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Is All Classroom Conduct Equal?: Teacher Contact With Parents of Racial/Ethnic Minority and Immigrant Adolescents


by Hua-Yu Cherng - 2016

Background/Context: Parental involvement is a key ingredient in the educational success of students and an integral component of involvement is teacher-parent communication. One body of research finds that minority immigrant parents face barriers in interacting with schools, and communicate less with schools than native-born White parents. However, we know little of how schools reach out to parents.

Purpose: In this study, I use a nationally representative sample of high schoolers to examine patterns of teachers communicating with parents.

Population/Participants/Subjects: I utilize a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school sophomores, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002).

Research Design: This study employs quantitative analyses of secondary data, including two-sample tests for proportions, logistic regression, and predicted percentages.

Findings/Results: Even after considering measures of student behavior and other factors, I find that mathematics teachers are more likely to contact parents of third-generation Black and Latino youth about disruptive behavior than parents of third-generation White youth. Mathematics and English teachers are less likely to contact immigrant Asian parents about academic and behavioral concerns, even when students are struggling. Teachers are also less likely to contact minority parents with news of accomplishments.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings of this study point to the important role that race and nativity play in shaping teacher communication with parents. Education policy should be cognizant that racial/ethnic and immigrant disparities exist in teacher-parent contact, and encourage more training in teacher preparation programs and professional development coursework for teachers and school administrators. Moreover, existing programs and interventions on multicultural / diversity training should be evaluated for their impact on teacher perceptions and behavior.



INTRODUCTION

Parental involvement is a key ingredient in the educational success of students, and remains a focal point of scholars, policy makers, practitioners, and the public. In the academic realm, a historical body of literature focuses on what constitutes involvement, patterns of involvement of different groups of parents and whether involvement such as homework help or contact with teachers leads to better performance (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Delgado-Gaitan, 1991; Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008; Robinson, 2014). Although there is debate over the specific forms of involvement that foster achievement, scholars generally agree that parents should play an active role in the schooling of their children.

An integral component of parental involvement is teacher–parent communication. Decades of research have shown that children flourish when there is personal contact between adults in the lives of children, both in terms of academic and social outcomes (Fan & Chen, 2001; Hill & Tyson, 2009; Iverson, Brownlee, & Walberg, 1981). Many of these benefits occur not only because parents and teachers are better informed about the academic progress and situation of the child, but also because closed networks can reinforce strong norms and prevent the student from deviating from an academic path.

Despite the importance of teacher–parent communication, research on patterns of interaction between teachers and parents is remarkably one-sided. Whereas much work has examined the nature of parents contacting teachers and schools (Greenberg et al., 2003; Hill & Tyson, 2009; Kao & Rutherford, 2007; Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996), we know little about when teachers contact parents. Even more importantly, it is unclear how teachers communicate with parents who are more likely to face barriers in interacting with schools. Prior research has shown that many immigrant minority parents contact schools less frequently than native-born White parents due to lack of English proficiency, resource constraints, and differences in cultural understandings between parents, teachers, and schools (Rumbaut & Portes, 2001; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2002; Turney & Kao, 2009). It may be particularly important for teachers to reach out to these parent populations as the first step in developing strong relationships between teachers and parents.

To examine patterns of teachers communicating with parents, I utilize a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school sophomores, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002). In this study, I use three specific situations in which teachers may contact parents: (1) for students’ failure to complete homework; (2) for disruptive behavior in school; and (3) for student accomplishments. I begin by providing a descriptive analysis of potential differences in teachers contacting parents belonging to different racial/ethnic and immigrant groups. Next, I employ regression analysis to determine whether patterns of teachers contacting parents are shaped by teacher reports of student academic achievement and behavior, teacher perception of parental involvement, and the English-language proficiency of parents.

BACKGROUND

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION

Researchers and policy makers have long been interested in parental involvement as a factor contributing to differences in educational achievement (Berger, 1995; Borman et al., 1996; Hill & Torres, 2010; National Education Goals Panel, 1995). However, there is not a consistent definition of engagement, and throughout its long history, research on parental academic involvement has been unclear on what comprises academic engagement (Christenson et al., 1997; McCarthey, 2000). Common conceptions of positive parental involvement define it as parents interacting with teachers and administrators at schools and with children about academics at home (Coleman, 1991; Hiatt, 1994). Interactions at schools can include attending parent–teacher meetings, helping with homework, volunteering at school, and helping to raise funds for school enrichment services (Coleman, 1991; Hiatt, 1994). Many studies that rely on these definitions find that these forms of parental involvement with school are associated with a number of positive academic outcomes, such as higher grades and higher rates of high school graduation, college entry, and college completion (Ballen & Moles, 1994; Hoover-Dempsey & Sander, 1995; Schneider & Coleman, 1993; Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002; Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). The understanding of the importance of parental involvement resonates beyond academic circles and is also found in education policy (Epstein, 2005; Hill & Torres, 2010; Stein, 2004).

