-8xVqaD-natkW8-8xYrrs-hCopC-8xYr4L-9MyCEe-aDbMLz-dA61aW-4Ro7WA-d9Uw88-c1EMUQ-buDd7Z-bAHAhP-bNkhN8-9Cvr14-bQCmSK-buDigr-8xcrkt-buDfRD-pPPJ8L-bzqvx7-4FKUST-buDmhP-8LHuxQ-buDhTg-d9UuaV-hCr29

An Immigrant Youth Justice League rally in 2011. Photo via Flickr user peoplesworld.

Having immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at four years old, I know firsthand the difficult decision my parents made to leave behind the country they called home in search of opportunity for my family. Although I have family abroad, this country is the only place I know as home.

Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were brought to the U.S. as young children by parents who made the courageous decision to leave the only home they knew, often due to danger, conflict, poverty, or a lack of opportunity. While my immigration story is different, I can’t help but feel connected to the 800,000 DACA recipients whose only chance of hope and a future in this country was abruptly taken away from them this week.

In the wake of DACA repeal, I sought advice from Mayura Iyer, a Teach For America corps member teaching in Dallas, TX. Mayura’s main priority is to control the one thing she can in this moment – to make her immigrant students feel as safe and welcome as possible in her classroom. Every educator has this opportunity and responsibility, and below are some resources and suggestions Mayura offered to continue supporting immigrant students in her classroom:

Make sure students and their parents know their rights. Provide students with materials they can share with parents, particularly in-language translated materials, such as those from Remezcla and Here to Stay. Have these materials readily available in the classroom to allow the students to pick up on their own time – if and when they’re ready.

In addition, it’s important to clarify any misconceptions and myths that students hear on a daily basis. For instance, many undocumented families may fear that immigration authorities are present in schools and that undocumented students may be vulnerable to deportation at school. Clarify your school or district’s policy to protect immigrant students (see, for example, the National Education Association’s “Safe Zones” resolutions policies or Virginia’s guidance regarding school division responsibilities and actions in reference to students and immigration) and ensure students and parents know that school is a safe environment for them.

Uplift and value the experiences of immigrants and students of color. Celeste Hayes’ “How to Decolonize a Classroom” addresses the whitewashing of narratives about people of color in history. Teachers can actively uplift the stories and voices of immigrants and people of color by being intentional about the historical figures they post on their classroom walls or the projects they assign to their students.

Incorporate cultural competency in lessons. Teach Tolerance offers a number of instructional resources on diversity, identity, and social justice that teachers can use to help facilitate difficult conversations on topics such as race, immigration, and inclusion. No matter how difficult, these discussions are vital to creating a welcoming environment for all students, particularly during these uncertain times. While conversations about immigration and inclusion may seem most relevant to classrooms with large immigrant populations or students of color, it is equally if not more important to make sure these conversations take place in schools with small minority populations. Students take these discussions outside of the classroom and to their homes, and if we’re trying to make our country a more immigrant-friendly place, then teachers must make a conscious effort to create such environments in their classrooms.

DACA recipients are among our students, teachers, friends, and neighbors, all of whom are inextricably woven into the fabric of America. Repealing this executive order, with no guarantee from Congress that timely legislation will pass before it expires, is irresponsible and inhumane. In the meantime, educators play an important role in ensuring that immigrant students feel like they belong in the classroom — and in this country.

3 Reasons Why Teacher Pensions Are Critical to School Funding Equity

Money spent on public teacher pensions is often left out of analyses of school finance equity. Rather than a being seen as an issue affecting students’ education, pensions are often viewed as a budgetary dilemma for state legislators. Yet, both of these approaches overlook the effect pension spending can have on increasing the funding gap between schools based on students’ race.

Last week I released a new report, “Illinois’ Teacher Pension Plans Deepen School Funding Inequities,” that shows just how much pension spending in Illinois affects the state’s finance equity. The results are startling and reveal that teacher pensions are yet another example of how states and districts underinvest in the education of low-income students, and the educations of black and Hispanic students.

Here are three key reasons why teacher pensions should be thought of as a key part of the push to ensure educational equity:

  1. Class-based gaps grow by more than 200 percent after accounting for pension spending. Teacher salaries comprise the lion’s share (roughly 80 percent) of school expenditures. And, unfortunately, the most experienced and highest paid teachers are unevenly distributed across schools. In Illinois the salary gap between the schools serving the highest and lowest concentrations of low-income students is on average around $550 per pupil. After factoring in pensions, however, the disparity jumps to over $1,200 per student.
  2. Race-based gaps increase by more than 250 percent after accounting for pension spending. In Illinois, the average teacher salary-based gap is $375 between schools serving predominantly white students and those serving predominantly nonwhite students. But after accounting for money spent on teacher pensions, the inequity increases to nearly $950 per pupil.
  3. States are investing more money in their pensions (because they’re in significant debt), and that will widen the gaps even further. From an educational equity point of view, the Illinois pension system is the problem. Since pensions are paid as a percentage of teachers’ salaries, which are unevenly distributed across the state, funneling more money into the system may help to decrease unfunded liabilities, but it also will result in even larger funding disparities.

Illinois is widely considered to operate one of, if not the most, inequitable school finance systems in the country. Yet, many prior analyses underestimated the problem because they have not always included money spent on teacher pensions. This problem is not unique to Illinois. On the contrary, pensions will increase funding disparities in any state with an uneven distribution of teachers. The effect will likely be greater and more closely resemble Illinois in states, such as Missouri and New York, where large urban cities operate separate pension funds.

There are a couple of steps states can take to mitigate the increase in education funding disparities due to pension spending. Those states with more than one retirement system should consider folding the district plans into the state fund. The state has greater resources and almost always contributes to the pension fund at a higher rate. This would ensure that schools in the district — which disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color — receive pension payments at the same rate as other schools.

As it stands now, low-income students and students of color receive far less than their fair share in school funding. To change that, states must address the structure of their teacher pension systems as well as their school funding formulas. Teacher pensions are a key feature in the broader education equity debate.