ESL Immigrants in the U.S. and their Involvement in their Children’s Education

Pilot research in New York to practice quantitative+qualitative research methods


            Previous research has found that though U.S. public schools encourage parents to be involved in their children’s education, their strategies tend to favor White middle class norms, and often exclude lower class, less educated, racial minority and immigrant parents (Aeurbach 2007, Lareau 2011). Some scholars have emphasized how, because these immigrant parents have limited social capital and knowledge of school systems, they are not able to pursue the same forms of involvement as their White middle class counterparts (e.g. homework help, test preparation, parent-teacher conferences, attending school events); instead, they focus on providing their children with emotional support, or “moral capital” (Aeurbach 2007). Other scholars have criticized that North American public schools sometimes have limited understanding of their immigrant students’ social cultural backgrounds, and that this prevents the schools from creating the optimally inclusive and engaging academic environment (Guo 2012).

            This previous research shows that if we continue to measure “parental involvement in children’s education” using the standards for White middle class norms, then we will underestimate the level of immigrant parents’ engagement in their children’s education, and overlook all the diverse strategies immigrant parents use to support their children’s education. This raises a problem: if U.S. public schools, educators, and the general public lacks knowledge about these strategies, then there is a risk for negative assumptions about ESL immigrant parents’ incentive and ability to support their children in school. This also creates a practical issue: if U.S. public schools and educators do not recognize certain challenges ESL immigrant parents face that makes it difficult for them to pursue the same forms of involvement as White middle class parents, then how can they improve their programs and work with ESL immigrant parents to address those challenges? Previous research guides me to focus specifically on first-generation ESL immigrant parents with children attending grade school in the U.S. I want to get a deeper understanding of the diverse strategies they use to support their children’s learning, what challenges they face to pursuing the so-called “White middle class” forms of academic involvement, and what they might do to get past those challenges. My research question is: What factors shape the forms of ESL immigrant parental involvement in their children’s academic school experience?

            I plan to present my research findings to the National School Boards Association, the U.S. Department of Education, and local schools and academic support organizations in regions with high immigrant populations, so they are better informed about immigrants’ experiences in the U.S. education system when assessing students’ academic performance, and creating policies and programs.

Research Method and Justification

            I will hire 14 research assistants, and together we will contact 200 ESL immigrant parents for in-depth interviews, expecting about 150 to agree (participation rate of about 75%). The sample should be representative of ESL immigrant parents in the U.S., so it will include interviewees with varying levels of English proficiency, educational attainment, personal experience with the U.S. education system, income, time spent in the U.S. It should also include those in urban and suburban areas with high and low immigrant concentrations. For practical reasons, we will recruit interviewees in and around New York City. The NYC metropolitan area versus the surrounding suburban areas have diverse neighborhoods and schools, with different compositions of immigrant and non-immigrant populations, and income levels. We will recruit interviewees as they drop off and pick up their children to and from public schools in various neighborhoods in and around NYC (we will recruit from elementary and middle schools to keep demographics more consistent). The interviews will take place in the interviewees’ homes, as being at home will create a safer environment for discussions about past experiences, feelings, and motives. Interviewees will receive $15 compensation.

            It is important to conduct interviews, despite the extra time and funding needed. Surveys can find relationships between certain demographic and SES factors that shape parental involvement. However, these relationships are too complex and different for each individual to be reduced to statistical patterns. Ethnographies could be used to observe parents in a school environment, and to find patterns in behavior. However, they cannot tell us much about ways the parents support their children’s education at home. Ethnographies require that we be unobtrusive, so we would have to make inferences about the parents’ demographic information. Interviews can address the limitations of these other methods, and can open up our research to variables and relationships we would not otherwise be able to explore.


            I have done two pilot interviews with native Spanish speaking mothers of elementary school children, whom I recruited at a non-profit academic support program in Manhattan (which we will call Forward). One mother (whom we will call Sophia) has higher English proficiency and educational attainment, and a busier work schedule than the other (whom we will call Danielle). Though their children had common academic challenges in school, they spoke of these challenges in very different ways. My findings led me to focus on two concepts that capture the way a parent approaches his/her child’s education. Below I list the concepts and how to distinguish them in interviews.

