What’s the difference between a high and under-achieving black student? It’s not money

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One of the persistent myths about the type of child who does well in school is that she must be really smart. Well, the research shows that the myth is wrong. The difference between the smart kid and that under-achieving one is that the “smart” kid has parents who are more involved in her academic life:

    In a seminal study, Clark (1983) examined low SES Black students’ achievement and underachievement in their family context. Achieving Black students had parents who:
  • Were assertive in their parent involvement efforts
  • Kept abreast of their children’s school progress
  • Were optimistic and tended to perceive themselves as having effective coping mechanisms and strategies
  • Set high and realistic expectations for their children
  • Held positive achievement orientations and supported tenets of the achievement ideology
  • Set clear, explicit achievement-oriented norms
  • Established clear, specific role boundaries
  • Deliberately engaged in experiences and behaviors designed to promote achievement
  • Had positive parent-child relations characterized by nurturance, support, respect, trust, and open communication.

Conversely, underachieving Black students had parents who:

  • Were less optimistic and expressed feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Were less assertive and involved in their children’s education
  • Set unrealistic and unclear expectations for their children
  • Were less confident in terms of their parenting skills.

Home-schooling parents are already aware of that it is parental involvement that makes the difference. One clear and convincing proof of this is the fact that home-schooled black children do not fall victim to the achievement gap like traditionally schooled kids. But this isn’t a sales pitch for home-schooling. Instead, what I hope parents will take away from this is that their involvement that will improve their children’s grades.

How can you be involved as a black parent?
Another myth is that black parents are not involved in their children’s schooling. This is simply not the case. Black parents are just as involved as non-black parents but because we don’t feel appreciated or welcomed in the schools, our involvement tends to be outside of school. Furthermore, our efforts to help may not be appreciated if not rebuffed. Nonetheless, we still have to be actively involved in our children’s educational life outside of the home. What does that look like? Here’s a handout with some tips and below are some strategies from around the ‘net:

1. Start early
Start reaching out to your child’s teacher from the moment you find out who that person is even if our child hasn’t started school as yet. Find out from other parents all you can about the teacher so you determine if he or she will be a good fit for your child. For instance, one tip I heard from a mom is that she tries to have her boy be in a class with a teacher who has sons because those teacher tend to be more tolerant of antsy boys. I would also suggest that you never miss an opportunity to give a meaningful gift to your child’s teacher.

2. Volunteer
I know your schedule is packed but please put chaperoning your child’s field trip on the same level as your business meetings because face time with the boss is just as important as face time with your child’s teacher. It’s really important that black parents belong to the PTA because the group makes a lot of decisions that impact your children.

3. Keep records
Log all communication between you and your child’s teacher. It can serve as a quick refresher of previous conversations for a busy teacher who has 29 other parents to communicate with. Of course, it also protects you in case you have any problems later on.

4. Show you are invested
A teacher told me how impressed she was with one of her student’s father who dropped everything to show up within minutes of her sending an email that the child had not turned in an assignment. I think it’s human nature for a teacher to care as much as he perceives the parents to care. In an ideal world, a teacher would give the same amount of attention to all students but we know that is not going to be the case so show up and when you show up code-switch.

Question: What tips do you have for moms who are trying to get more actively involved in their kid’s schooling? Let me know in the comments.

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