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Parents and Education

Understanding "bicultural" parents to help improve urban schools

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Dr. Edward Olivos, Ph.D. is an associate professor at the University of Oregon. - PHOTO BY JIMMY MITCHELL
  • Photo by Jimmy Mitchell
  • Dr. Edward Olivos, Ph.D. is an associate professor at the University of Oregon.

According to Jose Evans, one of the founders of the Black & Latino Policy Institute of Indianapolis, between the years of 1990 and 2000 the Indianapolis Public School system was the dropout capital of the United States. All five of the IPS high schools were considered "dropout factories." But the high mobility rate in urban school districts can make it difficult to track students, creating dismal graduation rates for IPS and other urban schools. With students leaving for private and charter schools or otherwise unaccounted for, public school systems lose money, affecting the student population they serve.

"I think it's really time to start reclaiming them (from charter schools)," said Dr. Edward M. Olivos, associate professor at the University of Oregon.

Olivos spoke with parents, teachers, students and community members about bicultural parental involvement and engagement in their children's educational experiences. His appearance was sponsored by the Black & Latino Policy Institute of Indianapolis.

The students who are staying in the urban public school systems are the bicultural children. Eighty percent of the IPS students were minority students in last year's enrollment according to the Indiana Department of Education data.

Olivos taught first grade in San Diego, Calif. for 10 years before pursuing his doctorate, claiming that a ban against bilingual education in California prompted him to further his education.

Stating that he is far from an expert but rather versed in this area due to his 10 years in the classroom, Olivos said that parental involvement is important because it helps students get better grades, have better attendance, social skills, and behavior during school.

But why does Olivos focus specifically on the bicultural parent community?

"Bicultural students are the majority in a lot of school districts, particularly in urban schools," Olivos said. "The so-called 'crisis' is in that community."

According to Olivos, teachers put assumptions on parents and why they aren't involved, rather than working with the parent to help them become more engaged.

Dr. Edward Olivos, Ph.D., talks about involving bicultural parents in an urban school environment. - PHOTO BY JIMMY MITCHELL
  • Photo by Jimmy Mitchell
  • Dr. Edward Olivos, Ph.D., talks about involving bicultural parents in an urban school environment.

Why aren't bicultural parents involved?

According to Olivos, they're viewed as apathetic, that certain parents don't place a high value on education. But, Olivos says they are not apathetic, they just place a different type of value on education that is entirely different compared to the way the U.S. views it. As well, these parents aren't entirely confident in understanding how the educational system functions.

Translated into English, "educado" means "educated." In the United States, to be educated means there's a higher level of schooling with degrees to prove the education. According to Olivos, for Spanish-speaking Latino families, to be educated means to be "well behaved, respectful courteous people."

Simply blaming low-economic standing and a lack of parental involvement and education for academic underachievement is just a correlation, according to Olivos, and not the overall cause.

"Social economic status is not the cause of academic underachievement," Olivos said. "If that were the case, no poor kid would ever do well in school."

Instead of just preaching parental involvement, Olivos sets out to educate different school districts and communities about parental engagement rather than involvement.

"Parent involvement ... is what we call 'prescribed' or 'sanctioned' activities," Olivos said.

Dennis Shirley wrote in his book Community Organizing for Urban School Reform that "parental involvement — as practiced in most schools and reflected in the researched literature — avoids issues of power and assigns parents a passive role in the maintenance of school culture. Parental engagement designated parents as citizens in the fullest sense — change agents who can transform urban schools and neighborhoods."

Parental engagement can be a very political process by sizing up the parents based on their own education and work. Olivos admitted that even he as teacher had bias. He said that every teacher has bias, that it's only natural, but that these biases need to be addressed.

Olivos said that there needs be a paradigm shift about how teachers think about their relationships with parents and how they interact with them as well.

"I'm not saying that we need to overturn and overrun schools and kick out capitalism," Olivos said. "I'm talking about a paradigm shift about how we think about parents, how we think about schools, how we think of our engagement."

Olivos also added that in order to be on equal footing with the administration, it is critical to be informed. He said it's important to document your concerns and the administration's responses, why they responded that way, and to teach and inform others.

"The good thing about schools is that there's avenues for people to have a voice," Olivos said. "It may be small in the beginning, but it can eventually grow."


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