Washington Bureau releases report showing race and income plays significant role in perceptions of student achievement and parent engagement

October 09 2013

Washington, DC (October 9, 2013) – A report released today by the National Urban League Washington Bureau “Engaged to Achieve:  A Community Perspective on How Parents are Engaged in Their Children’s Education,” showed that race plays a pervasive—and negative—role in perceptions of parent engagement and student achievement; but community-based efforts to bridge racial disparities are associated with greater parent engagement—regardless of race.

Engaged to Achieve:  A Community Perspective on How Parents are Engaged in Their Children’s Education is based on a survey conducted in partnership with the National Voices Project (www.NationalVoicesProject.org) (NVP). Findings reveal that when there was a difference in how parents were perceived, African-American parents were more commonly perceived as being less aware and less involved in their children’s education than white parents.  Report authors suggest that when these perceived disparities are not addressed constructively, they may affect the type and depth of parent engagement efforts directed to low-income parents and parents of color.

Among the survey’s key findings:

African-American parents’ engagement in their children’s education was felt to be more reactive than proactive, i.e. confronting perceived racial bias or addressing discipline issues.

Parents who resided in communities where efforts were made to address racial disparities were nearly twice as likely (45 percent vs. 82 percent) to report that they felt more aware of their child’s academic progress than those parents in communities where no such efforts existed.   Although these efforts were ostensibly targeted to racial minorities, the lift in awareness was seen across all racial and ethnic lines.

Though most respondents felt that students and parents typically understand the connection between education and economic opportunity, they felt that race and income played a significant role in students’ access to the experiences that help to promote success.   This indicates a need to effectively align basic understanding of the importance of education with the practical means to promote academic success.

Promoted and supported by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing initiative, the National Voices Project brings together community perspectives about opportunities and barriers for children of color across the country.  Since preparing all children for success in college, in the workplace and in life is central to the mission of the National Urban League, the Washington Bureau partnered with NVP on a series of questions directed at individuals that work or volunteer with children in a primary or secondary school setting.  These individuals were asked about perceived differences in parental awareness, parental involvement and opportunities for student achievement and success based on race and economic background. 

Chanelle P. Hardy, Executive Director of the National Urban League Washington Bureau said the survey, while a sobering commentary on the impact of lingering racial bias, underscores the importance of parental engagement in helping all children to succeed.  “Every parent wants their child to achieve, thrive and succeed,” Hardy said.  “Too often, though, negative perceptions of children of color and their parents can influence the ability of parents and children to get the supports they need.”

Dr. Valerie R. Wilson, Chief Economist for the National Urban League Washington Bureau said, “The views and opinions of K-12 teachers, school administrators and volunteers are important because they are in positions that directly affect student outcomes. Therefore, what these adults believe about the children and families they serve likely influences their expectations and interactions with these children and families.”

Presently, major changes in standards, curricula and accountability are occurring in schools and districts.  These changes offer school, local, state and federal officials a ripe opportunity to invest in, and deepen parent engagement efforts.

The Urban League offered these practical considerations and observations for the ways in which they can begin to bridge some of the gaps in parent engagement, including:

  • Educational requirements should be clear and easy to understand for all parents, regardless of their educational background.  These requirements should also be communicated regularly and in multiple formats.
  • Parents must be regularly updated about their children’s academic performance in an individualized manner that provides clarity about how students are meeting, or not meeting, specific requirements.
  • Efforts to engage parents must take into account practical barriers to entry that parents may face and tailor such efforts accordingly.
  • Community-level efforts to address racial and ethnic disparities can also facilitate better communication between schools and parents.  In communities where racial and ethnic disparities are pervasive, there must be targeted investments and customized approaches to improving parent engagement.

About the National Urban League Washington Bureau

The National Urban League Washington Bureau is the public policy, research and advocacy arm of the National Urban League.  Informed by the direct service and program experience of our 97 affiliates throughout the U.S., and the more than 2 million people they serve every year, the Washington Bureau conducts insightful research into issues that are relevant to economic empowerment in urban America and other underserved communities.

The Washington Bureau is responsible for the Urban League’s seminal publication, The State of Black America, the annual report card on African Americans’ march toward full equality.  Recent publications have explored the impact of health disparities in the black community in The State of Urban Health; and the impact and importance of the black vote in The Hidden Swing Voters.  In recent years, the Washington Bureau has become the hub of the Urban League’s civic engagement activities. Prompted by the concerted effort on voting rights, the Urban League launched Project Advocate and the Occupy the Vote campaign, which works in key affiliate areas to educate citizens on their rights and register them to vote.


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