First Advisor

Emily Shafer

Date of Publication

Spring 6-3-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Parent-teacher relationships -- Oregon -- Portland, Elementary education -- Parent participation, Communication in education -- Evaluation, Home and school, Cultural competence



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 103 pages)


Studies have increasingly shown that more parent involvement leads to higher academic achievement for kids. However, studies have also shown a difference in the ability of parents to effectively further their children's interest based on social class. Middle-class parents are described as being able to activate their cultural and social capital in order to further their interests, while working-class and low-income parents have been described as frustrated and marginalized- lacking the ability to activate their capital in a way that benefits themselves and their children.

The intent of this study is to explore how parents understand their role in the parent teacher relationship to look for evidence that social class might not be as much of a factor as previous literature suggests when it comes to activation of cultural capital. Building on a study that found some working-class parents were able to activate cultural capital through their conversations with teachers, I wanted to find out if how parents understand and perform their role would offer more insight into how cultural capital is activated. Based on the premise that how parents understand their role in conversation with teachers might be able to affect their ability to activate their cultural capital, I conducted a qualitative interview study to explore how parents of 5th grade elementary students view their role in the parent-teacher relationship.

Results of the study show that parents gained confidence in their role through conversations with teachers and that they also gained an increased ability to collaborate and engage in partnership with their childrens' teachers. Confidence in role and collaboration with teachers were seen as indications of activation of cultural capital. In this study, parents were able to activate their cultural capital by having collaborative relationships with teachers 9 out of 10 times, regardless of class background.

I draw conclusions that parents in my study developed the ability to activate cultural capital regardless of social class background. Because of this, parents' experience of their relationships with teachers might not be as dichotomous as previous research suggests. My findings suggest that frequency of communication is an important mechanism that contributes to successful parent-teacher relationships. Communication that was particularly helpful included informal conversations and email. The use of email in parent-teacher conversations in particular is an area that deserves further study.


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