Harvard Educational Review
  1. A Cord of Three Strands

    A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools

    Soo Hong

    Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2011. 246 pp. $25.95.

    In A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Soo Hong challenges families, schools, and communities to collectively reenvision parent engagement. Hong chronicles a particular parental engagement strategy at a community organizing group in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. The book considers the work of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s (LSNA) parent mentor program at the community, school, family, and individual levels. Through what she calls a “layered ethnography,” Hong threads four years of empirical research together to present a new theory of parent engagement in schools.

    Chapters one and two set the schooling, community, and organizational contexts for the book. Hong first presents some of the most pernicious challenges to current relationships between low-income communities and the schools meant to serve them. She argues that we must consider the process of engaging parents rather than focusing on particular activities if, as she proposes, “a new model of engagement that is rooted in the realities of power, inequality, and a desire for social change” is to be enacted (p. 22). The second chapter introduces the Logan Square neighborhood and broader Chicago context and offers a brief history of LSNA’s road into organizing in schools.

    In chapter three, Hong utilizes elements of Portraiture methodology (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997) to bring LSNA’s parent mentor program at one school into focus. Readers follow the stories of two parents at this school as they work as instructional allies in classrooms and attend schoolwide parent mentor training sessions. This deep, contextualized look at two participants gives insight into the processes emphasized earlier in the book. Hong is able to highlight the how and not just the what, allowing readers to analyze the strengths and challenges of the strategy for themselves.

    Hong argues that three critical processes are necessary to move from superficial parent involvement to more authentic parent engagement: mutual engagement, deep relationships, and shared leadership and power. The next three chapters feature the empirical work that illuminated these three elements, which Hong believes have the power to transform families, schools, and communities. Hong describes how the parent mentor program shifts the usual school-centered power dynamics current in schools to one that is mutually beneficial. Having parents genuinely engaged in classroom instruction simultaneously provides experience, knowledge, and insight into schools for parents and much-needed support and perspective for teachers and schools. Parents are not working in service of teachers but in collaboration with them; and ultimately it is the students who benefit. Deep relationships help transform the cultures of schools, as many teachers’ assumptions about low-income families’ commitment to education are challenged when they collaborate with parents. Finally, Hong explains that through the leadership development embedded in the parent mentor program, participants realize their power to effect change in their communities. It is the dialogic relationship between individual and collective power that emboldens parents to demand, for example, that a Logan Square middle school remain open.

    In the final chapter, the weaving of Hong’s tapestry really comes together as she does the difficult work of mapping her empirical work onto the theoretical framework she has developed—the three I’s of parent engagement: induction, integration, and investment. While a researcher might be tempted to force a one-to-one mapping of mutual engagement, deep relationships, and power onto the three I’s of parent engagement, Hong does not deviate from the complexity of the rest of the book as she maintains the nuances of all these elements. By this point in the book, the new framework reads like common sense; readers have already seen how the parent mentor program meaningfully inducted parents into the schools, integrated them into the instructional and leadership core of the schools, and made lifetime investments in their development and overall well-being.

    The book ends with impacts of genuine parent engagement and lessons to be learned by schools, school systems, and policy makers. In a few instances, however, this audience does not seem to align perfectly with the data presented; the research, and consequently the book, is centered on LSNA and its organizing work in schools rather than on the schools themselves. The lessons are unmistakable, so this is not a major flaw, but school leaders may leave the book hungry for more about schools in particular.

    In a small amount of space, Hong has managed to contextualize parent engagement, delve deeply into a particularly effective strategy for parent engagement, illustrate the processes most critical for genuine parent engagement, and put forth a new theory and framework for engaging parents in schools. She has also exhibited one way that community organizing can play a central role in realizing the schools we want to see. As schools adopt her framework, it will be important not to lose sight of the community partnership highlighted in the book. Schools often think they are the entire cord by themselves. Hong demonstrates effectively that weaving in the strands of family and community makes for a much stronger cord.
    t.n.
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    Abstracts

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    A Dialogue About Difference
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    Acquiring Double Images
    White Preservice Teachers Locating Themselves in a Raced World
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    Writing to Read
    A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading
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    Book Notes

    Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
    Edited by Eric Grodsky and Michal Kurlaender

    Gateway to Opportunity
    J. M. Beach

    Transforming Borders
    C. Alejandra Elenes

    Making Failure Pay
    Jill P. Koyama

    Drop That Knowledge
    Elisabeth Soep and Vivian Chavez

    A Cord of Three Strands
    Soo Hong