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(Smith 2006, p. 43) in her article has tried to measure the impact of strategies undertaken to involve parent in child education at a low income school using qualitative research methods.
Aims of Article
The main aims of this article are to:
- Define how a low-income school defines intentional parental involvement strategies
- Define effects of those strategies
The above article is done as a qualitative research. Qualitative research is done to gain a deep understanding of a specific event, rather than a description of a large sample of a population. It is also called ethnomethodology or field research. It helps create information about human groups in social settings. Qualitative research aims to provide a better understanding of a phenomenon through experience, correct reporting, and quotations of actual conversations. It aims to provide an understanding about how participants tend to interpret their surroundings, and how their interpretations influence their behaviors.
The main methodology for conducting this research was conducting a study at a low income school whose new structure was replacing an outdated structure in 2002. During the planning stage of the school community members, parents and agency professionals were involved in development of the new school structure to cater for the needs of low income families and of programs to involve parents in students education at the school. The efforts were then measured using qualitative data collection methods such as participant observation, interviews and document reviews.
Participant observation is a period of intensive social interaction between the researcher and the subjects, in the latter's environment. It becomes the full-time occupation of the researcher. Participant observers are trained in techniques of observation, which distinguishes them from regular participants.
Interviewing is one of the most commonly used methods for gathering data in qualitative research. Qualitative interviewing is usually different from quantitative interviewing in a number of ways.
- Interviewing tends to be much less structured in qualitative research. In quantitative research, interviews are usually kept much more structured in order to provide a valid measurement of key concepts that can answer some specific research questions.
- In qualitative interviewing, deviating is encouraged to give insight into what the interviewee sees as important. This is however discouraged in quantitative research.
- In qualitative interviewing, interviewers can significantly change the schedule and guide of the interview.
- In qualitative interviewing, The questions of interview get detailed answers; in quantitative research the interview generates answers that can be processed and statistically analyzed quickly.
Researchers supplement qualitative research methods such as interviewing and observation with gathering and analyzing documents produced specifically for the research at hand . As such, the review of documents is an unobtrusive method, rich in portraying the values and beliefs of participants in the setting.
Sampling was done using snowball sampling technique. A snowball sample is anon-probability sampling techniquethat is appropriate to use in research when the members of a population are difficult to locate. A snowball sample is a sample in which the researcher collects data from the few members of the target population they can find, then they ask those members from whom the data is collected to provide information on the location of other members of that population whom they know.
Snowball sampling hardly leads to a representative sample, but sometimes it may be the best option available. For instance, if you are studying people smoking cannabis, you are not likely to find a list of all the people smoking cannabis in your city. However, if you identify one or two people smoking cannabis that are willing to participate in your study, it is likely that they know other cannabis smoking people in their area. However snowball sampling can be avoided if data about something is readily available.
The setting for this research was Clark Elementary School which was situated beside a city park in a small community surrounded by large industrial complexes. Most of the residents in neighborhood were low income. During the 2003-2004 school year, 5% of the students were American Indian, 3% of the students were Asian, 7% were Black, 19% were Hispanic, and 67% were White. According to the Clark Elementary School website, as of October 1, 2003, the languages spoken were 79% English, 11% Spanish, 6% Russian, 3% Ukrainian, 1% Vietnamese, and 2% other.
In 1998 the district began to build a new school in order to replace the old one. A advisory group was formed consisting of members from community organizations, government agencies, the local church, the neighborhood association, the Clark Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), educators from Elementary School, and school district personnel to provide input for development of new school. The school was finally completed in 2002.
This research was qualitative in nature. Data was collected from the participants in three ways:
- Document Reviews
- Observation:The author acted like a participant observer for before and after school programs, Read and play programs and awards assembly to which all families had been invited.
- Interviews: Semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted with educators, family workers, and parents from Clark Elementary School. 4 administrators were interviewed including the principal, the district consultant, The family Liaison coordinator and the Family Services coordinator. 6 teachers were interviewed, 6 parents were interviewed. For interviews snowball sampling was used.
- Document Reviews: Documents reviewed pertained mostly to the development process for the new school. All materials collected during the design process were examined and all references to the school in the local paper were reviewed. In addition, the school website and monthly newsletters were reviewed.
- A Foundation of Understanding: Since the school architecture and its programs were developed keeping the opinions of the communities, parents and members of community associations. After the school opened teachers and staff were made to understand the life circumstances of school families. This helped teachers understand parents more and reduced the probability of teachers blaming parents when their children faced academic difficulties and instead has increased the desire for teachers to assist the children.
- A Broad Definition: A definition of parental involvement emerged at the school which recognized a wide array of behaviors of involvement such as receipt of social services or picking up food or clothing at Family Resource centre. These behaviors also included the learning activities families engaged in while at home.
- Creating Intentional Parental Involvement Strategies: The intentional parental involvement strategies were designed in two distinct ways:
- Strategies to Provide Services: During initial meetings after considering the needs of neighborhood families it was decided to make the school in a community center style so as to provide services for low income families. The family resource center in the school helped connect parents with the various activities in school and also provide them with many facilities including computers, free food and clothing provided by government agencies.
- Strategies to Enhance Parental Involvement: The Clark Committee had designed parental involvement plans based on broad definition of parent involvement and on foundation of understanding. These strategies included inviting parents to school conferences, family nights and access resources offered by Family Resource Centers. All these services were found to have a positive impact of parent involvement and hence positively impacted Clark Elementary School.
- Benefits of Parental Involvement: Interviewers described better parent involvement leading to academic success. Teachers found that students were more motivated and had better self confidence as a result of parent involvement. Parents also were found to have other benefits of involvement other than academic ones and they could feel themselves part of a community.
Following things are recommended in this study:
- In order to develop strategies for parent involvement in low income schools it would be better to input the advice of neighbors and interested agency representatives in order to understand the lives of people the school shall serve.
- If we can get a clear understanding of the lives of their school families, we ought to encourage definition of parental involvement which would acknowledge a wide list of parental behaviors that lead to academic success.
- Educators serving low-income populations must consider offering services to the families of their students, thereby bringing parents into the school buildings. Full-service schools can provide services based on the understanding of the needs of the neighborhood, intended to meet the needs of low-income school families.
- Educators should invite the input and participation of community agencies, businesses, and faith-based groups in any efforts to meet the needs of school families. Offering the opportunity to provide input can encourage them to own the process and make them have a long term participation in the process
- Educators need to accept that parents may not choose to be involved in education in commonly accepted ways.
The main point of the article is that a better understanding of the community needs is a must for forming a better definition of parent involvement for the community. Hence, Educators working in low-income communities need a willingness to learn about their student populations and a high degree of commitment to school families in order to better formulate parent involvement strategies in schools. The author has used qualitative research methods to show a relationship between better understanding of the community by the school for introducing steps to increase parent involvement at the college. However, the main problem lies here in the sampling for interviews. Here snowball sampling is being used. This should have been avoided as snowball samples are hardly representatives of target populations and are just used for exploratory purposes. Since data for teachers and parents could have been made available by the school I this case, Using that data could have lead to a better sample could have been prepared that would have been more representative of the population at hand. As it stands the study can be considered a good starting point of research for introducing steps for parent involvement in low income schools.
Smith, J. G. (2006). Parental Involvement in Education Among Low-Income Families: A Case Study. School Community Journal , 43.
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