Two dimensions of parental academic orientation regarding child’s learning:

  1. Immediate vs. Longitudinal academic orientation
    1. Immediate academic orientation: The parents are more focused on their children’s current academic challenges and recent achievements. The parents discover new ways they can support their children’s learning through time and experience. (Exhibited more in Danielle)
    2. Longitudinal academic orientation: The parents are more focused on their children’s academic trajectory. The parents consider how the ways they support their children’s learning will affect their children’s future achievements. (Exhibited more in Sophia)
  2. Individual vs. Structural academic orientation
    1. Individual academic orientation: The parents are more likely to attribute their children’s academic challenges and achievements to their children’s personal efforts. The parents are focused on how what they can do to directly support their children’s learning, such as one-on-one communication. They might be more laidback when interacting with teachers, and trust that their teachers’ strategies are effective for their children. (Exhibited more in Danielle)
    2. Structural academic orientation: The parents are more likely to attribute their children’s academic challenges and achievements to the larger school system. The parents are focused on how compatible their children’s learning style is with curriculum designs and teaching styles. They might work with teachers in a collaborative way to discuss which learning strategies are suitable for their children. (Exhibited more in Sophia)

I included some new questions to my list of interview questions to further explore these concepts (see more in Appendix).

3 a. Why do you think certain material might be harder for your child?

(Individual vs. Structural)

  1. Do you and your child ever talk about applying to college in the future, or his/her dream college?
    1. What is your experience with education like? Either in your home country or the U.S.? (Immediate vs. Longitudinal)
  2. Do you and your child ever talk about career possibilities? What is his/her dream job?

(Immediate vs. Longitudinal)

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 1.36.25 AM.png

            My interviews will further explore how a parent’s educational attainment and experience with the U.S. education system might affect the ways they approach their children’s education, and the forms of involvement associated with approach.

            My interviews will also explore how four main factors (English proficiency, educational attainment, familiarity with the U.S. education system, and work schedule) shape the parents’ incentive and ability to pursue typically White middle class forms of academic involvement (homework help, parent-teacher conferences, attending school events, extracurricular academic programs). My pilot interviews and survey shows that despite that challenges from the four main factors might lower their ability to pursue White middle class forms of involvement, they do not lower their incentive to pursue them as much (see charts in Appendix). Below I describe how to distinguish these concepts:

  1. Incentive: The parents make active efforts toward certain forms of academic involvement, regardless of the challenges they face and how effectively they can support their children’s education through those forms.
  2. Ability: The parents can successfully pursue certain forms of academic involvement, and overcome any challenges they have to do so.

            Aeurbach’s research shows that lower educated, immigrant and racial minority parents have minimal involvement when it comes to parent-teacher conferences and homework help (Aeurbach 2007). However, I challenge that this is too simplistic, because it does not regard the parents’ incentives and strategies to overcome challenges. For example, both of my interviewees help their kids with math and reading at home, despite language difficulties. They also actively find ways to improve their English. Danielle takes English classes so she can talk to her son’s teachers more. Sophia says that English is hard for her, but still attends parent-teacher conferences because she is aware of how building relationships with teachers is important in measuring her kids’ learning. Both parents read English books with their children at home, and this simultaneously reinforces the children’s reading skills, and helps the parents improve their English. My survey data shows that parents consistently help their children with homework more often than they have the relevant knowledge about the material, regardless of English proficiency, educational attainment, experience with the U.S. education system, and work schedule availability. My pilot research suggests that though lower class, lower educated ESL immigrant parents face challenges that their White middle class counterparts do not, they can and need to overcome these challenges, and potentially pursue the same forms of academic involvement. Conducting interviews with a larger sample is necessary for having a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse strategies that the parents take to overcome those challenges.

