Portland State University. Department of Sociology
Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Sociology
Parent-teacher relationships, Elementary education -- Parent participation, Electronic mail messages, Social capital (Sociology), Elementary school teachers -- Attitudes, Belonging (Social psychology) in children
1 online resource (x, 116 pages)
This dissertation contains three separate but related papers, each with a different focus. In the three papers, I sought to gain a deeper understanding of how different forms of cultural and social capital appeared in the relationship between families and schools. The first paper covers an interview study exploring how teachers in elementary school understood and used email to facilitate partnership with parents, a form of social capital that has the potential to benefit families from all class backgrounds. The second paper investigates the relationship between socioeconomic status, bonding social capital and cultural capital; I tested whether social capital affected teacher perceptions of shared goals (a form of cultural capital). The final paper focuses on how children's sense of belonging affected their ability to exhibit grit, a key characteristic for academic success.
Paper 1 -- Email and facilitation of parent-teacher relationships. Parent-teacher communication is a fundamental way parents can participate in their children's education. Prior research has shown the importance of parent participation in supporting student success. Researchers have specifically noted the importance of relationship building between parents and teachers. Communication between parents and teachers acts as a form of social capital, helping parents gain access to the cultural capital of shared goals. At the same time, technology has enhanced communication methods. Using interviews with eight Title I teachers and eight non-Title I teachers, I investigated the role of email in helping teachers facilitate partnership with parents. By comparing responses from teachers who worked with parents from different class backgrounds, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of some of the benefits and drawbacks of email communication, as well as assess barriers that prevented some parents from using this form of communication. I found that digital communication, including email, could act as a form of social capital, helping parents gain access to the cultural capital of achieving goals shared between parents and teachers. My findings indicate that although email could be a useful tool, significant barriers persisted for parents from lower-SES backgrounds regarding accessing meaningful conversations with teachers. Helping lower-SES parents remove barriers by providing reliable access, training, translation services, and support for teachers could help reduce class-based inequities in schools, thereby engaging a broader range of parents in partnership with teachers.
Paper 2 -- Mothers' social capital and teachers' perceptions of shared goals. Previous researchers have examined the role of social capital in helping parents further the interests of their children in school. Although much of the research has focused on parent networks, some researchers have begun to examine the role of social capital within one important dyad -- the parent-teacher relationship. Most researchers studying the social capital in parent-teacher relationships have suggested that middle- and upper-income parents have access to more and broader forms of social capital. Thus, these parents are more likely to have access to the social capital found in parent-teacher relationships and, therefore, to the cultural capital found in shared goals. In this study, I used a subsample from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 1,340) and logistic regression to test if higher-SES mothers were more likely to be viewed by teachers as sharing goals with the school. Additionally, I constructed an index for measuring bonding social capital and tested whether having higher levels of social capital increased the likelihood that teachers perceived mothers as sharing goals with the school. Finally, I examined whether social capital mediated the relationship between SES and teacher perception that mothers in the sample shared goals with the school. I found that teachers were more likely to perceive higher-SES mothers as sharing school goals. Further, I found a positive relationship between higher levels of bonding social capital and teacher perception that mothers shared goals with the school. However, social capital did not act as a mediator between mothers' SES and shared goals; therefore, possession of bonding social capital had a unique positive relationship with the likelihood that teachers perceived mothers as sharing goals with the school. My findings highlight the need for continued research on the role of bonding social capital to show how it might contribute to building or accessing other forms of capital.
Paper 3 -- Belonging and teacher perception of student grit. Grit, in the form of persistence, has emerged as an important noncognitive trait that contributes to academic success. Many studies have shown that an SES gap exists in student achievement and that more grit is required for lower-SES children to succeed in school. Although teacher perception of grit in relation to SES is less clear in existing literature, research has shown that teacher perception is important for student achievement. In addition, a growing body of research has shown a relationship between grit and students' sense of belonging. In this study, I conceptualized belonging as a form of social capital. I measured belonging by creating an index from the children's responses to questions about their time at school and how often they felt close to someone, happy, safe, and part of their schools. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, I tested whether teachers were more likely to perceive grit in higher-SES children relative to lower-SES children. Additionally, I used logistic regression to test if children's sense of belonging mediated the relationship between SES and teacher perception of grit. To test for mediation of children's sense of belonging related to teacher perception and SES, I calculated predicted probabilities across two models, one including the index of child sense of belonging. I found a positive relationship between higher-SES and teacher perception of children's grit and between children's sense of belonging and teachers' perceptions of children's grit. Calculation of predicted probabilities across models did not reveal evidence of mediation; therefore, children's sense of belonging was shown to have a unique and positive relationship with teacher perception of grit. Past research has shown that lower-SES children need to exhibit more grit to achieve academic success, but my research shows higher-SES children are seen by teachers as exhibiting more grit. My findings highlight the need for continued research focused on the relationship between teacher perceptions of grit and SES. Further, because children's sense of belonging showed a unique and positive relationship with teachers' perceptions of grit, my findings demonstrate that belonging can be used as a form of social capital in relation to student success.
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Taylor, Sonja, "Family, School, and Forms of Capital" (2019). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5333.