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Dollars and Sense(making): An Examination of African American Parents' Pecuniary and Non-pecuniary Educational Investment Decisions

  • Author(s): Freelon, Rhoda
  • Advisor(s): Rogers, John
  • et al.

National attention regarding the heterogeneity of student outcomes across has race been an enduring concern among education researchers and policy makers. Often, the reasons for the well-documented differences are rooted in negative perceptions of families of color and what they fail to do for their children's education. In attempt to understand parent contributions, this study examines the educational investment strategies of African American parents using multiple methods and data sets. The study uses data from two national data sets (The Consumer Expenditure Survey and The Panel Study of Income Dynamics) as well as interview data with Los Angeles area parents. The study examines existing social and economic theory about parents' actions and behaviors regarding education and explicitly incorporates a race and class-based perspective that considers parents' social and economic position in society. The work focuses on educational investments (i.e., monetary, experiential, and parent-school based investments) as a broader conceptualization of parent involvement. By examining parents' educational investment patterns using quantitative and qualitative data, this study critically examines the prevailing deficit thinking about African American parents' involvement in their children's educational trajectory.

Central to the quantitative analysis of this work is a deeper understanding of intergroup disparities. Findings reveal that household income and wealth are positively related to educational expenditures across groups and may serve as a mechanism for perpetuating educational advantages. Interview data reveal the numerous ways that African American parents in this study invest in their children to advance their educational and social development despite contending with varying degrees of racial and economic inequality. Findings also suggest African American parents with limited economic capital increase their reliance on other forms of capital such as social capital found through their personal networks and community based organizations. Given the body of evidence that connects parental engagement and student achievement, this study has clear implications for better understanding the various ways that African American parents with children in a variety of school contexts can help to bolster student achievement.

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