Analysis Plan

            Each research assistant and I will interview about 10 parents, and record and transcribe the interviews. The team will keep the 6 concepts from the above section in mind during the interviews, so whenever an interviewee touches upon these concepts, we will direct them to expand on them. We will gather afterwards and code the transcriptions for the 6 concepts. See next page for the template we will use to guide our analysis:

Hypothesized Relationships based on Pilot Findings

ESL immigrant parents’ English proficiency, educational attainment, and personal experience with the U.S. education system; and parents’ academic orientations

(Factors and Orientations)

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 1.43.59 AM.png

ESL immigrant parents’ English proficiency, educational attainment, personal experience with the U.S. education system, work schedule availability; And degrees (incentive and ability) to pursue White middle class forms of academic involvement

(Factors and Degrees)

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 1.44.07 AM

            These are the patterns I found from my pilot research, between the 4 factors, 4 orientations, and 2 degrees of the forms of academic involvement. My team and I will code and analyze the 6 concepts against the 4 factors, and look for patterns. We will see if the factors shape the orientations and degrees as shown in the pilot research. It is okay if the findings do not line up with the hypothesized relationships. Because we are doing in-depth interviews, we will have a complex understanding of how these factors interact, affect each other, and maybe outweigh each other in terms of how strongly they shape the orientations and degrees of involvement.

Ethical Concerns

            To prevent harm to any individuals or institutions, I will give code names to all interviewees, their children and teachers and anyone else brought up in the interviews, and the schools and extracurricular programs their children attend. I will generally state demographic information: whether the interviewee lives downtown or in the suburban areas around NYC, in a place with high or low immigrant concentration, primary language, time spent in the U.S. etc. and the 4 factors I will consider in the analysis. There is the possibility that the in-depth interviews might raise emotionally sensitive past experiences. The team and I will try to mitigate this by emphasizing (on the consent forms and verbally before starting the interviews) that 1) the purpose of the research is to expand schools, educators, and policymakers’ knowledge about ESL immigrant parents’ experiences with the school system, so they can ultimately improve policies and programs, and 2) the research does not intend to judge the effectiveness of the parents’ involvement on their children’s academic outcomes.


            I am confident that a sample from NYC and surrounding areas will be representative of first generation ESL immigrant parents in the U.S. as a whole, with varying levels of the 4 factors I analyze. But one problem is that NYC is historically very open to immigrants, and has a very diverse immigrant population, relative to other regions in the U.S. Because I have this sample, I choose to not focus on discrimination or cultural misunderstanding in schools as one of the main factors that shape involvement (Guo 2012). Another limitation is that the interviewees might overestimate their incentive they made toward certain forms of involvement, because some incentive might include internal thoughts that they do not act on. My team and I have to be careful to distinguish these internal thoughts and feelings from active effort when measuring incentive. Making these distinctions during the analysis part will also help with controlling for emotional or expectation bias when interviewing parents.


            In order for U.S. schools, educators, and policymakers to facilitate the academic experiences of students of ESL immigrant parents, they need to understand the challenges that these parents face to pursuing the same forms of academic involvement as White middle class parents, and how these parents work to overcome those challenges. I hope that my research will encourage these institutions to reach out to ESL immigrant parents more, and work collaboratively to facilitate their children’s learning. My research seeks to widen and deepen this understanding for these practical reasons. I also hope that institutions and the general public have this understanding, they will challenge any previous negative assumptions about ESL immigrant parents’ incentive and ability to support their children in school.


Pilot Interview Questions

  1. What did you do today, before you came to pick up your child? What are you and your child going to do for the rest of the day?
    1. Describe what a typical weekday evening is like for your family, once your child finishes school.
  2. What is your work schedule like for you (and your spouse)? Does your work schedule work well with your child’s schedule? Are you able to be there to take your child to school, programs?
  3. What new material is your child learning in school? How well is he/she doing with this material? How do you know if he/she has any challenges with it?
    1. Why do you think certain material might be harder for your child?
  4. Are you able to help your child with this material yourself?
  5. How well do you know your child’s teachers? How does they help your child with learning? How helpful are they?
  6. Do you and your child ever talk about applying to college in the future, or his/her dream college?
    1. What is your experience with education like? Either in your home country or the U.S.?
  7. Do you and your child ever talk about career possibilities? What is his/her dream job?

