Background/Context: Educational reform has emphasized the importance of parent involvement. Perhaps the most common instantiations of parent involvement are various efforts to encourage particular reading practices in the home. Although there is some research supporting the efficacy of “family literacy” initiatives, these efforts have been criticized for their deficit orientation and cultural insensitivity. Some educators have attempted to create family literacy practices considerate of the cultural and material demands of families, but no one has investigated how parents actually experience these initiatives.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This research examined parent perceptions of school-to-home literacy initiatives intended to encourage particular literacy practices in the homes of families living in two predominantly poor urban communities served by underperforming schools; specifically, How do African American and immigrant ESL parents living in these two urban communities experience various school-to-home literacy initiatives? These groups of urban parents were interviewed because they and their children are especially likely to be targeted by family literacy initiatives. The study focused on school-to-home literacy practices that attempted to influence literacy in the home because these are the most common instantiations of family literacy.
Population/Participants/Subjects: The participants included 18 African American and 14 immigrant ESL parents living in two large urban centers in the northeastern United States.
Research Design: Open-ended, qualitative interviews were conducted with the participants to elicit parents’ perceptions of school-to-home literacy practices. Interviews ranged from 30 to 60 minutes in length and were conducted by two doctoral students trained by the author.
Data Collection and Analysis: Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and, if necessary, translated into English. Based on multiple readings of the data, several core themes were identified that were the focus of the data analysis. Data were analyzed through a process called modified analytic induction to develop a “loose descriptive theory” of how these urban parents experienced school-to-home literacy initiatives.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The analysis of the data indicated that school-to-home literacy practices, as experienced by these parents, did not always fit well with family routines, cultural values, or expectations. The analysis also highlighted a one-way model of school-home communication that provided few opportunities for school-to-home literacy initiatives to respond to the needs of individual families. It was concluded that a model of family literacy considerate of families’ cultural and material needs depends on creating spaces for parents to share their needs, expectations, and values—and for school officials to listen.