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Missing Messages: The Influences of Class and Culture on Educational Achievement in First Generation Immigrant Families


In response to cultural and institutional beliefs about the necessity of an education and the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that has increased academic accountability on schools and teachers, research on predictors of academic achievement has expanded over the past decade. Classically, research on achievement has noted the significance of demographic factors and the positive relationship between socioeconomic status (SES), parental involvement and academic achievement. As such, research on achievement within low SES populations has taken center stage. Along these lines, scholars have focused on how cultural and environmental factors also affect achievement in disadvantaged minority populations. Finally, as schools reorganize to meet NCLB mandates and as the teaching-learning-evaluation process is altered in the response to these shifts, scholars have begun to examine how NCLB has affected teaching, learning and achievement in the classroom. Unfortunately, less attention has been paid towards understanding how NCLB alters the significance of parent involvement on the achievement process. This dissertation identifies relevant dimensions of parent involvement in first generation Mexican families and considers how changes to the U.S. educational system affect opportunities for relevant forms of involvement and assessments of student achievement.

Using a sample of 54 first generation Mexican families with an eighth-grade child, I examine parent involvement and student success through exploring how these parents conceptualize meanings of education and understand their utility within their child's schooling. The findings from this project highlight how academically, linguistically, economically disadvantaged parents involve themselves in their child's education and how their children perceive and are affected by these interactions. Contrary to classic understandings about the linear relationships between SES, parental involvement, and academic aspirations, I discuss the counterintuitive effects of income on children's perceptions of their parents' utility, as tempered by the cultural histories and linguistic boundaries of their parents. Following this discussion, I consider how NCLB has affected the structure of schooling and culture of learning in U.S. schools and how these shifts diminish the ways in which first generation Mexican families are able to remain involved in their child's educational success. Finally, suggestions for future research and policy development that have the potential for meeting the needs of a rapidly changing educational environment and growing Latino student population are offered.

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