THE IMPORTANCE OF PARENTS COMMUNICATING WITH TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS

An important factor in parental involvement is communication with schools and teachers, which has long been heralded by scholars, educators, and families as one of the most important ingredients required for the academic success of children (Chen & Stevenson, 1995; Coleman, 1975; Dearing, Kreider, Simpkins, & Weiss, 2006; Iverson et al., 1981; Lareau, 2000). For the most part, studies focus primarily on parents contacting schools while largely ignoring how educators contact parents. Despite this balance, evidence strongly points to the value of communication between parents and school faculty. For example, one study using the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) found that parental contact with schools in both eighth and 12th grade was associated with better academic outcomes, such as the likelihood that seniors were enrolled in academic high school programs and taking more core academic subjects (Catsambis, 2001). A meta-analysis of 25 studies also found that parental involvement with schools—partially defined as parents contacting schools and vice versa—was positively correlated with academic achievement (Fan & Chen, 2001). Ethnographic and interview studies reveal that parents interacting specifically with teachers help both parties gain valuable information to support the academic progress of students (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991; Lareau, 2000; Lareau & Calarco, 2012; Lawson, 2003). Parental communication with teachers, who are typically the school faculty most familiar with the child, can help parents better track the academic progress of their children. Teachers can also better understand emotional developments at home that may shape how the child is learning and behaving in the classroom (von Salisch, 2001). However, some work has found a negative association between parental communication with school and academic outcomes. One study also using the NELS:88 found a slight negative association between parents of eighth graders contacting schools (and vice versa) and mathematics and reading scores (Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). The authors posited that this negative association may reflect parents contacting schools for assistance when children were struggling with academics.

Strong parental communication with schools and teachers not only supports the academic progress of students, but also fosters the social development of youth. Researchers have found that communication between parents and teachers is linked with children becoming engaged with their learning, develop a stronger sense of school community, and have healthier overall subjective well-being (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Osterman, 2000; Park, 2004). Contact between parents and schools can also stem negative behavior in school. A 4-year longitudinal study of 463 adolescents determined that parental contact with schools in seventh grade was associated with fewer behavior problems in eighth grade (as well as higher academic aspirations in 11th grade) (Hill et al., 2004).

Some studies suggest that parental contact with schools may be more important for minority and immigrant youth and their parents. In one study of adolescents in seventh grade, parental contact with teachers was associated with higher academic achievement, but only for Black students and not White students (Hill et al., 2004; Hill & Craft, 2003). However, Fan and Chen (2001) find that the strength of the positive association between parental contact with schools is similar for White and non-White students.

Given that communication between parents, schools, and teachers is such an important component of the academic success of students, it is no surprise that communicating with parents is a formal responsibility of the teaching profession and is explicitly mentioned in federal policy (Senge et al., 2000). For example, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 stipulated that “the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities” is a necessary component to promote student success (No Child Left Behind Act •9101, 2002). The NCLB Act defined parental involvement, in part, as strong communication with schools, and conversely, called on schools and teachers to maintain better lines of communication with parents. The legislation also emphasized stronger communication between parents, schools, and teachers to bolster the academic achievement of historically low-performing groups.

Overall, studies find that communication between parents and schools supports the academic and social development of children and is thus a prominent component of wide-reaching education policy. However, in studies that draw from survey data, almost all operationalizations of contact between parents and schools do not state the information that is being communicated between the two parties. Additionally, it is unclear what staff member from the school is conversing with the parent. These distinctions are important. For example, teachers may perceive communicating with parents over negative academic or behavior issues of the child to be more urgent than contacting parents over accomplishments. Communication with the teacher may also be more important than other types of contact with schools, such as automated messages from school offices calling parents over minor scheduling changes. These limitations must be addressed to assess whether there are differences in patterns of communication between parents and teachers over positive or negative news of the child.

RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITY AND IMMIGRANT PARENTAL CONTACT WITH TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS

A growing body of work examines patterns of contact between schools and minority and immigrant parents. Overall, contact between parents and schools vary by activity and racial/ethnic and immigrant groups. For example, immigrant Latino and Asian parents are just as likely as native-born parents to attend parent teacher conferences, but less likely to volunteer at schools (Nord & Griffin, 1998). In contrast, Kao and Rutherford (2007) find, using NELS:88, that immigrant Latino and Asian parents are less likely than third-generation White parents to participate in parent–teacher organizations.

Barriers to communication with schools for minority and immigrant parents include English-language difficulty, lack of time due to work, differences in norms of contact between parents and schools, and stigma when parents interact with school faculty (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011; Rumbaut & Portes, 2001; Turney & Kao, 2009; Zhou, 1997). Prior research has revealed that many immigrant parents who contact schools find the interactions unsatisfactory. In a qualitative study of Latino college-goers and their parents, Louie (2012) found that immigrant parents perceived that there was a wide spread view that “parents are always at fault, never the school.” As a result, Latino parents believed school staff to be unwelcoming towards their questions (Inger, 1992; López, Scribner, & Mahitivanichcha, 2001). Asian American parents expressed that educators seemed unconcerned and uninformed over unique barriers, such as a lack of understanding of U.S. school systems, that parents and children faced, and found the limited communication with educators unsatisfactory (Lee & Chen, 2000; Li, Holloway, Bempechat, & Loh, 2008; Yeh, Kim, Pituc, & Atkins, 2008).

Research has repeatedly revealed that immigrant parents overwhelmingly expressed a desire to engage with their children’s schooling, despite barriers, such as schools not having translators or teachers being absent from school open houses, that prevented them from engaging with schools (Ramirez, 2003; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2002). For example, Carreón, Drake, and Barton (2005), drawing from observations and interviews of three immigrant Latino families, found that parents strongly desired to communicate with school actors, but barriers such as material hardships and conflicting views of the role of parents and schools with school faculty thwarted meaningful communication.

