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Why is Hispanic Parental Involvement a Serious Issue?

By Dr. Lourdes Ferrer

One of the great challenges in the American educational system is the wide performance
gap that exists between White and Asian students on one side and other minority
students on the other. As a Hispanic educational professional, I know that educators are
paying close attention to why Hispanics often lag behind their White and Asian peers. It
is a concern because they are not only the largest minority but also, the fastest growing
immigration group in the U.S.

As an educational consultant, I study the statistics. Analysts project that by year 2030,
Hispanic students will comprise one-fourth of the total public school student population.
Yet, statistics show that Hispanic youth are the most under-educated minority segment
of the U.S. population and have the highest drop-out rate. This issue is on center stage
of school reform initiatives.

School Reform Efforts to Solve the Achievement Gap Take Many Forms.

Education is the social equalizer in the American society. It creates social stability. It is in
the nation's best interest to close this achievement gap. For some educational
practitioners academic achievement among minority students can be improved with a
curriculum designed to appeal to students.

Others believe that the answer is found in new forms of student assessments and
greater teacher accountability for their students' performance on these tests. Meanwhile,
other educational leaders support the idea that low achievers could improve with a year-
round educational program and teachers motivated to improve their instruction by a
higher pay.

While all these methods have merit, I believe that parental involvement is the strongest
predictor of student academic success. Parental involvement correlates with
improvement occurs regardless of the economic, racial, or cultural background.

Students Identify Lack of Parental Involvement as the Leading Cause for Lack of

I have engaged in educational research for different school districts across the nation. I
interviewed several hundred Hispanic high school students. I repeatedly asked them:
"Why are Hispanic student scores on the state tests lower than their Asian and White
peers?"; "Why do many Hispanic students drop out of school?"; and, "Why you don't see
more Hispanic students enrolled in advanced, honors or Advanced Placement courses?"

In spite of their differences in the level of language acquisition or acculturation,

immigration status, immigration experience, or the country of origin, they all agree. Lack
of parental involvement is the number one reason why so many Hispanic students do
not do well in school.

Why Are Their Parents Uninvolved?

"I believe that Hispanic students' scores are lower than their peers because we don't
have a lot of support from our parents as White people do.", a high school student said
to me during an interview. The students believe that lack of English and understanding
of the American culture does not allow parents to support their children's education

"It is not that our parents are not interested in our education", one student said. "But
language barriers and ignorance in general are directly affecting the improvement of the
Latino students in general."

Students believe, and I agree, that it is very difficult for parents to monitor their children's
high school career in the United States when he only completed his elementary school
back in his native country.

"My parents expect so much from me and continuously tell me that I need to do well in
school, yet they are completely clueless as to what my school experience is like because
they didn't get as far as I did", one student said.

Their academic expectation for their children might be lower because of this. The
situation at home complicates even more because Hispanic parents put so many hours
at work. They may leave their children unsupervised at home. Many teen students hold
part time jobs to help support the family and take care of the younger siblings. This
leaves little time or energy to do read, do homework or study for a test.

How Can Hispanic Parental Involvement be Improved?

Hispanic Parents need home strategies that would allow them to create a home
environment that is conducive to learning and support their children's education. Parents
need to learn how to lead their children's academic lives. They need to be empowered
with skills to do so in order to be competent in navigating the American Educational

Three Foundational Competencies that Hispanic Parents Need.

Competency # 1: Parents need to make reading a life style. Parents need to have a
deep understanding of how important is for their children to reach reading proficiency.
Doctors call high blood pressure the silent killer because people can have it, don't know
that they have it and are at risk of dying because of it. The same way I believe that the
lack of reading proficiency or reading below grade level it is also a killer, a killer of
academic dreams and aspirations. Students reading below grade level don't understand
the predicament that they are in.

Without good reading skills other subject like science, mathematics or social studies are
more difficult. Understanding what is being read is required in almost every subject they
take in school.

Poor readers feel out of place because they cannot perform at the level of their peers.
Their confidence is damaged. Even if they manage to graduate high school, they don't
have the knowledge and skills to succeed at a college level class.
Parents need home strategies to help their children become competent. Students
become competent readers when reading becomes a life style and that is encouraged at

Competency # 2: Parents need to establish a productive connection with the school and
teachers. The American educational system is like a tricycle. The same way that it
cannot function without three wheels, schools cannot function properly without the
dedication of the student, the teacher and the parent. The front wheel is the student, the
wheel that provides direction to the process. The two back wheels are the teachers and
the parents. Both are equally important.

Effort to educate a child without parental involvement is like riding a tricycle that is
missing a wheel. Parents need to understand their role. This will require positive and
productive connections.

Competency # 3: Parents need to make homework part of the daily routine and not a
battle field. They need to understand the importance of homework in their children's
academic careers.

Parents need home strategies to enforce homework quality and completion in a

consistent manner. Homework is to academic success what practice is to sports. Do you
think any team can win without regular and consistent practice?

How Can Schools Help Parents Develop These Competencies?

These competencies can be taught. Hispanic parents can be taught the process for
navigating the American educational system. Schools need to train Hispanic parents
what effective parental involvement means. They need to develop programs to train
them. Many Hispanic parents will do what is needed if they learn how.

About the Author

Dr. Lourdes Ferrer Ed.D consults regarding the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). She is
the developer and trainer of Navigating the American Educational System (NAES)a
Spanish video curriculum for parental involvement. She is a motivational speaker and
seminar presenter.

Permission is given to reprint this article unedited and in its entirety including the "About
the Author" information and website link.