            While preparing for interviews, I aimed to find two parents with different levels of implied SES and English proficiency. I wanted the parent with lower levels of those factors to represent immigrant parents who face more barriers to the forms of parental involvement in children’s education that are more common among white, middle and upper class parents, such as attending school events, homework help, and test prep (Aeurbach, 2007; Lareau, 2011). [Danielle] better represents this type of immigrant parent than [Sophia]. I thought, since I only had two interviews, I wouldn’t be able to consider other factors. But after my interviews, I want to think more carefully about SES, and the different components that make up a parent’s SES:

  1. Parent’s educational attainment (college educated or not)
    1. I learned from Blau and Duncan that parents’ educational attainment, and occupation, greatly influence their children’s educational and occupational trajectories. But from the interview with Sophia, I realize how significantly parents’ educational attainment shapes not their thinking as well (interviews allow us to learn about people’s thoughts and emotions). Sophia and her husband are both college educated, whereas I infer Danielle has lower educational attainment (I forgot to ask her, but interview suggests she doesn’t work, at least not as much as her husband, and her English proficiency is lower).
    2. Danielle and Sophia are both aware of their children’s academic challenges, and try to support them from different angles: e.g. getting advice from teachers, summer school, working on their own English skills, extracurricular enrichment activities. Though children had common challenges (transitioning between schools, writing detailed stories), they spoke of these challenges in very different ways. Danielle talked directly about her children’s challenges: “He can do well in math. I think so”; “Writing is hard for him. But at [“Forward”], Tom is much better”. She is more focused on their short-term challenges and achievements, and discovers new ways she can help her children as she goes: “my English is ok now, I’m doing…start to take English class.” On the other hand, Sophia pondered how her children’s challenges may be related to pedagogy, culture, and school structure. She emphasized how important it is that [Lily]’s public school transition from a “progressive” curriculum to one that will “push a little more”. She also compared her children’s school experiences in the U.S. to hers in Mexico: “At my country I didn’t learn like this until…fourth fifth grade?”
    3. This might be evidence that immigrant parents with lower educational attainment tend to be more concerned with their children’s immediate challenges in school and their individual challenges, and discover new ways they can support their children through personal experience. It might show that immigrant parents with higher educational attainment (college experience) tend to focus on their children’s long-term academic trends and how compatible their child’s learning style is with the larger school system/teaching styles. College educated parents have more experience with school systems and higher education. Does this mean higher-educated immigrant parents are more likely to be “future-oriented” in their forms of involvement? Sophia said she wants “to open more doors to [her] kids”. She also sees how in third grade, Dan is already learning to “do a problem in many ways”, “like in college”. If I did more interviews, I would look for quotes like this and code for “future-oriented” vs. “immediate-oriented” parental concern for children’s school experience, and look for a correlation.
    4. Personal experience with school systems might also make higher-educated parents engage with teachers in a more active and collaborative way, rather than trust them completely with helping their children learn. Sophia said she’s aware that “Every teacher has their own way to measure reading level”, so she needs “to work with both teachers”. Earlier, I considered parents’ familiarity with and incentives to talk to teachers and one broad form of involvement. But now I know I have to look into the content of parent-teacher interactions. Both Danielle and Sophia communicate directly with their children’s teachers about their children’s academic performance. Both express appreciation for the teachers. But while Danielle trusts that Tom’s teachers will help Tom write better, Sophia actively compares the different methods Dan’s teachers use to help Dan with reading, and assesses their effectiveness. Although I don’t have the capacity to research how parental involvement shapes learning outcomes, I think this is a key difference to consider.
  2. Parent’s employment, work schedule, and if one or both parents work
    1. I saw all kinds of schedules in my ethnography, from parents who were (inferred from observations) unemployed and stressed about finances, repeatedly late to pick up their kids from “Forward” (perhaps held back on a weekend job), on time. Some kids went home with other kids’ parents, and some went home with both their parents. I didn’t see as wide a range in my interviews, but I saw more depth.
    2. I infer that Danielle doesn’t work, but her husband does. Sophia told me both she and her husband work, and both sometimes have to work overtime. I infer both families are working class, but are financially stable because they can afford extracurricular activities. Danielle’s and Sophia’s families’ employment situations have advantages and disadvantages for parental involvement.
      1. Danielle has more free time than Sophia. Danielle and Tom have established a consistent drop-off and pick-up routine, whereas Lily and Dan can’t always predict which parent will take them to and from school and extracurricular activities. Danielle and Tom can build a rapport about Tom’s school experience, and Danielle can gauge Tom’s improvement over time: “I always ask every time after [“Forward”] class, “What did you learn today?” And [Tom] always tells me, “So much! I learned this…” On the other hand, Sophia feels that juggling school and work is stressful: “if [my husband] can’t do pick up, I need run to pick up the kids. It’s rush.” Although both mothers manage to find time to learn about their kids’ school experiences, the one who (likely) doesn’t work (or at least doesn’t work full-time) has an advantage in this. Does this mean immigrant parents who don’t work full-time tend to be more aware of their children’s social experience?
      2. Both mothers are ESL and native Spanish speakers. But Sophia is more proficient in English. Since Sophia works full-time, she has more opportunities to improve her English in a formal setting. Danielle takes initiative and uses her free time to take English classes for ESL adults. Based on the two interviews, I see that though immigrant parents who don’t work don’t use English in a professional setting, they probably have the incentive to seek out other ways to improve their English.

