Somali parental involvement in education: case studies of two urban public schools in the United States of America

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Somali parental involvement in education: case studies of two urban public schools in the United States of America

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Parental involvement in the education of their children is recognized as a critical issue in education in many countries. The purpose of these case studies is to determine the views of Somali parents and teachers regarding effective parental involvement in the education of Somali-American school children. In addition, two Somali-speaking administrators were interviewed about their personal approach to promoting successful school-family partnerships at their respective schools. Epstein's Overlapping Spheres of Influence Framework (2002) provides the conceptual grounding and starting point to answer this study's guiding question, which is: "What are the factors that shape how school personnel and Somali families view effective parental involvement in the education of Somali children?" Further sub-questions seek to determine the range of opportunities and barriers that the study respondents consider as they reconcile the schools' formal expectations with their own personal expectations and experience.Data collection was driven by case study methodology. Furthermore, the data were triangulated from: (1) face-to-face interviews in English and Somali with 26 respondents (fourteen Somali parents, ten teachers and two school administrators); (2) document analysis, and (3) observation of the interactions of the school administrative staff with parents as well as attendance of a Parent Night event. In this study, three factors that shape how parents and school personnel view effective Somali parental involvement in the education of Somali-American children have emerged. Those factors constitute: active conversations; positive attitude; and student motivation. The former two factors facilitate the third--that is, active conversations and positive attitude promote the student motivation necessary to excel in education and behave appropriately at school. To elaborate, active conversations are verbal dialogues that favor flexibility and problem solving on the part of parents and teachers as they interact to help students take responsibility for their own learning and behavior. However, such conversations are perceived to be driven by preexisting credibility and trust between students, parents, and school personnel that foster reinforcement of the instructional, pedagogical and behavioral goals across the school-home settings.Furthermore, from an organizational perspective, Somali parents, at the two schools under study, engage in a range of activities that map onto four of Epstein's six types of parental involvement (i.e., Parenting, Communicating, Learning at Home, and Collaborating with the Community). In addition, from the perspective of teachers, Somali family participation and presence in the school life of their children falls along a continuum of four levels of parental involvement behaviors: (a) "Invisibility"(failure to participate in school-based activities), (b) "Shallow Involvement" (attend only parent-teacher conferences),(c) "Adequate Involvement" (attend parent-teacher conferences and also maintain contact with school personnel), and (d) "Deep Involvement" (parental involvement that is both school-based and home-based activities that are augmented with parental endorsement of the school and staunch advocacy on behalf of the school).Finally, compared to teachers, Somali parents believe that their children are learning well when they bring home their schoolwork, and when teachers and other school personnel offer school-based solutions that address barriers blocking effective parental support for students. This parental belief is strongest in relation to homework and discipline, without which student interest in school and attentiveness in class are weaker.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. March 2015. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: David W. Chapman. 1 computer file (PDF); xii, 159 pages, appendices A-H.

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Farah, Leila A.. (2015). Somali parental involvement in education: case studies of two urban public schools in the United States of America. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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