Research has demonstrated persistent, disproportionally negative educational outcomes for students of color, causing national concern in this area. School personnel increasingly understand the need to engage with parents as educational partners, but parents of color may feel marginalized in these efforts. This paper presents findings from a series of focus groups with middle-class parents of color in a small city in the Northeast United States. Using critical race theory, this research examines the parents’ experiences in the community and with the schools. Findings regarding community include lack of cultural enrichment for families of color, isolation in the community, and experiences of colorblind racism and cultural ignorance. School-focused findings include lack of cultural competency in the schools, stereotyping, and racial disproportionality in school discipline. The discussion centers on the school district’s strategic plan and the community–university partnership used as a vehicle for responding to these critical concerns. [article abstract]
Conclusions and Recommendations [article excerpt]
The steps taken by the school district discussed here are consistent with best practices for schools that focus on community and university partnerships for school improvement (U.S. Department of Education, Reform Support Network, 2014) and can be a guide for other districts addressing disproportionality. Strong partnerships with diverse members of the community can provide access to marginalized community members and offer insider consultation on the experiences, needs, and strengths of the community. Where possible, engaging with local colleges and universities to draw upon their resources and expertise can support school initiatives and contribute to strengthening the community overall. A comprehensive school district strategic plan that integrates culturally responsive practices at each step is an important first step in addressing disproportionality. The work is complex and multifaceted, and a statement of goals and objectives that is treated as a living document—referred to frequently, revised as necessary—helps to clarify the mission and guides navigation through the process. Professional development for all school personnel that includes the history of race in America and highlights the social and cultural dynamics of privilege and oppression is beneficial. While race history is unique, learning about the subtle workings of culture and systems through this lens can also inform work with other marginalized groups, including students of various ethnicities, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) youth and parents, financially poor families, and students with disabilities.
It is also critical to unpack the complexities of poverty and race so that problems can be understood separately and through their intersections. Becoming informed about the physiological impact of toxic stress and trauma often associated with poverty helps school personnel to understand how this impacts learning and behavior. There is also a need to develop discipline policies and procedures that seek to include students in the school community through character development and social–emotional learning rather than excluding them with punishment. Information on racial identity development is fundamental to education regarding child and adolescent development, and all school personnel can benefit. The microaggressions of racism contribute to the overall stress burden for children and adults, and youth need to learn healthy forms of resistance to establish a healthy identity. Strong parents of color are already attending to this with their children, but vulnerable parents may not be able to teach their children what they need to know about race. Support from the school can ensure the whole child is recognized and affirmed and that each family is honored as valuable to the community.