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Students from Latino backgrounds in the United States tend to perform more poorly in school and have higher high school dropout rates than their counterparts from other racial and ethnic backgrounds (Musu-Gillette et al., 2016). Although there are multiple avenues that are likely to lead to this achievement gap, one is that Latino parents may feel that they and their culture are not valued or respected by their children’s school (e.g., Hill & Torres, 2010; Ramirez, 2003). Such perceptions of their children’s school could have downstream consequences for children’s school success. However, empirical investigation of this issue is sparse.
When parents have more positive perceptions of their children’s school, they may embrace the value of education more. Consequently, they may hold higher expectations for their children (e.g., anticipate they will go to college). Children may internalize these expectations, which can lead them to engage in activities that prepare them for higher education (for a review of the benefits of high academic expectations, see Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Parents’ perceptions of their children’s school may be particularly beneficial for children’s academic expectations during high school when schools provide more information about the pursuit of higher education.
We tested these ideas with a sample of Mexican-origin children and their mothers, who were followed every two years from 5th to 11th grade (N = 674 dyads). At each time point, youth reported on their academic expectations (e.g., “How far would you like to go in school?”, rs = .41 to .75) and mothers reported on their perceptions of their children’s school (e.g., “Teachers at this school treat Mexican American parents with respect”, αs = .80 - .88).
Using multilevel modeling, we entered time, mothers’ perceptions of school, and the interaction between the two, as time-variant independent predictors of changes in children’s academic expectations; we also adjusted for mothers’ average perceptions of their children’s school. Children’s expectations increased from 5th to 11th grade, but a Time X Perceptions of School interaction indicated this was conditional on mothers’ fluctuations around their average perceptions of school (see Table 1): Children’s expectations increased when mothers’ perceptions rose above their average or remained at their average, but not when they dipped below their average (see Figure 1). Further probing of the interaction through additional simples slopes tests indicated that this was largely due to mothers’ perceptions of their children’s school during high school: At this time (b = 0.08, p = .07, in 9th grade, and b = 0.16, p < .05, in 11th grade), but not earlier (b = -0.07, p = .26, in 5th grade, and b = 0.00, p = .92, in 7th grade), the more positive mothers’ perceptions, the higher children’s expectations.
Findings suggest that when Mexican-origin mothers hold positive perceptions of their children’s school, children benefit in terms of academic expectations. Thus, schools should implement practices that provide welcoming environments for parents of Mexican origin, particularly as the college planning phase approaches.