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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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This issue's Promising Practices section highlights how a range of school-, district-, and state-level efforts incorporate the three components of HFRP's family involvement frameworks: Family involvement a) matters across ages but changes over time, b) occurs in many different settings, and c) should be coconstructed by families and professionals. 

Melissa Marschall’s study on Latino parents’ participation in school governance underscores this issue’s theme of the importance of coconstructing family involvement.

After four decades of large-scale U.S. immigration, Latino children currently account for one in six school-aged children. In 2000, they comprised 41% of students in the ten largest public school districts. Due to language barriers, visa and other immigration problems, and high rates of poverty, parents of these children tend to face greater challenges when it comes to their children’s schooling and education.1 These challenges are often compounded by the fact that schools are not equipped to serve them,2  as indicated by the educational outcomes of Latino students. Although their schooling outcomes have improved over the last 30 years, Latinos continue to score lower on standardized tests and drop out more frequently than their Anglo and African American peers.3 The lack of cooperation among schools, parents, and communities is partly responsible for this low academic achievement.4

What can be done to foster stronger ties between schools and Latino parents in order to improve schooling outcomes for Latino students? I investigated this question in a study5  focusing specifically on the Chicago Public School (CPS) system and schools serving predominantly Latino students.

Decentralized Governance and Latino Political Incorporation
The Mayor of Chicago has held formal control of CPS since 1995. However, decentralized governing structures—established through earlier school reform efforts—still exist. These structures continue to facilitate parent involvement and the political incorporation of noncitizens and immigrants. Specifically, a 1988 school reform bill established local democratic control and school-based management in all elementary and secondary schools in the form of Local School Councils (LSC), comprised of parents and community members. LSCs have the authority to enact school improvement plans, adopt school budgets, and evaluate principals. Importantly, U.S. citizenship is not required to run or vote in LSC elections.

No study had looked explicitly at the link between LSCs and parent involvement. But anecdotal evidence suggested that Chicago’s decentralization has led to the institutionalization of resources for immigrant parents. One example is the Bilingual Parent Resource Center, which offers workshops on self-development, at-home learning, and family literacy. Another is the Parent Training Unit, which provides training and technical support to Local Bilingual Advisory Committees, which, in turn, advise school principals and LSCs about bilingual program services.6  Given these and other structures, Chicago schools ought to be well positioned to engage in effective outreach to Latino parents. My study investigated whether this was indeed the case.

Fostering Outreach and Involvement
I utilized survey data collected by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, data on Latino LSC membership, and school-level demographic information to investigate how organizational aspects of schools, governance and representation, and school demographics influence schools’ parental engagement policies and practices. The statistical analysis examined survey items that tapped into teachers’ cultural and community awareness and school-initiated efforts to involve parents.

Based on a sample of 160 schools enrolling above-average percentages of Latinos in 2003 (greater than 30.4% of the total student population), I found that higher levels of Latino representation on LSCs were associated with greater teacher awareness of students’ cultural and community issues and with greater school efforts to forge strong parent–school relations. It was not simply the degree of Latino representation on LSCs that contributed to greater teacher awareness and outreach. Rather, the direct efforts and activities of LSC members to engage other parents were what made the difference. In schools where LSCs actively contributed to improving parent involvement and community relations, parents were significantly more involved in their children’s schooling, and teachers thus became more aware of and more likely to reach out to them.

Findings from my study demonstrate that governing arrangements and Latino political incorporation play a critical role in building school outreach to parents, stronger school–parent relations, and higher levels of parental involvement. It appears that LSCs with Latino representation and/or LSCs that actively contributed to parent involvement were better able to help school personnel break down cultural barriers, increase awareness of cultural and community issues, and facilitate school initiated outreach. By encouraging schools to reach out to Latino families, such cooperation may better equip schools to serve Latino students and reduce achievement gaps. While there is still much work to be done, this research provides initial insights about how to promote relationships between schools and Latino parents and to improve the educational prospects of Latino students.

1 Gibson, M. A. (2002). The new Latino diaspora and educational policy. In S. Wortham, E.G. Murillo, & E.T. Hamann (Eds.), Education in the New Latino Diaspora: Policy and the Politics of Identity. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing.

2 Fuller, B., Eggers-Pierola, C., Holloway, S. D., Liang, X., & Rambaud, M. F. (1996). Rich culture, poor markets: Why do Latino parents forgo preschooling? Teachers College Record, 97, 400–418.

3 National Center for Education Statistics. (2002). Status and trends in the education of Hispanics. Washington DC: Author.

4 Scribner, J. D., Young, M. D., & Pedroza, A. (1999). Building collaborative relationships with parents. In P. Reyes, J. D. Scribner, & A. Paredes (Eds). Lessons from High Performing Hispanic Schools: Creating Learning Communities (pp. 36–60). New York: Teachers College Press.

5 Marschall, M. J. (2006). Parent involvement and educational outcomes for Latino students. Review of Policy Research, 23(5), 1053–1076.

6 Spaulding, S., Carolino, B., & Amen, K. A. (2004). Immigrant students and secondary school reform: Compendium of best practices. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers; Chicago Public Schools Policy Manual. (2002). Bilingual education policy, Board Report 02-1023-PO01. Available at

Melissa Marschall, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Rice University
Department of Political Science

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