Background: Much discussion and debate has surrounded the role that low-income minority parents can play in their children’s education. Research focusing on parents’ roles has stressed parents’ sense of self-efficacy, cultural background, socio-economic factors, and the context of school to explain not only what motivates parents to become involved in their children’s education, but also how, why, and in whose interests. However, few researchers have examined parents’ roles in the context of race and a changing political economy or the less visible roles that parents’ play in fostering their children’s intellectual and emotional growth.
Purpose: This research examined the roles parents constructed for themselves in their children’s education and the assets they brought to bear to support their children at home, at school, and in the community. This study also focused on the extent to which their roles changed over time through interacting with their children, other parents, and educators in parent involvement workshops.
Participants: 11 parents participated in the study. Of these 11 parents, 7 were females and 4 were males. Their average age was 36. Three had completed high school, two had passed their GED equivalency exams, and two had completed college. One parent was Caucasian, one Latino, and nine were African American.
Research Design: Qualitative methods were used to examine parents’ legacies of schooling, the ways parents were involved in their children’s education, and the challenges parents faced in their efforts to support their children. All data from interviews and focus groups were transcribed and analyzed to address the central questions motivating the study. Identifying categories of parent roles was an evolving and iterative process based on grounded theory and guided by prior research.
Findings: Findings revealed that parents supported their children’s emotional well-being at a time when their children were perhaps most vulnerable. They worked patiently with their children when instruction in school outpaced their children’s levels of understanding, when teachers did not provide clear instructions for completing homework assignments, and when parents needed to find programs well suited to their children’s education.
Conclusion/Recommendations: Listening to parents’ voices helps us see the extent to which what matters most to families is often not visible to educators. Parents did not limit their involvement to supporting their children’s performance on standardized test scores, but adopted a broad conception of education. Therefore, it is important that educators understand more fully who parents are, what parents are already doing to support their children, and develop models of parent involvement that are reciprocal and collaborative.