The challenges Latino parents of English language learners encounter in their child's schooling: The politics and the praxis

Vanessa Espitia Mendoza, University of Texas at El Paso


Extensive research on home-school relations has indicated the academic advantages of positive home-school relations for students (Domina, 2005; Englund, Luckner, Whaley & Egeland, 2004, Marsh & Willis, 2007, Turney & Kao, 2009). The United States Department of Education has identified positive home-school relationships as critical to a student's education and has developed nation-wide policies to support parents, placing emphasis on culturally and linguistically diverse parents such as Latinos parents of English Language Learners (ELLs) (Departamento de Educación de EU, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011; Waterman, 2008). Bilingual education policies also advocate that parents are essential in supporting children and address this in policy to promote parent awareness, rights, responsibilities and authority over the bilingual/ESL programs (TEA, 2012; U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Despite the intended support from national and state policies for home-school relations and parent awareness of bilingual education policies, challenges in home-school relations and Latino parents of ELLs are found in the research (Delgado Bernal, 2002; Delgado Gaitan, 1991; Murillo, 2012; Nelson & Guerra, 2013; Olivos, Ochoa, & Jiménez-Castellanos, 2011; Ramirez & Soto-Hinman, 2008; Valdés, 1996). The purpose of this research was to explore the politics and practices at school for Mexican and Mexican American/Latino parents of ELLs in a border community and identify the challenges and opportunities in building home-school relations. The overarching question in this study focuses on how the home-school relations and parent awareness of bilingual/ESL education policies are aligned with the reported practices. Four research questions were used to guide an explanatory sequential mixed methods design consisting of two phases. Phase one involved the collection of quantitative data obtained through a survey administered to Latino parents of ELL students in a bilingual program and school personnel, essential in working with parents whose children participate in bilingual education. Phase two consisted of parent focus group interviews and school personnel interviews, both selected from the pool of participants in the first phase of the study. The theoretical frameworks used for this research were: (1) Bakhtin's (1986) theory of double discourse, particularly as it refers to language serving two meanings and two intentions; and (2) Delgado Bernal's (2002) Latino Critical Race Theory that acknowledges educational structures, processes, and discourses operating in contradictory ways with a potential to oppress, marginalize or empower Latinos. The results in this study indicated that the practices that the school personnel informed they provided to parents and the practices the parents reported being provided were not aligned. School personnel and parents had different understandings and expectations of the bilingual/ESL programs. The expectations and understandings of school personnel were framed from deficit perspectives on the Spanish language, bilingual education, culture and parental engagement. Double discourse theory was evident in home-school relations where school personnel expressed aiming for engaged parents; however, the school practices observed did not align with an engagement discourse, but more along the lines of meeting compliance criteria and informing parents. The types of activities found in bilingual education and home-school relations were limited to sessions where parent involvement was measured by the number of parents who attended. However, sessions that facilitated parent engagement and parent partnerships were not present. The social aspects of schooling regarding language, culture, and identity were challenges, as parents were viewed as not having the skills, knowledge or language to support their children in school. Along the same lines, parents were not seen as part of the decision making. The language and the culture of Latino parents and their ELL children show up as devalued and reflected a lack of cultural awareness in the school personnel. Language, and more specifically, limited English proficiency, was seen as a problem and consequently, bilingual education was a means to remedy this language condition by learning English. These orientations and perceptions affected the experiences that influenced the kinds of engagement of Mexican and Mexican American/Latino parents in their child's schooling and in fostering home-school relations. Limitations, implications for policy and practice, as well as future research directions were discussed. Recommendations for policy focused on monitoring building school capacity to implement parent policy provisions, as required by national, state and local policies and providing continuous parent education and district-wide professional development on bilingual/ESL program models, goals and objectives at both the district and campus levels. Recommendations for practice are centered on moving the discussion from parent involvement to parent engagement and partnerships through various venues such as parent representation on committees, parent trainer of trainers, and parent participation in school governance committees.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|English as a Second Language|Latin American Studies

Recommended Citation

Espitia Mendoza, Vanessa, "The challenges Latino parents of English language learners encounter in their child's schooling: The politics and the praxis" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3682459.