            My interviews also give me some interesting insights about the role of language in shaping ESL immigrant parents’ involvement:

  1. My interviews suggest that parents’ language barriers don’t pose any direct challenges for children’s English skills. I can’t forget this distinction as I move forward. Though children of immigrant families may grow up speaking a different language, when they enter the U.S. school system at a young age, they will be immersed in English. Their academic and social experiences at school will be in English. Danielle speaks to Tom in English because “Now [Tom speaks] only a little Spanish”. Sophia said her older child Dan has retained Spanish pretty well, but her younger child Lily “has the American accent, she’s missing a lot of words”.
  2. Though ESL status makes it difficult for immigrant parents to pursue “white middle class” forms of involvement, it doesn’t lower their incentives to. My findings are more optimistic than those from the three journal articles I cited in Problem Set 2. Aeurbach’s data shows that lower educated, (non-immigrant) racial minority parents have minimal involvement when it comes to parent-teacher conferences and homework help, and give emotional support and “moral capital” at home (Aeurbach 2007). I think this is too simplistic. Firstly, Danielle, Sophia, and Sophia’s husband all help their kids with math and reading at home, despite language difficulties. Secondly, they actively find ways to improve their English. Danielle takes English classes so she can talk to Tom’s teachers more, meet volunteers like me, and help Tom with writing. Sophia says that English is hard for her, but still attends parent-teacher conferences because she is aware of how building relationships with teachers is important in measuring her kids’ learning. I see a trend: immigrant parents see their language barriers as something they can and need to get past in order to better facilitate their children’s academic experiences. It’s how they try to get past the language barrier that may differ.
  3. I think this trend is very important because it has many advantages for parents and children: ESL immigrant parents and their children help each other with language at home.
    1. Both Danielle and Sophia read English books with their kids at home. Firstly, this is a form of academic parental involvement. This is advantageous because
      1. It helps the kids improve their reading skills. Danielle said she and Tom check out new books every week, and Sophia said Dan and Lily enjoy correcting her English pronunciation. It seems like kids with ESL parents need to work harder than kids with native-English speaking parents while reading together. Perhaps this is an advantage for kids with ESL parents, and reinforces their reading skills. I think educators and researchers should seriously consider this when interacting with immigrant parents.
      2. It simultaneously helps the ESL parents improve their English skills. Both Danielle and Sophia admit this. Reading with Tom gives Danielle further incentive to take English classes on her own: “English is hard, but I have class. And Tom loves to read. So, it’s good.” Sophia describes reading with her kids as a way for them to help each other with language: “It’s reciprocate. [Dan and Lily] can help me and I can help [them].”

            My interviews gave me more insight on the academic side of parental involvement than the social. I expected the parents to tell me more about their children’s friends, other ESL immigrant parents, and mutual-support networks between ESL immigrant families. This was because in my ethnography, I observed many cases of one parent picking up multiple children. Why did my interviews give me so little knowledge of these networks?

