February 02, 2017

Dissertation highlight: Danica Jensen Weiner, EdD ’16

Revisioning Parental Engagement: Partnerships for Authentic Dialogue and Reform

Revisioning Parental Engagement: Partnerships for Authentic Dialogue and Reform


Parental engagement in education plays such a significant role in student achievement that authors of No Child Left Behind included it as central to the task of reforming education in this nation (Howard & Reynolds, 2008).

At a critical time in educational transformation, NCLB incorporated the notion that parents would assume power and engage with schools around this monumental shift for accountability concerning the success of all students. Now the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, upholds this task and calls for parent and family engagement in district and school improvement processes and the development of parents and family engagement policies.

Traditional notions of parental engagement have rarely addressed partnerships for educational reform and policy change (Cooper, 2009). Furthermore, narratives regarding parents of color are dominated by a deficit discourse of what families “lack”, described as, “empty vessels” that need to be “filled” with knowledge to be able to engage in schools like their White middle class counterparts (Lightfoot, 2004). This qualitative study examined a counternarrative definition of parental engagement according to Latino parents who have students in the secondary level of education in a particular community in which White privilege contributes to, and perpetuates, the marginalization and continued exclusion of particular groups.

Because of the study purpose, I employed a critical race methodology to focus on the lived experience Latino families through a counterstory that challenges the dominant narrative created and perpetuated by White privilege and traditional White educational discourse. Findings in this study centered on Latino families’ limited access to the school, school programs, and institutional knowledge and power; systemic barriers maintained by White privilege; the cultural funds of knowledge and expertise of Latino parents as educators and advocates; a critique of the system from participants’ perspectives, and recommendations participants had for change in current practice.

Through the findings major implications for practice surfaced, including an examination and elimination of systemic barriers, the use of counterstory to disrupt deficit narratives of families of color, and educators’ and educational leaders’ utilization of practices to structure venues for authentic dialogue for reform.