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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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About Family Involvement Research Digests

Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP.  For help citing this article, click here.


Traditional ways of teaching in teacher preparation programs are not adequately preparing most teachers to deal effectively with diversity. According to a national staffing survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 54% of all teachers said they taught culturally diverse students, but only 20% felt very well prepared to meet their needs (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). This study sought to explore alternatives in teaching preservice teachers about diversity by using parent perspectives about the knowledge and attitudes teachers need to acquire.

Research Background

The premise of this paper is that parents of minority children are untapped sources of knowledge and guidance about teaching teachers. Minority parents are uniquely qualified experts on their own children and their own socio-cultural context. However, teacher preparation programs hardly ever consider their perspectives in the development of curriculum and preservice experiences. Even though researchers in education, sociology, and anthropology acknowledge that the involvement of parents in their children's education is important to children's academic success (Bermudez & Marquez, 1996; Epstein, 1985; Epstein & Dauber, 1991; Rioux & Berla, 1993; Valdez, 1996), professionals do not generally accept that parents have something to contribute to the education of teachers.

In order to explore what minority parents, specifically Latino parents, have to contribute to the preparation of teachers and how their knowledge can be integrated into teacher preparation, the author conducted the following study in 2000–2001 in a predominantly Mexican American school district in the Southwest.

The basic research question was: What do Latino parents think preservice teachers should know in order to teach their children more effectively? The purpose was to find information that could be used to improve teacher preparation programs to better prepare teachers for Latino students.

Research Method

Because the research question related to preparation of teachers, the author selected parents who were involved in a nationally funded mathematics awareness project that gave them opportunities to observe teachers working with their children and to consider what teachers should know about their children to be effective teachers. Membership in the Latino community and parents' work and observations in classrooms informed their perspectives. Parents did not necessarily represent “typical” Latino parents in the district because they were more closely involved with teachers and classrooms than most.

Thirty-four parents participated in seven focus group interviews conducted with a protocol of open-ended questions asking about experiences with teachers and what preservice teachers need to know about their children and how to work with them. The protocol also solicited their comments about a perception commonly held by educators that Latino parents do not value education and schooling.

The author used the same interview protocol in all focus group sessions, which were conducted in English and/or Spanish, with the parents having the choice of language. Audiotapes and transcriptions of responses to each question were analyzed within each group interview and across interviews. Data were analyzed for themes and were organized and coded for implications for teacher preparation.

Research Findings

Themes fell into two main categories: first, parents believed that preservice teachers need to learn about Latino neighborhood culture and language, and second, that preservice teachers should learn and value children's individual personalities and differences.

Significantly, parents considered that teachers need to know about their community, about the local context, not about Latino populations in general or even about Mexican American culture and/or history. They expressed frustration and sometimes anger at the perception that teachers were afraid to work in their neighborhood communities. Related to the second theme, parents knew their children as learners, recognized their strengths and weaknesses, and wanted teachers to look to them for that kind of insight about their children.

A third theme emerged in the descriptions of experiences with teachers and in response to the question about Latino parents' caring about education. Parents were emphatic in saying Latinos did care about education. They explained that some parents, especially immigrants, did not know enough about the educational system to participate, had to work long hours, or sometimes were just children themselves and could not cope with schools' expectations. Parents identified low expectations in the way teachers talked about mediocre grades being good enough for children in this district, in the lack of concern about talking with parents at the secondary level, and in the general lack of encouragement for students to go on to higher education. Although they complimented some individual teachers, overall they worried that many teachers did not want to be in their district and did not see their children as achievers.

Implications for Teacher Education and Professional Development

The study suggests the need to change the content and field experiences of teacher education programs and to address the beliefs of preservice teachers about Latino families.

A shortcoming of multicultural texts and courses is that they are often disconnected from preservice teachers' reality. The “multicultural course requirement” in most teacher preparation programs deals with characteristics, values, beliefs, and behaviors of major cultural groups in a global way. Instead of a general course in multicultural education or even on Latino populations, a focus on how to learn about the local school community might be more useful to preservice teachers.

Field experiences can also contribute to understanding the local community, but field placements in minority schools are not enough. Follow-up discussion and reflection with parents in the community should be an integral part of the field experience. Latino parents, particularly parent leaders as in this study, could be bridges between their children and preservice teachers if invited to be adjunct instructors in teacher preparation programs. As well, preservice teachers should spend part of their experience in the neighborhood itself, beyond the school walls, not giving service to the community, but from the perspective of learning from the community.

When teachers believe that Latino parents don't care about their children's education, they are not likely to feel accountable to the Latino parents. Believing that Latino parents don't care about education gives teachers an excuse for not working harder to ensure that all children are learning. The chronic underachievement of Latino students can thus be attributed to parents instead of the schools, and in fact, often is. Low expectations are a problem in educating Latino children and nothing will change unless the beliefs of preservice teachers are addressed directly in teacher preparation.


Bermudez, A. B., & Marquez, J. A. (1996). An examination of a four-way collaborative to increase parental involvement in the schools. The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students, 16, 1–16.

Epstein, J. L. (1985). Effects of teacher practices of parent involvement on change in students' achievement in reading and math. Baltimore, MD: Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University.

Epstein, J. L., & Dauber, S. L., (1991). School programs and teacher practices of parent involvement in inner city elementary and middle schools. Elementary School Journal, 91(3), 269–305.

Rioux, W., & Berla, N. (1993). Innovations in parent and family involvement. Princeton Junction, NJ: Eye on Education.

Sleeter, C. E. (2001). Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(2), 94–106.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (1999). Teacher quality: A report on the preparation and qualifications of public school teachers. Washington, DC: Author.

Valdez, G. (1996). Con respeto. New York: Teachers College Press.

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