2 minute read

Family Literacy

Family-school Relationships

A key issue in family literacy is the relationship between home and school, and, more specifically, between literacy as valued and practiced in homes and literacy as valued and practiced in schools. For example, Shirley Brice Heath (1983) studied the literacy practices of three communities in the Carolina Piedmonts and found that the ways that white, middle-class families used literacy at home were most strongly associated with the forms of literacy taught in school. Consequently, these children tended to succeed in school. However, the literacy practices of African-American middle-class and working-class communities at home differed from the forms of literacy valued and taught in school. These children were less successful in school. Heath intended to demonstrate the need for more diverse and inclusive literacy teaching strategies in schools. However, the mismatch between home and school literacy has remained a topic of ongoing concern and debate. That is, many children from low-income homes, and for whom English is a second language, continue to score below their more privileged peers on standardized tests and in overall academic performance (Gunderson and Clarke 1998).

It is here that family literacy programs and research are best understood within a broader social and economic policy context. Scholars have linked the growth in family literacy programs with a concern over what is termed the literacy crisis, high dropout rates, and low academic achievement (Auerbach 1989). National studies and policies in North America and the United Kingdom (e.g., the International Adult Literacy Survey, OECD, 1996, and the United States' Equipped for the Future initiative, 2000) increasingly look beyond schools to families as the source of both the problem of and the solution to the low school achievement of minority and low-income children.

The understanding of family in these policies seems to be limited to mothers and primary care-givers and their young children. This phenomenon prompted Jane Mace to comment:

The evidence of the literacy problem in industrialized countries with mass schooling systems has revealed that schools cannot alone meet this need. Families must therefore be recruited to do their bit, too. This is where the spotlight falls on the mother. She it is who must ensure that the young child arrives at school ready for school literacy, and preferably already literate. (1998, p. 5)

Another concern related to family literacy policies is the lack of longitudinal studies documenting their impact over time. Adele Thomas describes much of the research in family literacy as "testimonials" (1998, p. 20), suggesting that little attention has been paid to broad measures of program effectiveness.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsFamily Literacy - Family Literacy Programs, Family-school Relationships, Focus On Storybook Reading, Early Childhood Focus - Issues