This piece focuses on linking research and
practice in the area of Latino parental involvement in mathematics education as
a way to help address the “Latino education crisis” (Gándara 2010). According
to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 2010a), Latino enrollment in public
schools has doubled from 11 percent (4.5 million) in 1988 to 22 percent (10.4
million) in 2008, and it continues to increase. Yet, as Gándara writes,
“Latinos are the least educated of all major ethnic groups” (p. 24). Among 16-
to 24-year-olds, Latinos have a high dropout rate of 21.4 percent in 2007,
followed by 19.3 percent of American Indian and Alaska, 8.4 percent of black students,
6.1 percent of Asian and Pacific islanders, and 5.3 percent of white students.
The dropout rate is particularly high (34%) among foreign-born Latinos (Aud,
Fox, and KewalRamani 2010). Another aspect of concern is parental level of
education: more than 40 percent of Latino children ages 6 to 18 in the U.S.
schools have a parent with less than a high school education, compared to about
6 percent of white children (NCES 2007). Latino
students are more likely to live in households where English is not spoken very
well. In 2008, 75 percent of children who did not speak English very well spoke
Spanish (Aud, Fox,
and KewalRamani 2010).
mathematics, Latino students underperform white students. The National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores reported for 2009, show that on
a 500-point scale, the fourth-grade median for Hispanics was 229,
compared to 249 for whites, whereas among eighth graders, the median scores
were 268 and 294 for Hispanics and white students, respectively (NCES 2010b).
The same source reveals that the NAEP scores for twelfth-grade exhibit the same
trend. In the 300-point scale, the median score for white students was 162
points, whereas that of Hispanics was 138. Perhaps one can perceive a more
contrasting scenario when one considers that for grades 4 and 8, respectively,
29 and 43 percent of Hispanics scored below basic level against 9 and 17
percent of the same grade level of white students (Aud, Fox, and KewalRamani
Ample evidence exists that indicates a positive
relationship between parental involvement and children’s achievement in school (Aspiazu, Bauer, and Spillett
1998; Epstein 2001; Henderson 1988; Henderson et al. 2002). This research brief focuses on the involving
Latino and Latina parents in their children’s mathematics education. With this
in mind, we first want to highlight some research findings from studies
centered specifically on Latino and Latina parents’ education in general. We
believe that these findings are important for teachers and school personnel to
consider when working with Latino and Latina parents, independently of the
content area. Then we turn to findings specific to Latino and Latina parents
and mathematics education.
Studies with Latino and Latina parents (De Gaetano 2007; Ramirez 2003;
Rodríguez-Brown 2010; Valdés 1996; Zarate 2007)
show a mismatch
between parents’ and teachers’ views about parental involvement and children’s
education and about one another’s roles in children’s education. As
Rodríguez-Brown writes (2010, p. 352), “it is not that Latino parents do not
want to support their children’s learning.… [They] believe that it is
disrespectful to usurp the teachers’ role.” A need exists for a better
understanding about expectations and roles to address what seems like a
disconnect between home and school. Scholars who work with Latino communities
point to the need for schools to develop an understanding of the sociocultural
context of their students and families. Parental involvement must be defined in
ways that reflect and build on the community’s cultural and linguistic
backgrounds (De Gaetano 2007; Delgado-Gaitan 2004; Gándara 2010; Valdés 1996).
We want to highlight several terms that appear in the literature on Latino and
Latina parents and that seem essential to understanding their approaches to
their children’s education (Durand 2010; Rodríguez-Brown 2010). As
Rodríguez-Brown writes (2010, p. 358), “several cultural concepts familia, confianza, respeto, and a
dichotomy between the meanings of educar
and enseñar have impacted Latino
parents’ beliefs as they describe their role in their children’s education.” Familia and familismo underscore the centrality of family, including extended
family. Respeto (respect) appeared in
the earlier quote on parents as not wanting to be disrespectful to teachers.
Valdés (1996) has written extensively on the idea of respect. Confianza (trust) (González, Moll, and Amanti
2005) has to do with establishing trust with the families, which involves
developing relationships. We will come back to this concept later in this
brief. Understand educación is
important because it does not translate as education:
the Spanish term encompasses moral and ethical values and social behaviors.
