New Case Study Honors Parent Voice in Educating Children from Birth-to-College, Highlights Need for Greater Family-School Partnership

December 5, 2013

Final case study from Ounce and UEI partnership addresses how parents can help bridge the divide between early education and K-12

For Immediate Release
Contact: Seong-Ah Cho
University of Chicago 
Urban Education Institute 

CHICAGO, IL—Through the candid narratives of twenty-one parents, the final case study and learning video of a series on building a Birth-to-College (BTC) Partnership Model of Education addresses the disconnect between the essential value parents bring to their children’s education and the lack of attention given to parental voice in the birth-to-college discussion. The case documents how parents think about and work towards the development and future success of their children in hopes that these first-hand testimonies will provide critical information to practitioners, policymakers, and other parents interested in fostering improved family-school relationships.

Research shows that parent and family engagement in early education is connected to greater academic achievement gains and is a significant factor in improving K-12 schooling. Yet across the birth-to-college spectrum, parents and families largely continue to be perceived as recipients of education services and supports, not as powerful partners and assets.

“This case study focuses on parents for two simple reasons,” said Timothy Knowles, John Dewey Director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI), the umbrella organization for BTC partner UChicago Charter School. “First, because they are the instrumental variable—what parents do, that has the most significant impact on the trajectory of children's lives. Second, parents are central to this case precisely because they are persistently left out of America's efforts to improve schooling, despite our knowing they are essential to it. It’s overdue that our children’s first and most important teachers in life be heard, valued, and welcomed as crucial partners in our schools and early learning centers.”

The parents featured in the case, primarily low-income African American families from the South Side of Chicago affiliated with a UChicago Charter campus or early learning center of The Ounce (Educare), Centers for New Horizons, or The Community Builders, express their agreement with Knowles’ assessment throughout their interviews. Complementing these parent voices are nine family engagement and support staff from the participating organizations. The narratives describe experiences of and hopes for a multi-tiered community in which parents, peer parents, and school staff work together “as a village” to raise and educate children. In the envisioned environment, parents serve as the foundation with collective responsibility radiating outward toward educational staff and beyond to the broader community. As powerful partners with educators in this collaborative environment, parents are integral and integrated assets in their children’s growth, development, and learning.

The parents interviewed in the case also describe how and why they choose certain early learning centers or schools, demonstrating a focus on “family cultures,” environments that allow parents to self-define the roles they play in the centers or schools, value and goal alignment with the institution, and settings with supportive relationships that extend beyond teacher-child to teacher-parent.

Nastassia Jackson, the mother of two sons (age 4) and a daughter (age 8), particularly notes the importance of respectful, aligned parent-teacher partnership. Jackson and her son’s teacher are “on one accord,” she says in her interview. “What he’s seeing at school, he’s also seeing at home. Then, [I share] what I do at home with the teachers. So, what he’s seeing at home with Mommy, the teacher’s also doing similar things [at school]…I can speak with a teacher and…they really listen. They take into account what I say and they try to apply it to the classroom or my child’s individual need.”

Shanita Washington, a mother of two daughters (ages 7 and 15), echoes Jackson and other parents’ emphasis on teacher-parent communication and collaboration. “I have relationships with [my daughter’s] teacher,” said Washington. “[The teacher] emails me all the time or she talks to me or she calls me and it makes me feel really good, because it feels like we are both working as a team to help [my daughter].”

Parents also describe other ways they invest in their children’s education, including their in-depth search processes to gather data about various schools through visits and interviews—often taking time off of work to do so—to choose the highest quality option for their students. Recounting how she selected her four-year-old daughter’s preschool, Felicia Franklin says, “ I came with interview questions. I liked the way they spoke to the questions, answered the questions. I did a tour. So I gave them a chance and I enjoyed their educational system and how they run their school.”

Together, the parents and school staff featured in the case study weave intimate insights into a wide-range of topics, including the idea of parents as first teachers; learning environments as extensions of the family; strong family-school relationships built on foundations of mutual respect and trust; self-defined parent engagement; choosing quality schools; and peer parent social bonds and networking.

Remarkably, the theme that educating a child “takes a village” appears in every parent interview, highlighting the appetite, opportunity, and need to enhance partnerships between families and school centers to significantly improve early learning. Considering the possibilities of a village truly working together for her daughter’s education, Franklin aptly described the clear dividends such collaboration can create for children’s futures, from birth through college and beyond: “The more support and investment that [my daughter] has, the greater [the] person she can become. If everyone does their part, she should grow up to be a phenomenal woman.”

View the Birth-to-College Partnership’s case studies, teaching notes and learning videos >>