Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Representative Bureaucracy and Parental Involvement in Schools

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katie Vinopal, American University
Since the 1980s, most school reform policies have emphasized parental involvement (PI) initiatives (Domina 2005). Because PI is thought to influence cognitive and social development, educational attainment, and attendance (e.g., Avvisati et al. 2010; Epstein & Sheldon 2002; Hill & Stafford 1980; Houtenville & Conway 2008; Phillips 2011), schools have increasingly placed requirements on parents to become involved in their child’s classroom and school. However, there exists wide variation in the level of PI across parental education and race/ethnicity (e.g. Bianchi 2000; Carlisle et al. 2005; Vinopal & Gershenson 2015; Grolnick et al. 1997; Kalil et al. 2012), and wide debate over why this is the case and whether a “one-size-fits-all” PI policy is useful (Kim 2009; Lareau & Shumar 1996). Understanding parents’ decision to become involved is essential to better designing PI policies and training teachers.

Existing PI research emphasizes teacher-parent and school-parent relationships as important determinants in school-based PI (e.g. Lewis & Forman 2002). This research suggests that alignment in culture, values, and language between parents and school staff may create a culture of inclusion, wherein parents feel more empowered and welcomed to participate (Garcia Coll et al. 2002; Huntsinger & Jose 2009; Lareau 2003; Pena 2000; Turney & Kao 2009).

Such hypotheses are also informed by representative bureaucracy (RB) theory, which posits that a public workforce gains legitimacy and improves outcomes for the public if it is reflective of the demographics of the population it serves (Krislov 1974). RB theory has been tested in the education context and found to be important in predicting student outcomes. That is, students with a teacher of their same race or ethnicity (Dee 2005; Ehrenberg et al. 1995; Ouazad 2014) often have better outcomes. However, this theory has never been tested when it comes to PI.

The current study fills this gap by bringing together theoretical perspectives from PI and RB scholars to better understand the relationship between parent-teacher and parent-school racial alignment and the PI decision. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, this study uses student fixed effects models (following similar methodology by Ouazad [2014] on the same data) to explore whether having the same race/ethnicity teacher or principal, or racial representation among the teacher workforce, increases the chances a parent is involved in the school. I also test for heterogeneity by race, socioeconomic status, and region.

If racial representation among teachers is found to matter for PI, there are at least three potential policy implications. First, RB research often leads to a recommendation that more underrepresented teachers be recruited (e.g. Dee 2005). A second policy implication may be a call for more teacher professional development that emphasizes cultural competency and effective outreach to parents. Finally, in schools with low levels of representation, PI policies and programs should be designed to be more sensitive to culture. In particular, programs could be better designed to empower and encourage parents who come from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of understandings about what constitutes PI.