Latino and Latina parents see their role as contributing actively to the educación of their children, whereas they
may see teaching (enseñar) as
pertaining to teachers and schools (Valdés 1996; Zarate 2007). In her study
with six Mexican-American families, Delgado-Gaitan (1992) writes, “Notwithstanding
the high value placed on academics, the concept of an educated person was much
broader than merely being able to complete a school program. A child that was ‘buen educado’ (well
educated) not only attended school, but also was respectful and cooperative
with those around him or her. It was this behavior that was the measure of a
person’s educational achievement. Parents tried to socialize their children to
this concept of education but often met resistance from children’s peers as
well as school personnel” (p. 512). Reese
et al. (1995) present a detailed analysis of the concept of educación and raise an important
question, “Do the values of immigrant Latino families put children at a
disadvantage in American schools, or are they complementary and supportive in
ways that are not always recognized and acknowledged?” (p. 60). We want to
emphasize the possible need for schools to redefine their notion of parental
involvement by reaching out to Latino families and learning from them about
their aspirations, expectations, and forms of involvement in their children’s
education and educación. In so doing,
schools can address the second part of the question raised by Reese et al. (1995)
by recognizing and acknowledging Latino families’ values. One last term that we
want to mention is consejos (advice),
because it relates closely to educación
(Valdés 1996; Valencia and Black 2002). As Valdés explains, “The majority of
the teaching in the 10 families was carried out by means of ‘consejos’ (spontaneous homilies designed
to influence behaviors and attitudes). Consejos
were important because mothers considered la
educación de los hijos (the moral education of their children) to be their
primary responsibility” (p. 125).
different research studies underscore the need for forms of parental
involvement with Latino and Latina parents that move away from a deficit
perspective that portrays parents as lacking the resources to support their
children’s learning. Valencia and Black (2002) provide a compelling analysis of
the myth that Mexican Americans do not value education and attribute this myth
to one more case of deficit thinking. They write, “To attribute the persistent
and pervasive achievement gap between Mexican American students and their white
peers to a value orientation of Mexican American indifference to the importance
of education is baseless, irresponsible, and racist” (p. 92). These authors give
evidence to debunk this myth underscoring that Latino and Latina parents care
immensely about their children’s education. What these authors and others call for
is the need to understand what Latino and Latina parents do at home to help
with their children’s education and to focus on the knowledge, strengths, and
resources that exist in their communities (González, Moll, and Amanti 2005).
Delgado-Gaitan (2004), who has written extensively about involving Latino and
Latina parents in schools, notes, “Both elementary and secondary educators need
to remember that regardless of culture, educational attainment, and
socioeconomic standing, all families have strengths, and educators can tap that
potential to maximize student achievement” (p. 16).
We next turn
our attention to mathematics education and offer specific, research-based
suggestions that schools can use to promote a culturally responsive Latino
parent involvement. Research on parental involvement in mathematics education
in general is not a large field. A few researchers have looked into
issues related to parental engagement in mathematics education in low-income,
linguistically, racially, and ethnically diverse communities (Abreu and Cline,
2005; Civil and Andrade 2003; Civil and Menéndez 2011; Civil and Planas 2010;
Civil and Quintos 2009; Ginsburg 2006; Jackson and Remillard 2005). These
studies are based on a nondeficit view of parents and tend to highlight the
values, knowledge, and experiences that parents have about mathematics teaching
and learning. At this brief’s preparation, the most extensive work on Latino
and Latina parents and mathematics is that of Civil and colleagues. That thus
will be the main source of reference for what follows. This work draws on data
from several studies over the past fifteen years. These studies involved Latino
and Latina parents of children in the grades K–12 range, although the
mathematics activities tended to focus on content from grades 3–9. We will also
bring in some results from other researchers, including studies with immigrant
parents across the world (e.g., the work of Abreu and colleagues in the United
Research with immigrant parents in
different countries (Abreu and Cline 2005; Abreu, Cline, and Shamsi 2002; Civil
2008; Civil and Menéndez 2011; Civil and Planas 2010; Civil, Planas, and
Quintos 2005) points to some commonalities in immigrant parents’ perceptions
about mathematics teaching and learning in the receiving country:
of emphasis on basic skills (e.g., teaching and learning multiplication
level than in their country of origin
demanding schools (e.g., in discipline and homework)
issues (basic skills, level, strictness) are complex and call for further
exploration. In particular, they underscore schools’ need to establish a deeper, more meaningful
communication with parents. Parents tend to bring
with them different ways to do mathematics that schools often do not
acknowledge, and vice versa. Parents do not always see the point of some schools’
approaches to teaching mathematics. Although this may be true with all parents
(e.g., in the instance of “reform versus traditional” mathematics), the
situation seems more complex when those parents involved are immigrants or
low-income members of groups whose voices schools do not traditionally hear. As
Quintos, Bratton, and Civil (2005) write: “The knowledge that working class and
minoritized parents possess is not given the same value as that which middle
class parents possess…. Alternative approaches are often not treated equally….
