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Pour Out the Oil: Successful Parenting for Math Development among African Americans

posted on 01.12.2019 by Delaina G Washington
This is a qualitative case study of six African American families in Chicago. Each family has a focal child in 5th through 8th grade who is mathematically successful. Success with math is defined students identifying positively with mathematics. The families vary along the lines of socioeconomic status. This dissertation is preceded by research studies of African American parents that overwhelmingly focus on low-income, African Americans as a de facto representation of all African Americans and/or promote the idea that African American academic failure is explained by parental engagement patterns that differ from the parenting styles or parental involvement of White, middle-class parents. By taking a strengths-based approach to examining African American parents of varying socioeconomic status with mathematically successful students, this study represents a departure from this paradigm of understanding African American families. Furthermore, mathematics reform movements, with Common Core State Standards-Mathematics as the most recent, tend to marginalize parents by treating them as adversaries, rather than ancillary to success. Therefore, I question how these parents account for CCSS-M in their support practices. Through cross-case and within-case analyses, I show how these African American parents engaged in three behaviors that afforded them agency in their students’ math learning: parents (1) acted as a good steward for their child's education by selecting schools and programs that would ensure access to advanced mathematics, (2) promoted the knowledge, skills, and identities for math success, and (3) motivated their children to persist at math and achieve at high levels. The parents engaged in distal (i.e., math support that does not center math-related tasks) and/or proximal (i.e., math-related tasks) support practices. Parental support practices were dynamic and informed by their mathematics identities, how they perceive their child’s math identity toward any given math concept, their goals, and the situational context. Furthermore, socioeconomic status mediated family life, parenting, and parental support for math. In terms of math reform, parents (2 of 6) with professional backgrounds as teachers more so than their counterparts who were not educators (4 of 6) were more knowledgeable of Common Core and could identify changes in the ways mathematics was being taught as a result of Common Core. Parents who were not educators had not heard about Common Core or held conceptions of Common Core that were not as deeply informed as those with insider knowledge. This study adds to previous literature by pivoting from parental involvement to describe parental math support and characterize their parental support in terms of distal and proximal practices. It validates the notion that research of African American families should consider how socioeconomic status impacts the phenomena under study. It also has implications for how district and school policies (e.g. school choice initiatives, selective enrollment, etc.) influence parental support practices for math.



Martin, Danny B


Martin, Danny B


Curriculum and Instruction

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Larnell, Gregory V Humphries, Marisha Berry III, Robert Q Rowley, Stephanie

Submitted date

December 2019

Thesis type




Issue date