I’m writing with an urgent and important message to Family Engagement Lab’s partners regarding the rise in hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans. The murders of eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women, punctuates the sharp increase in violent attacks across the country. Asian-Americans across the country are living with a daily fear for our loved ones and for ourselves.
Asian-American families are OUR families, Asian-American children are OUR students, and Asian-American educators are OUR teachers. One out of 10 FASTalk students identify as Asian, and Chinese is the third most commonly spoken language by our parents, after English and Spanish. Anti-Asian racism is affecting all of us profoundly.
Many of you have spoken with me about wanting to build stronger and supportive relationships with Asian-American families in your communities. I’m grateful for that because complicity is not an option. A recent youth-led study revealed a quarter of Asian-American young adults have been the targets of racism in the past year. In nearly half of cases an adult was present, but only seldom intervened.
Whether there are five Asian-American families in your community or 50,000, there is no more important time than the present to act when the safety and sense of belonging of anyone in our communities is threatened.
As we approach Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, it is an opportune time to take action in support of our Asian-American community members. Below is a list of resources for your schools and educators to build strength in your school communities to foster safety and belonging for Asian-American students, families, and colleagues during these challenging times.
Please join us in building safe, supportive, and inclusive communities for Asian-Americans.
Co-founder and CEO
The Research on Supporting EL Students
While ELs are the most rapidly growing student subgroup, representing nearly 10% of public school students and speaking more than 400 different languages and dialects, over 30 states do not require EL training for general classroom teachers beyond what is required federally. Indeed, the research on teacher preparedness and self-efficacy for teaching ELs paints a bleak picture. Despite a strong likelihood of having an EL student in their classroom, teachers are often without the necessary training and support to meet the needs of a heterogeneous EL student population with unique educational needs related to developing both English language skills and building subject area knowledge. Accordingly, national data reveal many ELs have unmet academic potential, as evidenced by academic assessment results comparing the achievement of ELs to their non-EL peers.
How Teachers and Families Can Partner to Support EL Students’ Success
Strategies for educators to move from “barriers to family involvement”
to “leveraging strengths through family engagement”
A few years ago Family Engagement Lab facilitated a gathering of parents to discuss parent-teacher partnerships at their elementary school. During the discussion, the group moderator pulled us aside to let us know that a parent was there because her child had been retained a grade and she did not know why. A few weeks later at a similar gathering, we were pulled aside by the moderator again, this time to tell us about a parent whose child was receiving decent grades throughout the year but scored poorly on the state test and now needed summer remediation.
In both cases, the teachers and parents did not share a common language. Language differences often come in between the two most important figures in a child’s life—parents and teachers, and limit their ability to communicate early to identify problem areas and partner together to support struggling learners.
The consequences are severe. English Learners (also referred to as English language Learners, ELs, or ELLs) make up 9.5% of public school students, and 16% of kindergarteners nationally, yet proportionately far fewer achieve academic proficiency compared to their English-speaking peers. For example, national data reveal that fewer ELs achieve proficiency compared to non-ELs in mathematics (14% versus 43%) and Reading (9% versus 40%). Lost learning during the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to reduce academic progress even further. The long-lasting negative impacts are well-documented and range from lower high school completion rates to lower earning potential and underemployment.
While decades of research underscore the value of family engagement, the crises of the past year cast a new light on its importance. First, the pandemic-forced school closures blurred lines for educators and families, as parents abruptly took a front row seat to their children’s educational experience in a way that they never had before. Second, our country’s reckoning with racial injustice highlighted an urgent need to equitably engage families in their child’s education. With this heightened recognition that meaningful and authentic family engagement is critical, it has also become clear that establishing a shared, well-understood definition of family engagement is critical.
We, at Family Engagement Lab, have been focused on family engagement since our founding in 2016. Powerful insights directly from families and educators regarding their experiences and needs, paired with research uncovering that involvement from a parent or caregiver in at-home learning has more than twice the effect on student achievement than parents’ education levels or socio-economic status (Melhuish et al., 2008) motivates our work, drives our commitment, and has shaped our definition of family engagement. Our approach to family engagement builds off of the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnership, which highlights how relationships between educators and parents are central to supporting student and school improvement.
The violent attempts to disrupt our democratic processes at our US Capitol on January 6 were disturbing and traumatic. The Capitol building is a symbol of our representative government, meant to uphold our cherished values of equality, liberty and justice for all. Yet the insurrection, including the symbols held up during the desecration of the US Capitol, explicit encouragement from a President fueling false conspiracies about the election, and delayed deployment of the National Guard from the Executive Office, was deeply about the racism that courses through this country’s past and present.
As educators fighting for equity, it is our responsibility to acknowledge this truth: while our nation’s promise may deem all to be equal, we have yet to achieve this promise for all of us. To live up to the promise that our democracy’s laws and institutions hold, we all must do our part to face our past while rebuilding a more just future for ourselves, and for our children.
We appreciate the efforts of the following organizations who have created resources for teachers and families to support honest conversations with children.
During a truly remarkable 2020, my colleagues and I are grateful to have had the opportunity to reach, impact, and connect with a growing number of leaders, educators, and families through our work at Family Engagement Lab with FASTalk. Yet, as I look to 2021, what brings me the greatest hope is the feeling that our work is part of a powerful collective effort, and our organization part of a greater community working to advance equitable educational outcomes through meaningful family engagement.
At Family Engagement Lab, we work to build bridges for every family and every classroom to support students every day. FASTalk is helping schools and teachers share weekly information and tips in families’ home language that are explicitly connected to student learning.
Are you finding joy in your adapted fall school rituals?
For example, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need to focus on an independent project (e.g., writing a report), I have a specific table at the local Panera where I go to give myself permission to focus on one thing, and one thing only. The cell reception is terrible, and the WiFi is great. Fueled by mac n’ cheese, I block out those pesky electronic distractions and get my project done. It’s sublime.
“Is Talia paying attention?”
As we kick off a unique school year, teachers, students, and families are transitioning into new roles, taking on new responsibilities, and establishing new routines. And, as we witnessed in the spring (and will continue to witness this fall and beyond), the roles and responsibilities that teachers and parents are taking on in support of students’ education have never been more intertwined. Questions like, “Is Talia paying attention? What does first grade writing look like? Is Devon confused? Is the lesson going too fast? Too slow? Is Tia falling behind?” are just as likely to be on teachers’ minds as parents’ minds as instruction extends beyond the classroom into families’ homes.
Summer 2020 brought to our national attention the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the continuing injustices of racism and, in particular, anti-Black racism. It is critical for Family Engagement Lab to affirm and support Black lives and the community beyond taking a moral stand, as combating racism in schools is key to fulfilling our mission of promoting equitable family engagement.
At Family Engagement Lab, a key area of focus for us is ensuring that all families have access to information about what their child is learning in class and how they can help at home. To that end, we are examining our content with a lens toward ensuring its continued applicability for all families and its relevance across race, economic status, and language. In addition to internal edits and regular feedback from educator and family stakeholders, we are enhancing our content through a number of activities, including 1) working closely with district partners (e.g., OUSD’s English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement team), 2) expanding our alignment with Benchmark’s Adelante curriculum, used in OUSD’s dual language programs, and 3) hiring new content writers with backgrounds and experience that support our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.