Background/Context: Faced with rapidly changing demographics, districts are increasingly looking to partner with parents to support and improve student learning. Community organizing holds promise for pursuing educational equity through the development of low-income parent participation and leadership, but previous research has focused primarily on the use of structural social capital theory in qualitative studies to understand school-based organizing mechanisms and impacts in traditional urban centers.
Focus of Study: The aim of this study was to examine whether district-level organizing efforts might be associated with improved parent-school relations in schools and how such efforts to build a new relationship may be enacted and negotiated at the school level within the context of a district-organizing group collaboration in a “new immigrant” destination.
Research Design: This mixed-methods sequential explanatory study used social capital and the concept of institutional scripts to quantitatively investigate the relationship between Latino parent organizing and parent-school relations across a district, then qualitatively explore the dynamics of parent-school social capital in a nested case study of one school.
Data Collection and Analysis: Using teacher-survey data from a stratified random sample of teachers in schools across the district, I fit multilevel regression models to examine whether schools with more organizing engagement had greater structural and functional parent-school social capital. I subsequently analyzed interview, observation, and document data to examine how organizing efforts sought to build positive parent-school relations at an elementary school that represented a key focal point for the district-organizing group collaboration.
Findings/Results: Schools with high organizing had greater structural social capital than schools with little or no organizing, but high organizing schools did not have greater functional social capital in the form of teacher-parent trust. The case study findings suggested that the dominant institutional scripts about the role of parents were simultaneously rewritten and reinforced even as organizing approaches worked to foster a new relationship between parents and educators.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Districts and schools that collaborate with community organizing groups can augment their social resources and expertise, particularly in reaching out to low-income Latino parents and effectively educating their children. Yet, the dominant institutional scripts in schools – about the role of parents, professional authority, and control –suggest the complexity of efforts to improve parent-school relations. Those seeking to build meaningful parent and community participation in schools would do well to move beyond traditional forms of parent involvement in the journey toward deeper engagement and collaboration.