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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

    1. Hispanic Students

Some Immigrant Families Take a Non-Standard Approach to Involvement in Their Children's Education

Gerardo Lopez examines how the parents of a Mexican migrant family have achieved success in promoting an educational work ethic for their children.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Lopez, G. R. (2001). The value of hard work: Lessons on parent involvement from an (im)migrant household.Harvard Educational Review, 71,416-437. Retrieved April 3, 2002 from ProQuest database.

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Research has shown that parental involvement can play an important role in boosting children’s academic achievement. Parents can help out at schools. Traditionally, that involvement has included things such as PTA/PTO activities, back-to-school nights, fundraisers, and even bake sales. Parents can also help out at home, supplementing classroom instruction by reviewing their children’s homework, for example.

Research has further shown that parents from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds are less likely to be involved with their children’s schooling. This may be either because they do not want to be involved, or more likely that they simply have no experience or understanding of how they can help.

However, Gerardo Lopez demonstrates that even parents from poor minority backgrounds can take a very active role in their children’s education, albeit in a “non-traditional” manner. This means that while they do not participate in back-to-school nights and PTO meetings, they nonetheless encourage and assist their children in other ways.

Non-Traditional Parental Involvement: The Case of the Padilla Family

Lopez argues that non-traditional methods can contribute enormously to children’s experience of school. As an example, he cites the Padillas, a family of Mexican migrant workers whose children attended school in the United States.

The Padilla parents were not closely involved with the schools their children attended—they never went to PTO meetings and only rarely to parent-teacher conferences. Yet their five children have all had outstanding academic careers in high school. They have so far all graduated in the top 10% of their classes. Their oldest son went on to the U.S. Naval Academy, and their second-oldest daughter is majoring in biology at the University of Texas, as but two examples.

The Importance of a Work Ethic

Based on his interviews with the family, Lopez determined that despite their “non-traditional” involvement, the Padillas were nonetheless able to instill in their children a very strong work ethic. They accomplished this by teaching their children about the importance of work. Camilo, the father, expressed it this way:

"If we don’t work, we don’t eat. There is no future if there’s no work. From there, you obtain everything. I would take them into the fields so that they would know what work was all about. So that they would know how to work and also how hard it was. So that they would know where one gets [money] to pay the bills. So that they would know—or that they would realize—that money did not come from nowhere. That it was difficult [to earn money]. So I say: the first thing is to know how to work." (§The Value of Hard Work, ¶15)

How Did They Do It? The Padillas’ Recipe for Success

Lopez found that the Padillas managed to communicate three valuable lessons about work to their children:

  1. By working in the fields with their parents, the children became acquainted with that kind of work. It made them realize that such work is hard, strenuous, and poorly paid.
  2. Such hard work taught the children the value of money, and that money and success come through hard work. Also, as Margarita, the mother, affirmed, thanks to their experience in the fields the children would always have something to fall back on if times became tough. They learned “how to use their hands,” that is, a set of manual skills.
  3. Finally, the children also recognized that without an education they could end up working in a difficult job like their parents. This was always one of the most important lessons for the Padilla parents. Camilo said that he wanted to teach his children that “the door is open for them to do more than” manual labor in the fields.

Camilo related the story of when his oldest son told him that he didn’t want to keep doing such hard jobs as working in the fields and driving trucks:

"And after a while when I saw him, he tells me, ‘Dad, I’m gonna follow school. I don’t want to do this all my life. You have your life, and I'm going to look for another.’ ‘Well you have the doors in front of you, son. That’s what we’ve told you all your life. You follow school.’ [Pause] Man, I got all choked up! I was very, very proud of my son."(Work to Teach Children the Value of School section, ¶ 3)


The example of the Padillas demonstrates that other methods of parental involvement with their children’s education can also be effective. Therefore, Gerardo Lopez argues, schools need to make a greater effort to understand how some parents (particularly disadvantaged minorities) encourage their children. Schools need to form partnerships with parents even in non-traditional methods.

“Instead of trying to get marginalized parents involved in certain ways," Lopez writes, "schools should begin to identify the unique ways that marginalized parents are already involved in their children's education, and search for creative ways to capitalize on these” other forms of involvement (Toward a Different Understanding of "Involvement" section, ¶ 3). Although schools’ attempts in recent years to reach out to parents is encouraging, they must in future proceed on a flexible basis, amenable to new approaches such as the Padillas’.

Research Design: This is a qualitative study designed to capture a holistic perspective of how families involve themselves in their children’s schooling. The author selected a sample of five immigrant/migrant families in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, focusing on one particular household whose children were especially academically successful. Data gathering consisted of observations and in-depth interviews with immediate and extended family members. Over the course of six months, 16 unstructured observations and 12 semi-structured interviews were conducted.


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