In this context, the parents’ or home method is not given the same value as the
teacher’s or textbook method. Historical relations of power at the schools can
not only be reproduced but also exacerbated through mathematics education” (pp.
Latino and Latina parents,
particularly those who attended school in a country other than the United
States, often bring up two themes when talking about their children’s
mathematics education. One is that they learned different approaches to doing
arithmetic (the division algorithm is a typical example, Civil and Planas
2010). Some Latino and Latina parents express a concern with these different
ways of doing mathematics: they feel a loss of connection with their children
as the children have to choose between the home way and the school way (Civil
and Planas 2010). Schools could use these different approaches to doing
arithmetic to promote an exchange around mathematics teaching and learning. Teachers
could invite children to ask their parents about these different approaches and
have them share in class.
The second theme is the potential
barrier that the language of instruction (English) can create when parents are
Spanish-dominant. Civil and Planas (2010) document the impact of an
English-only instruction on parents’ ability to help their children with
homework, underscoring the feeling of frustration among mothers who believe they
have the mathematical knowledge but do not share the language to communicate
with their children about academic subjects; they speak Spanish, whereas their
children are learning mathematics in English. Schools need to be aware that
many parents have the disposition and knowledge to help their children with
mathematics, but that the language may be a barrier. Another aspect of this
language issue is whether parents, particularly immigrant parents, understand
how their children are placed in mathematics classes and what role the language
factor may play in these decisions (Civil, in press; Civil and Menéndez 2011).
As Valdés (2001) writes, “Students
should not be allowed to fall behind in subject-matter areas (e.g.,
mathematics, science) while they are learning English” (p. 153).
Successful efforts to involve Latino and Latina
parents in mathematics are characterized by respect, dignity (De La Cruz,
1999), and confianza, (Civil and
Bernier 2006; González, Moll, and Amanti 2005). Viewing parents as intellectual
resources (Civil and Andrade 2003) is essential to establishing an authentic
dialogue between Latino and Latina parents and schools. This means that schools
are genuinely interested in parents’ views and understandings of mathematics
and that they want to explore ways for the school’s mathematics instruction to
reflect parents’ knowledge and experiences. How can this happen? We offer
several approaches below. All of them are grounded on the premise of respeto towards parents’ knowledge and
experiences. One important aspect of this respect is the use of language(s)—English
and Spanish, in this instance—according to parents’ preferences.
- Learning from parents’ and families’
experiences and knowledge (their funds of knowledge) through ethnographic
home visits (González,
Moll, and Amanti 2005; for specific applications in mathematics, see Civil
2002, 2007). An important aspect is that teachers go in as learners. As
Amanti (2005), a teacher-researcher in the Funds of Knowledge for Teaching
project, writes, “What I do advocate, …, is that teachers become
acquainted with their students through an ethnographic, not just a
teacher, lens in order to get beyond a superficial and stereotypical
familiarity with them…. This process gives students and their families a
sense that their experiences are academically valid” (p. 138). This
process, invites parents and community members to come to the school to
talk about their areas of expertise (e.g., construction, medicinal herbs,
candy-making) with an eye on connections with the school curriculum. It is
a strong example of involving Latino and Latina parents as intellectual
resources in their children’s learning at school.
- Offering workshops and short courses in mathematics
for parents and their children.
