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Cultural Differences in School Expectations by Latino Parents

Compiled by Arthur J. Schneider, Human Development Regional Specialist, Cooper County, University of Missouri Extension


Missouri is experiencing part of a national expansion of Hispanic/Latino populations. According to University of Missouri Extension Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis regional profiles, the Hispanic population in Missouri nearly doubled between 1990 and 2000, growing from 60,000 to 119,000 people. Missouri’s Hispanic population surpassed 130,000 in 2003.

These changes have a profound impact on schools. Nationally, the proportion of elementary and secondary school children of Hispanic origin jumped from 6 percent in 1972 to 15 percent in 1999. Unlike school systems in Latino countries, elementary and secondary schools in the United States use diverse curriculums. Additionally, parents’ roles are different in Latino countries than in the United States.

Dr. Dario Almarza, assistant professor of learning, teaching and curriculum at the University of Missouri, addressed these issues at MU’s fourth annual Cambio de Colores (Change of Colors) conference in March 2005. He explained 11 differences in cultural expectations that could lead to misunderstandings and gave suggestions for Latino parents:


  1. Americans do not have a national curriculum. Students who transfer from one school to another may have the same subjects, but the material to be learned may be different. Parents should ask their child’s current teacher for subject information to give to the new teacher.
  2. Americans group students by ability. Visit with your child’s teacher to learn about your child’s placement. American teachers may start a child who doesn’t know much English in a lower ability group. Parents need to ask questions and monitor their child’s progress and advocate placement changes as their child’s skills improve.
  3. In the United States, standardized tests are used to compare student proficiency and ability. These tests compare local students and schools to the national and state averages. Parents have a right to know at what level their children perform and what they can do to help their child succeed. This is important because it may affect whether a child qualifies for awards or is eligible to be accepted to a college after graduation.
  4. American schools recognize many types of disabilities and, by law, are required to assist students with disabilities. Physical disabilities, learning disabilities, behavioral disabilities and mental disabilities must receive special consideration. Children with disabilities are required to have an Individual Educational Plan in which the parents are involved.
  5. In America, there are five levels of grading: A for exceptional, B for above average, C for average, D for below average, and F for failing minimum class standards. To graduate and be promoted, children should earn C’s or higher grades.
  6. Parents in America are expected to be actively involved in schools with their children. This means attending school activities for parents, maintaining close contact with the teachers on your children’s progress, and learning how to help your child do well in school.
  7. Parents have many rights in America. They have a right to know how well their child is doing, to provide teachers with information about their child, and to see their child’s school records. They also have a right to assist in their child’s education.
  8. It is common in Latino countries for students to wear a uniform. In public schools in the United States, it is rare. Some private and parochial schools have uniforms. Americans like to express individuality. While uniforms are not required, all schools have dress codes that explain what attire is permissible and not permissible.
  9. In the United States, children are expected to take time for lunch (a meal in the middle of the day, usually between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.). The time for lunch will vary by school. Some allow a half-hour, some longer. Some schools have rules about snacks at other times. You need to contact your child’s school to know the school's rules.
  10. Students are expected to attend classes everyday. If children miss more than a day, parents should notify the school. If children miss many days, they may be required to have a physician's excuse and be given homework to do at home. Sometimes a teacher will be assigned to visit you and teach your child. Children who miss many days may not be promoted to the next grade. Parents are expected to contact the school about children being absent.
  11. Most American schools assign homework. Usually, homework increases as children become older. Americans believe children should learn to do schoolwork outside of class. Schools are very different in what they expect. Your child’s teacher should send you information on homework when your child is enrolled. If you need help in understanding what the teacher expects, you should contact the teacher.



Almarza, Dario. “The Impact of Cultural Differences.” Presented at Cambio de Colores, University of Missouri-Columbia, March 31, 2005.

Children of 'Baby Boomers' and Immigrants Boost School Enrollment to Equal All-Time High, Census Bureau Reports. March 23, 2001. US Census Bureau. Retrieved from

Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis (Retrieved from

We the People, Census 2000 Special Report: Hispanics in the United States. December 2004. US Census Bureau. Retrieved from



Last Updated 05/05/2009









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