It should be noted that, similar to studies of the importance of parental contact with schools, quantitative studies of minority and immigrant parental contact with schools rely on definitions of contact that do not provide detail of the content of conversation or school actors involved in the communication. It also remains unclear how schools and teachers perceive parental barriers, such as lack of English proficiency or differences in understanding of parental engagement with schools, as obstacles to communication

RACIAL STEREOTYPES AND TEACHER PERCEPTIONS

Given the one-sidedness of research that examines parents contacting schools and teachers, it is important to ask: what factors may shape teachers reaching out to parents? Most apparently, the actual performance and conduct of students—either positive or negative—should shape whether teachers contact parents. For example, a teacher would likely only consider reaching out to a parent if the student was experiencing academic or behavioral problems. However, prior research suggests the relationship between student behavior and contacting parents may be more complicated.

One important factor that may shape patterns of teacher contact with parents over academic issues, such as homework completion, is racial stereotypes of academic performance. A large body of literature has documented that teachers have different perceptions of the academic ability of different racial groups of students: Teachers often have lower academic expectations of Black and Latino students compared to White and Asian students (Baron, Tom, & Cooper, 1985; Diamond, Randolph, & Spillane, 2004; Ferguson, 2003; McKown & Weinstein, 2008). Based on these results, some scholars argue that differences in perceived academic ability are evidence of racial stereotypes that Black and Latino students are not invested in their education or are incapable of learning (Rosenbloom & Way, 2004; Solorzano, 1997). A different stereotype arises that is meant to explain Asian American “over-achievement.” The “Model Minority” stereotype typically assumes that Asian American students are academically gifted, particularly in subjects such as mathematics (Kao, 1995; Lee, 1996; Tuan, 1998).

Notions that certain racial/ethnic groups behave differently in class may also shape teacher–parent interactions. A body of research investigates how teachers have different evaluations of student classroom behavior that vary depending on the race/ethnicity of the student (Ainsworth-Darnell & Downey, 1998; Chang & Demyan, 2007; Ferguson, 2003; Holliday, 1985). For example, using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K) and the NELS:88, Downey and Pribesh (2004) find that Black teachers rate Black students’ classroom behavior more favorably than White teachers in both kindergarten and eighth grade. The authors interpret their findings as evidence of “White teacher bias” against “Black students’ unique cultural style” in the classroom. Some teachers also perceive Latino students’ behavior as more negative than White students’ (Coutinho, Oswald, Best, & Forness, 2002; Vega, Khoury, Zimmerman, Gil, & Warheit, 1995). Conversely, Asian-American students report that teachers perceive them to be quiet and passive in the classroom (Rosenbloom & Way, 2004; Yeh et al., 2008).

STUDENT, TEACHER, AND PARENTAL CHARACTERISTICS THAT MAY SHAPE TEACHERS CONTACTING PARENTS

Teacher perceptions of parental involvement of different racial/ethnic groups may also influence whether teachers reach out to parents. Prior research has documented how the race/ethnicity and nativity of parents shape teachers’ perceptions of parental involvement (Delpit, 2006; Farkas, 2003; Ho & Cherng, 2016; Thompson, 2002, 2003). Some scholars argue that among educators, there are beliefs that the levels of Black and Latino parental involvement are insufficient to support their student’s education (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991; 2004; Halgunseth, Ispa, & Rudy, 2006; Louie, 2012). Thompson (2002, 2003), in a study of 300 Black adolescents in California, found that there was a pervasive assumption among teachers that Black parents were not involved or apathetic toward their children’s education in schools, despite students and parents reporting high levels of parental involvement. A qualitative study of a Latino community’s efforts to help families navigate the educational system found that the majority of teachers believed that parents were not spending enough time at home working with children on their schooling (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001). This belief was often due to poor communication between schools and Latino parents (López, 2001). As a result, school faculty believed that Latino parents were not involved and “uncaring about their children’s education” (Inger, 1992). It may be the case then that teachers reach out less to Black and Latino parents due to the perception that parents are disinterested. In stark contrast to discourses about Black and Latino parental involvement, discourses about Asian immigrant parenting describe parents as overbearing (Abboud & Kim, 2005; Chua, 2011a). Therefore, teachers may expect that high levels of enforcement over grades may be occurring at home and may find it unnecessary to engage with Asian American parents.

Teacher gender, race/ethnicity, and teaching experience may also be factors in how teachers perceive student behavior and interact with parents. Prior work has suggested that female teachers have more positive evaluations of student academic achievement than their male counterparts, and others studies show that teachers from different racial/ethnic backgrounds perceive student behavior differently (Beady & Hansell, 1981; Dee, 2004; Ehrenberg, Goldhaber, & Brewer, 1995; Steele & Aronson, 1995). For example, Downey and Pribesh (2004) argue that the phenomenon of White teachers rating Black student behavior less favorably than Black teachers is likely due to White teachers’ harsher ratings of Black students rather than Black students’ oppositional misbehavior. Other work has shown that teachers with more years of teaching experience employ different classroom management strategies that help them form stronger relationships with students than their less experienced counterparts (Brekelmans, Wubbels & den Brok, 2002; Enz & Christie, 1997).

SUMMARY AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Overall, research on communication between parents and schools and teachers highlights the importance of contact between the adults in the academic and social lives of children. However, minority and immigrant parents face a number of barriers when engaging with educators, and participate less in certain forms of communication. What remains unclear is how teachers, as educators that interact most with students, reach out to parents, and in particular, minority and immigrant parents. Little research has also examined what characteristics of students, teachers, and parents may shape patterns of teachers contacting parents.

In this study, I address two questions:

1.

What are patterns of communication between classroom teachers and the parents of racial/ethnic minority and immigrant youth?

2.

How are patterns of communication between teachers and parents influenced by characteristics of students, teachers, and parents?