Several examples exist in this domain with a focus on Latino and Latina
parents; we highlight the Family Math program (Stenmark, Thompson, and
Cossey 1986), the Children’s Math World Family Connection (De La Cruz
1999), Math and Parent Partnerships in the Southwest (MAPPS) (Civil and Bernier 2006; Civil and Quintos
2009) and CEMELA (Center for the Mathematics Education of Latinos/as)2. These workshops and courses often give
parents hands-on experience with what and how their children learn in
school, hence allowing a dialogue about different algorithms, memorization
and reasoning, calculator use, basic skills teaching, and so on. Project
MAPPS has an extensive research component that highlights a model for
parental involvement in mathematics based on four intertwined components—parents
as parents, parents as learners, parents as teachers, and parents as
leaders (Civil, Bratton, and Quintos 2005). In particular, we want to
stress the power of involving parents as cofacilitators of mathematics
workshops for other parents in the community. As one mother commented, “The point is to be part of the school
and part of the community, just like a student. For me, the main part was
parental involvement to use other parents to teach parents, I want to be
part of that” (Civil and Bernier 2006, 328). CEMELA’s research pays
special attention to the experiences of immigrant Latino and Latina
parents (Civil and Menéndez, 2011). It also pays special attention to addressing
the English-Spanish issue by having parents and children come together to
the mathematics courses, particularly in contexts that have severely
restricted bilingual education.
- Creating spaces for parents to discuss
issues related to teaching and learning mathematics. Having regular meetings with the parents
(e.g., short courses) allows for the development of rapport and confianza. This is a key to
engaging with the parents on conversations around mathematics education.
Using a prompt such as “how can all children in the district be successful
in mathematics?” or quotes from other parents, or using a problem that has
led to different approaches, can promote a rich discussion in which
parents, researchers, and school personnel can share their points of view,
hence promoting the learning from and about one another’s perspectives
(Civil and Menéndez 2011; Quintos, Bratton, and Civil 2005). This is where
topics such as homework (quantity and kind), taking responsibility for
one’s learning, discipline, different approaches to solving problems, and
language issues emerge.
- Conducting classroom visits with parents. In this approach, a small group of
parents and one or two facilitators (researchers, school-community
liaison, school administrator) visit a mathematics classroom and then
debrief their observations, with or without the teacher. Classroom visits allow us to
explore several topics including beliefs, content issues, interactions,
pedagogical approaches, and level by having a concrete and common
experience to refer to as a starting point (Civil and Quintos 2009).
These approaches respond to the need
for parental involvement programs to be based on sound knowledge about the
families and the community (Valdés 1996). They contrast with the prevalent, school-centered responses to the
need for parental involvement. The latter often do not take into account the
family’s perspective or give little or no consideration to the barriers that
prevent parents from getting involved in the terms that schools expect them to
do it, for example via curricular instruments or teachers’ actions (Schnee and
This brief’s recommendations provide
opportunities for parents and school personnel to engage in conversations centered
on mathematics teaching and learning. They are all grounded on lessons learned
from efforts to engage Latino and Latina parents in schools. They represent
examples of culturally and linguistically responsive approaches to parental
engagement in mathematics education. Implementing such recommendations may vary
depending on each school’s resources, willingness, and characteristics. For
example, home visits can take a toll on teachers if the school does not set
aside with the time and means to do them, yet the investment on the home visits
may have a long-lasting, positive effect. As the Funds of Knowledge work shows
(González, Moll, and Amanti 2005) visiting the family of just one student affects
the teacher’s relationships with all her students. Parents’ classroom visits
require coordination and a little extra time to engage the visitors in
meaningful conversations with teachers. Mathematics workshops require time to prepare
and implement, but the ramifications of creating this space to developing rapport
with and trust from parents, can prove extremely beneficial to other forms of
their participation, as long as parents’ voices and perspectives are taken into
account. A lack of bilingual personnel to facilitate the communication with
parents can be a roadblock. Schools can tap on the wealth of resources of the
parents themselves; for example, bilingual parents may be given leadership
roles and opportunities to contribute as they wish. Granted the existence of
limitations, what is at stake is quality education for the fastest-growing,
large segment of the U.S. population This is too important not to commit the
available resources and look for creative ways to expand those resources using the
knowledge, language, and cultural values of the population whose needs are to
By Marta Civil–University of Arizona and José María Menéndez – Radford
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The development of this brief was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0946875
opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this
material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the
views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
1. Although we are
using the terms Latino and Latina, we acknowledge that these terms
are too broad, because they encompass many different groups as well as recent
immigrants and U.S.-born Latinos and Latinas. Most of the research reviewed is,
in fact, with people of Mexican origin.
MAPPS and CEMELA were
funded by the National Science Foundation under grants ESI-9901275 and ESI-0424983. The views expressed here are
those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding