A Seasonal Research Design Examining Macro-Level Factors and Micro-Understandings of Parent Engagement and Children’s Literacy Achievement
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This dissertation takes a seasonal mixed methods approach to studying parent engagement and its influence on children’s literacy achievement. I draw on quantitative and qualitative data collected as a part of the Summer Learning Project in Ontario, Canada (see Davies & Aurini, 2010-2014). My research is informed by Bourdieu’s (1998; 1990 with Passeron) and Lareau’s (2000, 2011) theories of educational inequality to understand parents’ and schools’ responses to parent engagement in children’s education. In addition to making empirical and theoretical contributions to the sociology of education, I include recommendations for educational policy. My quantitative analysis in chapter two tests the hypothesis that family resources and practices positively affect literacy achievement using data for a non-random sample of 1, 671 students (grades 1-3) from 92 schools. Multilevel linear models are employed to compare the influence of family involvement at school and home on students’ achievement on two outcomes: 1) snapshot of children’s cumulative learning in the spring; and 2) measure of children’s growth (or loss) in literacy during the summer. Out of 15 parent engagement measures, I find that only three (parents’ aspirations, home resources and discussions of school with children) are positive predictors of children’s spring literacy outcomes and that none predict summer literacy growth/loss. In interactions of socioeconomic status (SES) with each parent engagement measure, only volunteering at school was significant for spring literacy outcomes, this form of involvement benefitted lower-SES families. Overall, family SES remains a powerful predictor of achievement for both spring literacy and summer growth. I conclude with a discussion of my findings within three mechanism of parent engagement: cultivation ethic (goal driven approach to child’s education through provision of resources, extracurricular activity, aspirations, and discussion school with children), realist reaction (reacting to a child’s achievement by hiring a tutor and/or increasing reading and homework time with child), and expressive logic (parent involvement that is done out of interest or enjoyment on the part of the parent, such as volunteering at the child’s school or participating on school council). My third chapter uses the three mechanisms (cultivation ethic, realist reaction, expressive logic) of parent engagement (from chapter two) to speculate why certain parent engagement measures have positive, negative, or no effect on students’ literacy achievement. In this paper, I use these three mechanisms as my conceptual framework along with categories from Ontario’s Ministry of Education parent engagement policy as a guideline for analysis. Drawing on qualitative data from interviews with 90 parents and 37 school staff (teachers, administrators, support staff), I consider parents’ and teachers’ alignment with each other and policy. I find that parents are more likely to discuss their engagement within categories in the cultivation ethic and realist reaction which are generally home-based activities. Conversely, teachers place more emphasis on school-based categories in the expressive logic. Further, within each mechanism there are nuances between working- and middle-class parents and how they perceive certain types of engagement such as homework help and reading with children (e.g., frustrating versus enjoyable). My findings illuminate the microprocesses of teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of parent engagement within the expectations outlined in the policy and how they differ in school-centric versus a home-centric focus. I conclude with considerations for policy and programming. The fourth chapter draws on 27 photo-interviews with children (aged 5-8; including three sets of siblings) paired with 24 semi-structured interviews with their parents. Interviews focus on parents’ and children’s understandings of future education, and how these understandings translate into actions within the home learning environment and engagement in schooling. Taking into consideration parents’ education and income, I examine the differences between parents who hope their child will obtain a high school education (HSE) and parents who seek post-secondary education (PSE). The interviews uncover the types of conversations about future education that do (or do not) occur at home. Children whose parents have HSE aspirations talk less about future education and are generally less involved in their children’s schooling. Parents who have PSE goals for their children are more likely to have conversations about future education with their children; these parents display a more interconnected approach with their child’s education at school and at home. They link schooling to future socioeconomic mobility, job security and satisfaction with their career and lives. I also find an internalization process occurring with children where higher parental aspirations positively influence children’s approach to schooling. Regardless of academic achievement, children are more likely to comply with literacy activities presented by parents or create learning opportunities for themselves when they see themselves as good readers and are less frustrated with reading. While more proactive, lower-SES families with PSE aspirations are anxious about their children’s future and are heavily dependent on resources, information, and social connections provided by schools and the community. I conclude with policy recommendations for reaching students and parents earlier with career and post-secondary education experiences and information.
Cite this version of the work
Cathlene Hillier (2018). A Seasonal Research Design Examining Macro-Level Factors and Micro-Understandings of Parent Engagement and Children’s Literacy Achievement. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/13980