  1. I could’ve done a better job of exploring social networks with Danielle. I interviewed her first, so I was less prepared to direct the conversation. I did find out that Danielle talks to other parents to arrange playdates. But I didn’t know how to ask her whether those parents are also ESL immigrants in a polite way. I also forgot to ask her about any common academic challenges that Tom and the other children face. There could’ve been a lot to explore here.
  2. I was more prepared to discuss social networks with Sophia. But I think there was less to explore for her case than for Danielle’s. This is because Dan only has one classmate from public school at “Forward”, whereas Tom has many classmates from public school at “Forward”. Perhaps ESL immigrant family networks depend on neighborhood demographics? I looked up the public school that Danielle’s son Tom goes to. It’s in Queens, its students are over 80% Hispanic, and about 20% are English learners.[1] Sophia didn’t tell me what public school number her son goes to, but she told me she lives a few blocks away from Grace Church School, so I infer it’s one in or around the East Village. I looked up East Village public schools and saw that they have more Asian and Black students among the racial minorities, but also have a small percentage of white students. But these schools tend to have a much lower percentage of English learners.[2]

I think it was a good idea to interview “Forward” parents, because my volunteer insider status came into use. Danielle was eager to ask me questions about Tom’s performance in the classroom, which is a form of parental involvement. My familiarity with “Forward” made it easier for both mothers to express their appreciation for the “Forward” curriculum, because I knew what they were talking about.

But “Forward’s” parents are not representative of all ESL immigrant parents. Firstly, both parents I interviewed were pretty proficient in English. But some parents I observed from my ethnography and volunteering barely speak English. Although Danielle better represents parents with greater SES and language barriers than Sophia, the data I collected from her must be skewed towards being more optimistic about the ability to overcome those barriers. The fact that I found Danielle and Sophia from “Forward” means they’ve already found a way to be support their children’s academic and social school experience. What if I interviewed ESL immigrant parents who don’t know of such programs? Would there be more dependence on “moral capital” (Aeurbach, 2007) than efforts for “white middle class” forms of involvement (Lareau, 2011)?


[2] Ibid.


Pilot Survey

            My sample was 56 NYU students, who are children of at least ESL immigrant parent, and who went to grade school in the U.S. I found respondents by emailing cultural and academic student clubs. I noted in PS 5 that since my sample is NYU students (for feasibility reasons), I’d overestimate ESL immigrant parents’ “longitudinal academic orientation” and “structural challenges orientation”. With that in mind I emailed clubs that give academic support, networking opportunities, and volunteer opportunities to first generation college students, such as Proud to be First. I also posted the survey on NYU class and dorm Facebook pages.

            53/56 started school in the U.S. in elementary school, and 3 in middle school. This is convenient because my ethnography and interviews were at one of “Forward’s” elementary school sites.

            My sample was still skewed toward those with ESL parents with higher English proficiency, educational attainment, employment stability. But I have enough responses for each level of proficiency to do comparisons.

            This is an example of the point system I used for all questions with interval values. The maximum possible score for each respondent for these concepts is 1. I averaged the scores from all the responses for each question.



Longitudinal and Structural Academic Orientation

            I found that the tendency for longitudinal orientation is positively related to parent’s educational attainment, and having received schooling in the U.S. This relationship is expected based on what I found in my interviews: if a parent has personal experience in higher education, and with the U.S. school system, they’re more likely to focus on their children’s long-term academic trends, rather thantheir children’s immediate academic performance. However, there isn’t a significant difference between the probabilities for each level of educational attainment. This might have to do with my sampling limitations. I phrased the questions: “Did your ESL immigrant parent(s) talk to you about going to college, when you first started school in the U.S.? (e.g. Applying to college in the future, your dream college)”; “About your future career? (e.g. Career possibilities, your dream job). I tried to ask respondents to recall conversations they had with their ESL immigrant parents, so I could get objective answers. I might’ve underestimated the strength of the relationship, because conversations are only one way to measure longitudinal orientation.

            There is also a positive relationship between longitudinalorientation and English proficiency. I didn’t expect this when I made the survey. But I think this relationship might exist because parents with higher English proficiency are more likely to have higher educational attainment, and experience with schooling in the U.S.

            I also found that parents who finished at least some college are more likely to be structurally oriented rather than individually oriented, as compared to parents who didn’t attend college. This finding is expected based on my interviews.