DATA AND METHODS

MEASURES

Dependent Variables

Three outcome variables are used to capture when teachers reach out to parents. The ELS:2002 survey asks teachers “have you [they] communicated with this student’s parents this year about the following.” Teachers are asked whether they have communicated with parents due to the student’s failure to complete homework, disruptive behavior in school, and accomplishments. Given that teachers are more likely to have immediate knowledge of the student’s homework completion, classroom behavior, and accomplishments, I argue that these forms of communication are teacher initiated. All three variables are binary and coded 0 if the teacher has not communicated with the student’s parents over the issue and 1 if she/he has contacted parents. To investigate whether subject matter of teachers shapes interactions between teachers and students, I analyze separately responses from English and mathematics teachers. Descriptive statistics for all variables used in analyses can be found in Table 1.

Table 1. Weighted Descriptive Statistics for Variables Used in Analyses

Variable

Mean / proportion

Std. dev.

     English teacher

  

          Female

0.74

 

          White

                       0.88

 

          Asian

                       0.01

 

          Black

                       0.06

 

          Latino

                       0.04

 

          Other

                       0.02

 

          Years of experience

                     14.18

    9.60

          Frequency of homework completion:                                         Never

0.02

 

Rarely

0.08

 

Some of the time

0.17

 

Most of the time

0.35

 

All of the time

0.38

 

          Frequency of disruption:                                                           Never

0.62

 

Rarely

0.21

 

Some of the time

0.14

 

Most of the time

0.03

 

All of the time

0.01

 

          Student has fallen behind in school work

0.36

 

          Teacher perceives parents to be not involved

0.13

 

     Mathematics teacher

  

          Female

0.56

 

          White

                       0.86

 

          Asian

                       0.03

 

          Black

                       0.05

 

          Latino

                       0.04

 

          Other

                       0.02

 

          Years of experience

                     14.85

    9.62

          Frequency of HW completion:                                                   Never

0.02

 

Rarely

0.08

 

Some of the time

0.18

 

Most of the time

0.36

 

All of the time

0.36

 

          Frequency of disruption:                                                          Never

0.63

 

Rarely

0.21

 

Some of the time

0.12

 

Most of the time

0.03

 

All of the time

0.01

 

          Student behind in school work

0.35

 

          Teacher perceives parents to be not involved

0.12

 

Parental English proficiency scale

0.03

0.99

Race/ethnicity and immigration status

  

          First-generation Asian

0.02

 

          Second-generation Asian

0.02

 

          Third-generation Asian

0.00

 

          First-generation Latino

0.04

 

          Second-generation Latino

0.05

 

          Third-generation Latino

0.06

 

          First-generation Black

0.01

 

          Second-generation Black

0.01

 

          Third-generation Black

0.13

 

          First-generation White

0.01

 

          Second-generation White

0.02

 

          Third-generation White

0.62

 

Female

0.50

 

Family socioeconomic statusa

0.00

1.00

Age

16.46

0.61

Notes: Third-generation students include respondents who are third generation or higher.
a Family socioeconomic status includes the following: mother's education, father's education, mother's occupational prestige, father's occupational prestige, and family income.

 
 
 

Independent Variables

Given this study’s focus on potential differences in contact between teachers and the parents of racial/ethnic minority and immigrant students, the main analytic variables are the student’s race/ethnicity and generation status. Race/ethnicity and generation status is represented by a series of dummy variables: White first-generation, White second-generation, White third-generation (the reference category in the multivariate analyses), Latino first-generation, Latino second-generation, and so forth. The four largest racial/ethnic groups are included in this study: Asian, Latino, Black, and White. Both students and their mothers were asked about their country of birth, and this information is used to determine a student’s generation status. In this study, students are considered first-generation youth if they were not born in the United States. Students born in the United States with mothers born outside of the United States are second-generation youth. Third-generation youth and beyond are individuals who are born in the United States, along with their mothers.1

Additionally, characteristics of students, as reported by teachers, are also main analytic variables in these analyses. Frequency of homework completion is a categorical variable that draws from both English and mathematics teacher surveys. The survey question asked teachers “how often does this student complete homework assignments for your class,” with response categories coded 0 = never, 1 = rarely, 2 = some of the time, 3 = most of the time, and 4 = all of the time. The same response categories are used in a variable that asked teachers the frequency of disruption with which the student was involved in the classroom. Teachers were also asked whether the student [is] behind in school work, which is coded as a binary variable (0 = student is not behind in school work, 1 = student is behind in school work). Teacher perceives parents to be involved is a binary variable that is based off a question that asked teachers their perception of “how involved are the parents of this student in his/her academic performance?” (coded 0 if teacher perceived parents to be not involved and 1 if teacher perceived parents to be very or somewhat involved). A parental English proficiency scale is constructed by using standardized values (the mean is 0 and variance 1) of the three individual items: whether parents have never reported difficult reading books, newspapers or magazines in English, filling out forms printed in English, or understanding the tenth grader’s teachers. Higher values on this scale reflect greater parental proficiency with English. Other variables include whether the student is female (coded 0 if the student is male, 1 if female), family socioeconomic status, and the age of the student.

This study also employs measures to capture different teacher characteristics. One variable is a binary measure of whether the teacher is female (coded 0 if the teacher is male and 1 if female). Another measure is a categorical variable representing the teacher’s race/ethnicity, and includes categories for whether the teacher is Asian, Black, Latino (of any race), or Other (which includes Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native), with White serving as the reference category. A final measure, years of experience, represents the total number of years the teacher has taught in any school.

ANALYTIC STRATEGY

To address the question of whether patterns of contact between English and mathematics teachers and parents differ by race/ethnicity and generation status of the student, this study employs two-sample tests for proportions to examine descriptive differences in rates of communication. Logistic regression is then used to examine how student, teacher, and parental characteristics shape patterns of teachers reaching out to parents. For ease of interpretation, predicted percentages are presented that illustrate rates of teacher-parent contact with parents of children who rarely do homework, are often disruptive, and are not academically behind. All analyses use appropriate primary sampling units and base-year sample weights to adjust for the complex sampling design of the ELS:2002.2

ANALYTICAL RESULTS

BIVARIATE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RACE/ETHNICITY AND GENERATION STATUS OF STUDENT AND TEACHER CONTACT WITH PARENTS

To demonstrate differences in teacher contact with parents, Table 2 presents the proportion of parents of children contacted by mathematics and English teachers for failure to complete homework, disruptive behavior in school, and accomplishments, by race/ethnicity and generation status of the student. Overall, three results emerge. First, a high proportion of mathematics and English teachers contact parents of third-generation Black and Latino students over negative behavior. For example, the percentage of parents of third-generation Black parents contacted by mathematics teachers is two times higher (18%) than the percentage of parents of third-generation White parents contacted. There is also a seven-point difference between mathematics teachers contacting parents of third-generation Latinos and Whites over behavior issues (16% and 9%, respectively). These differences are significant at the p < 0.05 level.

Table 2. Proportion of Parents of Children Contacted by Mathematics and English Teacher, by Race/Ethnicity and Generation Status

 

Failure to Complete Homework

 

Disruptive Behavior in School

 

Accomplishments

 

Mathematics teacher

English teacher

 

Mathematics teacher

English teacher

 

Mathematics teacher

English teacher

First–generation Asian

0.21

***

0.18

***

 

0.04

***

0.03

***

 

0.36

***

0.39

***

Second–generation Asian

0.21

***

0.17

***

 

0.01

***

0.04

***

 

0.30

***

0.30

***

Third–generation+ Asian

0.34

 

0.26

  

0.13

 

0.05

  

0.47

 

0.30

**

First–generation Latino

0.29

 

0.26

  

0.08

 

0.06

  

0.31

***

0.39

***

Second–generation Latino

0.30

 

0.28

  

0.13

**

0.11

  

0.37

***

0.38

***

Third–generation+ Latino

0.39

***

0.34

**

 

0.16

***

0.15

***

 

0.43

 

0.39

***

First–generation Black

0.34

 

0.34

  

0.01

 

0.14

  

0.38

 

0.45

 

Second–generation Black

0.35

 

0.39

*

 

0.18

**

0.12

  

0.45

 

0.37

 

Third–generation+ Black

0.38

***

0.39

***

 

0.18

***

0.20

***

 

0.41

*

0.46

 

First–generation White

0.21

 

0.16

**

 

0.05

 

0.04

  

0.40

 

0.47

 

Second–generation White

0.33

 

0.25

  

0.09

 

0.07

  

0.34

***

0.42

 

Third-generation+ White

0.30

 

0.29

 

 

0.09

 

0.09

 

 

0.44

 

0.47

 

*** p < 0.01, ** p < 0.05, * p < 0

Second, and in contrast to patterns of teachers contacting native born Black and Latino parents with news of disruptions, a low percentage of mathematics and English teachers contact immigrant Asian parents (the parents of first- and second-generation Asian students) to with news of homework or behavioral problems. For example, less than 20% of English teachers report contacting the parents of first- and second-generation Asian parents over issues with homework, which is 10 percentage points less than rates for third-generation White parents. This difference is significant at the p < 0.05 level.

Finally, a smaller proportion of mathematics and English teachers also contact parents of Asian and Latino students with news of accomplishments compared to the parents of third-generation White youth. For example, approximately 30% of mathematics teachers reach out to parents of first-generation Latino and second-generation Asian students with news of their children’s accomplishments, compared to nearly half of teachers contacting parents of third-generation White parents. It should be noted that overall rates of teacher contact with news of accomplishments are much higher than rates for other forms of teacher-parent communication.

MULTIVARIATE REGRESSION ANALYSES OF MATHEMATICS TEACHERS CONTACTING PARENTS

Descriptive results suggest that mathematics and English teachers contact parents of racial/ethnic minority and immigrant youth differently than parents of third-generation White students. Specifically, a lower proportion of minority parents are contacted by teachers with news of academic struggles or merit. In contrast, a higher proportion of Black and Latino parents are contacted with news of behavioral problems. However, these results may be shaped by other student, teacher, and parent characteristics. To consider factors that may shape teacher–parent communication, I employ regression analysis. Table 3 presents coefficients from logistic regression models that estimate mathematics teacher reports of contacting parents. Similar to previous tables, three outcomes are analyzed: mathematics teachers contacting parents due to student’s failure to complete homework (Models 1a–1d), disruptive behavior in school (Models 2a–2d), and accomplishments (Models 3a–3d). For each outcome, model specification a only includes dummy variables for race/ethnicity and generation status of the student and basic controls for family socioeconomic status, whether the student is female, and the age of the student. Model specification b includes teacher reports of the frequency of homework completion, disruption, and whether the student has fallen behind in schoolwork for the three outcomes, respectively. Model specification c includes teacher perceptions of parents, which are a binary variable for whether the teacher perceives the parents to be not involved in their child’s schooling and a variable representing a scale for parent’s English proficiency. Model specification d, the full model, includes all variables from previous model specifications as well as variables for teacher’s gender, race/ethnicity, and teaching experience.


