The space between: Roles parents play in their children's educational success (or non-success). Examining a model of parental influence across family race and child gender
Farber, Stacey L
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With a continued and recently growing difference in achievement between African American and White students and between African American boys and their female peers, attention is re-focusing on parents as agents of positive change. No Child Left Behind calls on schools to reduce inter-group achievement gaps in part by making parents instruments of their children's success. However, to effectively engage parents in their children's education and reduce the achievement gap, we must understand better the nature and effects of parental engagement and how the construct, as it is enacted, may differ across family race and child gender. With data for African American and White parents of boys and girls from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Class, this study tests, via structural equation modeling, a multidimensional conceptualization of parental engagement , its predictors, and its effects. Confirmatory factor analysis results support a five-factor, behavioral conceptualization of parental engagement for African American and White parents of boys and girls--each factor representing a role parents play when engaging in their children's learning: Resource Agent, Manager, Teacher, Encourager , and Relational Advocate. Parent-related constraints (such as socioeconomic status and education) was the strongest negative predictor of parental engagement and parental expectations across all groups, while school-related constraints (parent perceptions of school and teacher efforts to inform and engage them) was a particularly strong negative predictor of parental engagement for African American parents of girls only. Logistical constraints (such as inconvenient meeting times) and parental expectations were weak predictors of actual parental engagement for all four groups. For African American and White boys and girls alike, parental engagement was a moderate, positive predictor of their classroom effort, while parental engagement and effort were both strong, positive predictors of kindergarteners' cognitive performance. Results of latent mean analyses suggest that African American parents tend to engage less in their children's education than White parents. Nevertheless, while African American and White parents experience similar levels of school-related and logistical constraints , African American parents experience far more parent-related constraints than White parents, possibly explaining this racial gap in engagement. Implications of these findings for policy, research, and practice are discussed.