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Engaging Families of English Learners

Download: Engaging Families of English Learners

This piece,  part of our Addressing Critical Equity Issues series, discusses some of the barriers that families of English Learners face that make interactions at school challenging and provides promising practices to help address them.  Download Engaging Families of English Learners.

Engaging Families of English Learners

English Language Learners (ELs) are the fastest growing segment of the school‐age population, doubling their numbers from approximately 2 million in 1989‐1990 to more than 5 million in 2004‐2005. Currently, ELs represent 10.5% of the total public school student enrollment (Arias, B. & Morillo‐Campbell, M. 2008). Family involvement is consistently cited as an important correlate of effective schools. There is evidence that family practices concerning children’s education are more important for helping students succeed in school than are family structure, economic status, or characteristics such as race, parent education, family size, and age of child (Goldenberg, 2004; Jeynes, 2002). Unfortunately, not all parents; and/or families have the same level of participation in school‐home collaborations. Families of ELs face barriers that make their interactions with schools particularly challenging. Research studies indicate that the most common barriers include: 1) logistical issues concerning transportation, parents’ labor‐ intensive work schedules, and child care; 2) lack of confidence interacting in a culture different than their own; 3) lack of English language skills; 4) insufficient information on home‐school collaboration and/or partnerships; 5) different perceptions and expectations of their role and the role in school related issues and activities; and 6) in some cases, lack of sensitivity and understanding on the part of school personnel. School based barriers for the engagement of ELs’ families include: a) fear and distrust of different life styles; b) a deficit perspective of ELL families; c) lack of knowledge of the native languages; d) a traditional, unidirectional approach to family involvement; and e) negative school climate (Arias, B. & Morillo‐Campbell, 2008; Tinkler, B. 2002).

During the last decade several approaches to effective family engagement of ELs have been developed and implemented successfully. These practices have several common characteristics including: 1) acknowledging parents’ cultural values and viewing them as strengths; 2) providing a school environment that is warm, caring, inviting, and receptive to parents; 3) promoting improved communication between parents and schools by using interpreters and parent liaisons; 4) modifying meetings to accommodate parents work schedule; 5) providing child care and transportation; 6) providing school information in different languages; and 7) training school personnel on how to promote effective culturally responsive communication with parents (Rios, F. 2010; Waterman, R & Harry, B. 2008).




  •  Allen, J. (2007). Creating Welcoming Schools: A Practical Guide to Home‐School Partnerships with Diverse Families. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Arias, B.; Morillo‐Campbel M. (2008). Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times. Arizona State University. Policy Brief available online at:
  • Civil, M. & Quintos, B. (2009). Latina Mothers’ Perceptions about the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics: Implications for Parental Participation. In Culturally Responsive Mathematics Education, edited by Greer, B., Mukhopadhyay, A., Powell, A., & Nelson‐Barber, S. pp. 321‐343. New York: Routledge.
  • De Gaetano, Y. (2007). The Role of Culture in Engaging Latino Parents’ Involvement in School. Urban Education 42, no.2: 145‐162.
  • Dantas, M.L. & Manyak, P. (2010). Home‐School Connections in a Multicultural Society. Learning from and with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. Routledge, New York & London.
  • Valdez, G. (1996). Con Respeto: Bridging the Differences between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools: An Ethnographic Portrait. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Zarate, M. (2007). Understanding Parental Involvement in Education: Perceptions, Expectations, and Recommendations. Los Angeles: Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.


  •  Arias, B. & Morillo‐Campbell, M. (2008). Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times. Educational Policy Research Unit, Arizona State University.
  • Goldenberg, C. (2004). Successful School Change. New York: Teacher College Press.
  • Jeynes, W. (2002). A Meta‐Analysis: The Effects of Parental Involvement on Minority Children’s Academic Achievement.Education and Urban Society 2003; 35; 202
  • Rios, F. (2010). Home‐School‐Community Collaborations in Uncertain Times. In Dantas M.L. & Manyak, P. (Eds.) Home‐School Connections in a Multicultural Society. Learning from and with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. Routledge, NY.
  • Tinkler, B. (2002, April). A Review of Literature on Hispanic/Latino Involvement in K‐12 Education. Retrieved from
  • Waterman, M. & Harry, B. (2008). Building Collaboration Between Schools and Parents of English Language Learners: Transcending Barriers, Creating Opportunities. National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCREST),

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