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Overall, mathematics teachers are less likely to contact immigrant Asian parents for any reason and all immigrant parents with news of accomplishments compared to native-born White parents. In contrast, mathematics teachers are more likely to contact parents of third-generation Black and Latino parents with news of disruptive behavior. Turning to the first outcome, mathematics teachers are less likely to contact parents of first-generation Asian youth compared to parents of third-generation White youth. Evidence of this disadvantage is found in models that include measures of homework completion, parental involvement, parental report of English proficiency, and teacher characteristics. For example, in Model 1d in Table 3, the parents of first-generation Asian youth have 38% lower odds of being contacted by mathematics teachers compared to parents of their third-generation White peers.3 Parents of second-generation Latino and first- and second-generation White students are also less likely to be contacted (Model 1d).

Mathematic teachers are also less likely to communicate with immigrant Asian parents over disruptive behavior in school across all models. The magnitude of difference is large: In Model 2d, parents of second-generation Asians have 80% lower odds of being contacted by mathematics teachers, net of factors such as teacher report of classroom behavior.4 In contrast to patterns of communication between mathematics teachers and parents of first- and second-generation Asian students, mathematics teachers are more likely to contact third-generation Latino and Black youth across all models. In Model 2d, the parents of third-generation Latino and Black youth have 75% and 35% percent greater odds, respectively, of being contacted for behavioral problems compared to parents of third-generation White parents.5

Mathematics teachers also are less likely to contact minority immigrant parents with news of their children’s accomplishments. In Models 3a through 3d, English teachers are less likely to inform parents of first- and second-generation Asian and first-generation Latino youth as compared to parents of their third-generation White peers.

Coefficients representing teacher perception of students and their parents work in the expected direction. Mathematics teachers are less likely to contact parents of children who complete homework and have fewer behavioral problems in the classroom. Mathematics teachers are less likely to contact parents who they perceive as not being involved with news of their children’s accomplishments. Parental English proficiency is not statistically significant in any of the models, and mathematics teachers are less likely to contact parents of children who have higher socioeconomic backgrounds over homework problems and are also less likely to contact female students over homework and behavioral issues. Mathematics teachers are also more likely to contact parents of children with higher socioeconomic backgrounds over accomplishments, although the coefficient is only marginally significant in the full model (Model 3d).

Individual characteristics of teachers also matter. Female mathematics teachers are more likely than their male counterparts to contact parents over academic and behavior issues (Models 1d and 2d). Black teachers are also less likely than White teachers to contact parents over issues with disruptive behavior (Model 2d). Teaching experience does not seem to be associated with teachers contacting parents.

MULTIVARIATE REGRESSION ANALYSES OF ENGLISH TEACHERS CONTACTING PARENTS

Table 4 presents coefficients from logistic regression models examining patterns of English teacher contact with parents. The organization of the table is the same as Table 3, and overall, patterns of contact between English teachers and parents over failure to complete homework assignments or accomplishments in school are similar to mathematics teacher–parent patterns


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Overall patterns of English teacher communication with parents about academic news are similar to patterns of mathematics teacher–parent contact. English teachers are less likely to contact immigrant and minority parents, net of all control variables. For example, across Models 1a through 1d, parents of first-generation Asian Americans have lower odds of being contacted by English teachers, net of reported frequency of homework completion, teacher perception of parental involvement, parental English ability, and teacher characteristics. For example, in Model 1d, parents of first-generation Asian youth have 43 percent lower odds of being contacted by English teachers with news of academic problems.6 Moreover, in the full model (Model 1d), parents of first-generation Latinos have 28% lower odds of being contacted by English teachers for homework completion problems compared to parents of third-generation White youth.7 Parents of first-generation Black students are also less likely to be contacted by English teachers, although the coefficient is only marginally significant.

Patterns of English teacher-parent contact over disruptive behavior with Asian American parents are similar to patterns of communication by mathematics teachers. English teachers are less likely to contact parents of first-generation Asians over disruptive behavior across Models 2a through 2d. For example, net of factors such as the teacher report of poor behavior, parents of first-generation Asian students have 66% lower odds of being contacted by English teachers compared to parents of their third-generation White classmates.8 In contrast to patterns of contact by mathematics teachers, parents of third-generation Latino students do not have consistently higher odds of being contacted by English teachers across all models (coefficients are not statistically significant in models that consider teacher report of the frequency of disruption, Models 2b and 2d). In the final model, Model 2d, English teachers are more likely to contact parents of first-generation Black students over poor behavior in the classroom.

In terms of communication with parents over the accomplishments of their children, similar to mathematics teachers, English teachers are less likely to contact minority immigrant parents. Across all models, English teachers have lower odds of contacting parents of first-generation and second-generation Asians. In the Model 3d, English teachers are also less likely to contact immigrant and native-born parents of Latino youth with news of accomplishments, although coefficients are not statistically significant at conventional levels.

Coefficients of variables representing teacher report of academic progress and behavioral issues are similar in direction and magnitude to those in models estimating mathematics teacher contact with parents. Teachers who report that students complete homework most or all of the time are less likely to contact parents over issues of homework completion compared to students who rarely complete assignments. Similarly, teachers who report that students are disruptive are much more likely to contact parents over behavioral issues than parents of students who never are disruptive in the classroom. English teachers are less likely to contact parents who they perceive as not involved with news of their child’s accomplishments, and this finding persists in the final model (Model 3d). Parental English proficiency is only statistically significant in Model 3d, and suggests that English teachers are less likely to contact parents who have a greater command of the English language over accomplishments of their children. English teachers are less likely to contact parents of children who have higher socioeconomic backgrounds over homework problems, and similar to mathematics teachers, are also less likely to contact female students over homework and behavioral issues.

