Traditionally, minoritized ethnic-racial groups have been excluded or significantly underrepresented from participating in research. According to some estimates, 96% of psychological studies come from countries with only 12% of the world’s population, and tend to include mostly white participants.
Research suggests such underrepresentation can lead to assumptions that behaviors and values of the majority culture are “normal,” while those of other cultures are problematic.
To address this disparity, University of Nebraska researchers recently completed a five-year project — TAPP para Familias Latinas — that focused on strengthening and supporting partnerships among parents and teachers of Latinx students.
The project was developed on the foundation of Teachers and Parents as Partners, a research-based, problem-solving and decision-making intervention developed by Child, Youth, Families and Schools Director Sue Sheridan and other Nebraska researchers. TAPP builds on student strengths while fostering collaboration among parents and teachers, and has been proven to enhance students’ academic, behavioral and social outcomes while strengthening parent-teacher relationships.
Funded by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, TAPP para Familias Latinas found that emphasizing shared goals and commonalities generated better communication and connection among students, parents and teachers — even with existing language and cultural differences. Those stronger home-school relationships enhanced students’ learning and behaviors, and improved collaboration among their parents and teachers.
“Fundamentally, TAPP is an intervention about relationships, so we expected this might be a good fit for Latinx students and their families,” said Sheridan, the project’s principal investigator. “Latinx families have more home-based education, and learn in more relationship-oriented ways. We have to value the strengths these families bring to the table, and a partnership approach such as TAPP does that.”
Along with Sheridan, other research team members include co-investigators Lorey Wheeler, CYFS research associate professor and director of the Nebraska Academy for Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics, and Brandy Clarke, associate professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute; Marianne Andersen, research coordination specialist; Daniela Cubas, data collector; Kristen Derr, project manager; and graduate research assistants Libby Brower, Kara Brown, Donna Chen and Sunhyoung Lee.
Project participants included 155 Latinx-identified students in kindergarten through grade 5, 155 parents and 110 teachers from 34 schools in Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri.
During the study, teachers were assigned to either the TAPP intervention group or a comparison group. Teachers in the TAPP group met with parents and TAPP consultants to identify and prioritize the student’s strengths, set goals, develop strategies, implement a joint home-school plan, and evaluate and monitor the student’s progress. Students in the comparison group received typical services provided by schools.
Across both groups, classroom observations and surveys were used to evaluate TAPP’s effects on students, teachers and parents.
Researchers found that while all participating students increased social and adaptive skills, and reduced problem behaviors and attention/learning problems at school, TAPP participants’ gains were significantly greater. At home, only students whose parents received the TAPP intervention showed increases in social and adaptive skills, and decreases in externalizing and internalizing behaviors.
Parents and teachers reported both long- and short-term benefits from TAPP participation, including enhanced relationships, increased perspective-taking and improved use of home-school strategies.
Strengthening relationships among students, parents and teachers is only the first step, Sheridan said.
“Even though relationships are important, there are many systemic challenges and barriers to building and fostering partnerships with families,” she said. “Language is a barrier, but there were a lot of other things. We found that in many typical practices used, despite good intentions, some families can be left out. We wanted to focus on that.”
Throughout the project, interpreters were available for all families and material was translated into the participants’ preferred language. Researchers invited input from parents to better understand their goals and dreams for their children.
“We approached our interactions with parents differently than what they were used to,” Sheridan said. “Because we emphasized trust-building and accountability, and kept our promises, we validated their impressions and perspectives. We used a lot of open, inviting communication strategies, and allowed them to drive the discussions of what’s important for their children’s upbringing.”
Sheridan noted many participating parents had limited experiences with school systems and schooling, and therefore were not always able to solicit help for their child.
“We need to be more intentional about finding ways to effectively reduce opportunity gaps for marginalized students,” she said. “Can we elevate equity more intentionally? When you think about barriers to a good education, the source of the inequity is often in the system.”
Latinx students remain the fastest growing ethnic group, comprising about one-quarter of U.S. students. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Latinx students are projected to represent one-third of America’s school-age population by 2050, equaling non-Latinx white students.
“We tend to impose things in education that work for white, middle-class Americans without thinking about how it fits for people from other cultures who care just as deeply about their children and their future,” Sheridan said. “If we really want what’s best for kids, who learn across many settings with lots of different people, we have to examine all the ways to support them. If we center families, partnerships and relationships, that could that be a powerful source of addressing the inequities we see among marginalized students.”
Simple things, such as not scheduling meetings that conflict with schedules of parents who work double shifts, or in a language they can’t understand, can have significant impacts, Sheridan said.
Wheeler said such attention to detail is crucial.
“This could be in important piece of the puzzle,” Wheeler said. “There are many sources of inequity within the educational system. Human populations are diverse, so this could help bring people together to learn about one another and reduce our bias as we’re working.”