            I’m surprised that parents who had received schooling in the U.S. were less likely to be structurally oriented than those who hadn’t received schooling in the U.S. I expected the opposite, since I thought U.S. educated parents would have more knowledge on, and be more aware of, how curriculums and school systems affect their children’s learning. I wish I asked more questions to get at this concept, because I think this data is not valid. I struggled to phrase the survey question in a way that would reduce emotional and expectation bias. In the end, I could only phrase it as the respondent’s perception of what their parents thought years ago: “Your ESL immigrant parent(s) were more likely to attribute difficult academics (e.g. new material, hard tests, study habits) to a tough curriculum, rather than your individual challenges.” Even with the “can’t recall” option, this question has too many problems. I think the core reason for this is my sample. If I didn’t have the feasibility issues I did, I’d make a survey for ESL immigrant parents, instead of their children, so I can get at this concept more directly.


Academic parental involvement: Homework help

            As I expected from my interviews, ESL immigrant parents in general tend to make active efforts to help their children with homework, even if they don’t completely understand the material. My survey data shows that this is true (on average) for all respondents, no matter what level of English proficiency, educational attainment, experience with U.S. schooling, and work schedule availability. For any group of parents, average scores for active effort is higher than relevant knowledge. Susan Auerbach argued that immigrant parents’ lackof social and cultural capital disadvantages them from taking on “white middle-class” forms of academic involvement, like homework help. My data is significant because it shows us that this topic is more complicated. Just because immigrants may face more challenges than U.S. citizens (e.g. English proficiency, lower educational attainment) which makes it hard for them to understand their children’s academic material, it doesn’t mean they don’t try to help.

I’m very happy to see this overall pattern.

            I want to explore the relationship between active effort and relevant knowledge in homework help. This is because inthe interviews, both native Spanish-speaking mothers read English books with their kids, and said that they’re eager to do so even though they have trouble with reading, because 1) the kids reinforce their reading skills by explaining the books to their parents, 2) it’s another way for the parents to improve their English. I wish I had asked the respondents about what subjects their parents made active efforts to help them on.


Parent Teacher Conference (PTC) attendance

            There is a slight positive relationship between parent’s educational attainment and PTC attendance, but the more significant determinant for PTC attendance is their availability. Having a busy work schedule is a barrier to PTC attendance.

Reaching out to teachers outside formal meetings

            Parents with higher English proficiency, and who were educated in the U.S. are more likely to reach out to teachers outside PTCs. This is consistent with my interviews. Both mothers I interviewed said they knew their children’s teachers and appreciate their support for their children. But the mother with higher English proficiency and higher educational attainment engaged with teachers in a more collaborative way, while the other mother seemed to trust the teachers’ teaching strategies a lot. The relationship between English proficiency and parent-teacher engagement shows in the data. But I should’ve asked a question to distinguish between “reaching out to teachers outside PTC” at all, vs. “the degree of engagement when parents reached out to teachers” to see if this is true for more parents.


            My survey data says a lot about how independent factors shape ESL immigrant parents’ ability to pursue certain forms of involvement. I focused on 4 main factors throughout the analysis: English proficiency, educational attainment, U.S. education, work schedule availability. Some factors are more significant for certain forms of involvement. Overall, the data supports the relationships I expected. There were some surprises, but I noted that when there were surprises, I didn’t phrase the question very well to extract accurate information about parents from their children.

            I decided that I should focus on parental involvement in the academic component of their children’s school experience, rather than both academic and social components. I essentially care about educators, policymakers, and the general American public jumping to conclusions about the effectiveness of ESL immigrant parents’ involvement on children’s academic outcomes. The end goal of the research is to raise awareness of the challenges and barriers ESL immigrants face, so schools can work with ESL immigrant parents to address these challenges and barriers. I think the academic component is more relevant to this end goal than the social component.

Auerbach, Susan. 2007. “From Moral Supporters to Struggling Advocates: Reconceptualizing Parent Roles in Education Through the Experience of Working-Class Families of Color.” Urban Education 42(3):250–83.
Guo, Yan. 2012. “Diversity in Public Education: Acknowledging Immigrant Parent Knowledge.” Canadian Journal of Education 35(2):120-140.
Lareau, Annette. 2011. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, With an Update a Decade Later. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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