In terms of teacher characteristics, only years of teaching experience is linked to English teachers contacting parents. In Models 1d and 3d, English teachers with more experience are slightly more likely to reach out to parents with news of homework problems and accomplishments.

PREDICTED RATES OF TEACHER CONTACT WITH PARENTS

To provide a more intuitive illustration of rates of teacher contact with parents of minority and immigrant youth, I show predicted rates (percentages) of teacher contact with parents of children. Figure 5 shows rates of contact between mathematics (blue bar) and English teacher (red bar) and parents estimated from the full model for each outcome in Tables 3 and 4. Figure 5, section A, shows rates of contact over homework problems among students who do not complete homework.9 Parents of first- and second-generation Asian students who have homework completion issues are contacted infrequently. For example, mathematics teachers also have lower rates of contact with parents of first-generation White students with homework completion problems. Less than 5% of English teachers contact parents of first-generation Asian parents who rarely do homework, which is 10 points less than rates of contact with parents of third-generation White counterparts.

Figure 5. Predicted Percentages of Teacher Contact with Parents

[39_21625.htm_g/00006.jpg][39_21625.htm_g/00008.jpg][39_21625.htm_g/00010.jpg]

Figure 5, section B shows rates of contact between teachers and parents to inform parents of disruptive behavior, among children who are disruptive.10 Similar to models estimated in previous tables, mathematics teachers report contacting a high percentage of third-generation Latino and Black students over behavioral issues.11 Among students with reported behavioral problems, 33% of mathematics teachers contact parents of third-generation Latino and Black students, which is 10 percentage points higher than for parents of  third-generation White students. In contrast, only 5% of mathematics teachers contact parents of second-generation Asian students, and 9% of English teachers contact first-generation Asian students with disruptive behavior in school.

Predicted rates of teacher contact with parents over student accomplishments also mirror regression results. Figure 5, section C shows the percentage of teachers who contact parents of children who are academically successful over news of accomplishments in school.12 A lower percentage of mathematics and English teachers reports contacting parents of academically successful first- and second-generation Asian, compared to parents of third-generation Whites. For example, 26% of English teachers contact parents of second-generation Asian students, while 46% contact parents of third-generation White students.

DISCUSSION

While it is reasonable to expect teachers to contact parents based on teacher perceptions of students’ performance and conduct in the classroom, results from this study show that this is not the case. I find that even after considering teachers’ own perceptions of students’ academic work and behavioral issues, differences persist in terms of teachers contacting parents of children from different racial/ethnic and generational backgrounds. First, I find that mathematics teachers contact a higher proportion of parents of third-generation Latino and Black students over disruptive classroom behavior than parents of third-generation White students. These patterns hold even after considering teacher report of the student’s conduct in the classroom, perceptions of parental involvement, parental report of English language proficiency, and teacher characteristics. Second, I find that both mathematics and English teachers contact fewer immigrant Asian parents regarding homework and behavioral issues. Third, teachers are less likely to contact immigrant Latino and Asian parents with news of their children’s accomplishments. Moreover, teachers are also less likely to contact parents with news of accomplishment when they perceive parents not to be involved in their children’s schooling, which may suggest that teachers do not find this form of communication necessary or appreciated by parents who they perceive to be uninterested.

Given the distinct differences in how teachers communicate with parents from different racial/ethnic and immigrant backgrounds, it is important to consider what may account for these differences. The first finding of this study suggests that third-generation Latino and Black students are hyper visible in terms of teachers contacting parents over disruptive behavior in the classroom. Even taking into account teacher reports of student behavior, teachers are more likely to communicate with parents of third-generation Black and Latino youth over the children’s perceived disruptions in the classroom. This is particularly the case for mathematics teachers.

Two different lines of work describe negative perceptions teachers have of Latino and Black youth. The first body of work finds that teachers believe that these groups of youth are poorly behaved in the classroom (Ainsworth-Darnell & Downey, 1998; Chang & Demyan, 2007; Coutinho et al., 2002). The second line of work finds that mathematics teachers have particularly negative perceptions of the ability of Black students (Bouchey & Harter, 2005). Therefore, the finding that mathematics teachers, but not English teachers, are more likely to contact parents of third-generation Latino and Black youth may be explained by the intersection of these two bodies of work: Mathematics teachers may believe that Black and Latino students are less capable of learning their subject, and may in turn be particularly sensitive to any disruptions.

In sharp contrast to the hypervisibility of third-generation Latino and Black students’ disruptive behavior, immigrant Asian parents are contacted by teachers far less, for any reason, than third-generation White parents. This finding supports the notion that Asian American students are perceived by teachers to be “Model Minorities.” Scholars have argued that similar stereotypes apply to teacher perceptions of Asian parenting (Chang, 2011; Juang, Qin, & Park, 2013; Poon, 2011). For example, a moniker—“Tiger Mother”—has been sensationalized since 2011 with Amy Chua’s (2011a) bestselling book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.13 From this book and articles on the topic of Asian parenting, Chua (2011a; 2011b) argues that academic practices of “Tiger Moms” include not allowing children to “get an grade less than an A” and “not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama (Chua 2011b:1).” For teachers who subscribe to this stereotype, Asian American students are academic overachievers and “culturally” obedient in the classroom. For example, in her book Compelled to Excel (2004), Vivian Louie describes the experiences of Robert, a Chinese-American youth, who is sent to stay with relatives in Michigan because he was cutting class in his New York school. Despite his continued misbehavior in his new school in Michigan, Robert recalled a teacher who told him, “Oh, I heard you Asians are really smart” (Louie, 2004, p. 44). Teachers may assume that Asian families possess cultural norms and practices that heavily emphasize the importance of education. As a result, teachers may feel that they do not need to contact Asian parents to inform them of their children’s schooling, even if their children have academic and behavioral problems. However, this inattention from teachers may explain why researchers find that many Asian American students and their parents report being “invisible” in schools (Louie, 2004; Yeh et al., 2008).

Previous research reveals that minority and immigrant parents report feeling ignored or judged as not invested in their children’s education when interacting with schools. Further, these parents perceive that such negative treatment is due to racial biases (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011; López et al., 2001). Such research indicates that minority and immigrant parents especially find it difficult to communicate with schools. This issue may be exacerbated by the third finding in this study: Both English and mathematics teachers contact parents with news of accomplishments less when they perceive parents to be uninvolved. Yet, by reaching out to parents with news of their children’s accomplishments, teachers can help establish lines of communication with minority and immigrant parents who do not have as much contact with schools and nurture positive relationships that encourage parental involvement.

The implications of this study are not just scholarly in nature, but can also inform educational practitioners and policymakers. Scholars have argued that the belief that certain groups of parents are not invested in their children’s education is not isolated to just schools and classrooms, but has shaped larger national discourse and policy (Hill & Torres, 2010). This discourse contrasts the engagement of minority, immigrant, and poor/working-class parents with white, middle-class parenting norms, and states that deviation from the norm is an indication that parents are not invested or do not value their children’s education (Lightfoot, 1978; Mapp, 2003). Scholars have also argued that the assumption of deficient parenting shapes education policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Epstein, 2005; Hill & Torres, 2010; Stein, 2004).

Findings from this paper identify a policy problem: that patterns of unequal contact are widespread. Education policy should be cognizant that racial/ethnic and immigrant disparities exist in teacher–parent contact and encourage more training in teacher preparation programs and professional development coursework for teachers and school administrators. Moreover, existing programs and interventions on multicultural/diversity training should be evaluated for their impact on teacher perceptions and behavior.

Although I find evidence of disadvantage that minority and immigrant parents and youth experience with teachers, there are a number of limitations to this study. First, only binary measures of teachers contacting parents were available in the dataset, and further studies should examine the frequency and quality of communication between teachers and parents. Second, the racial/ethnic categories used in these analyses are an approximation of the diverse backgrounds reflected in the ELS:2002 dataset. Third, the findings of this study reveal that teachers have different likelihoods of contacting parents belonging to different racial/ethnic and immigrant backgrounds. However, the findings do not directly measure racial prejudice or the thought processes that may give rise to these differences in reported behavior. Nonetheless, the findings of this study provide robust evidence that teachers do not only reach out to parents solely based on perceptions of student academic performance and conduct. Patterns of communication are consistent with racial stereotypes that teachers may subscribe to of different racial/ethnic groups. For Latino and Black families, the presence of stereotypes of disruptive youth unable to learn mathematics likely negatively impacts student self-esteem and self-image. Stereotypes that all Asians are overachievers and therefore less in need of intervention or attention may prevent Asian students who are in fact struggling from receiving much needed help. The findings of this study point to the important role that race and nativity play in shaping teacher communication with parents.

Notes

1. The ELS:2002 does not contain information regarding grandparents. Therefore, I cannot differentiate third generation youth from fourth (or higher) generation youth.

2. Models with interaction terms between race/ethnicity and generation status and gender and family socioeconomic status were considered in supplemental analyses. No interaction terms were found to be significant.

3.  e^-0.48 = 0.62

4. e^-1.60 = 0.20

5. e^0.56 = 1.75, e^0.30 = 1.35

6. e^-0.56 = 0.57

7. e^-0.33 = 0.72

8. e^-1.09 = 0.34

9. Predicted rates are calculated from models that estimate teacher contact with parents over failures to complete homework among students who teachers report having homework completion problems most or all of the time.

10. Disruptive students are defined as students who teachers report being disruptive in school most or all of the time.

11. English teachers also have high rates of contacting parents of first-generation Black students over behavioral issues, although it should be cautioned that the number of first-generation Black students in the sample is not large.

12. Academically successful children are defined as students who are not behind academically according to teacher reports.

13. The publication was a New York Times best seller of 2011 as the fourth best-selling hardcover nonfiction book of 2011. The book was a best seller in the U.K., Germany, Poland, Israel, Poland, China, and Taiwan (Maslin, 2011).

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 11, 2016, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21625, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 6:03:42 PM

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About the Author
  • Hua-Yu Cherng
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    HUA-YU CHERNG is a sociologist whose scholarly and community-based work focuses on the social lives of marginalized youth. His interests include comparative perspectives on race/ethnicity (with a focus on China and the United States), immigrant adaptation, and social capital within the school and educational context. As such, his research examines the social relationships in the lives of minority and immigrant adolescents in the United States, gender and ethnic differences in education in China, and cultural and social capital transfers between adolescents in the United States. His scholarship has appeared in journals such as American Educational Research Journal, Social Forces, and Teachers College Record. He has also taught in a charter middle school in San Francisco and a college in rural China.
 
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