Civil Rights groups urge Black parents to lead on ESSA state plans
By Shayla Simmons (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Sirraya Gant, the mother of two sons who graduated from high schools in Washington, D.C. said that getting involved in her older son’s academic career definitely helped their relationship.
“Not only did it help him, but it also helped his friends’ level of respect for me, some of them even called me, ‘Mom,” said Gant. “My son played football too, so there were times when [the team] gave me awards and said, ‘I was their biggest fan.’”
Gant continued: “My house was the place to be after school, because they felt comfortable. [My son] knew my expectations of him and he knew that his teachers would call me,” if there were every any problems.
Gant said that she was happy to learn that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encouraged greater parental engagement and open communication between parents and administrators.
Gant added that she was very impressed by a recent National Black Parent Town Hall Meeting on ESSA hosted by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).
“The new Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law Dec. 10, 2015, rolls back much of the federal government’s big footprint in education policy, on everything from testing and teacher quality to low-performing schools. And it gives new leeway to states in calling the shots,” according to an article on EdWeek.org.
Some of the major components of ESSA include state-level accountability plans, evidence-based plans to address challenges of low-performing schools and subgroups, and resources to help train teachers.
During the town hall, education policy experts and community stakeholders offered the parents advice on engaging with their schools to ensure equitable access to a high-quality educational experience for their children.
“I wish I had known about ESSA, when I was a PTA president, because I definitely would have had [Education Department] officials come in and speak to parents,” said Gant. “I think that outreach is something that the [NNPA] can do with the PTA and the schools to have workshops, so that they can speak to parents.”
Even though ESSA wasn’t implemented before her sons graduated from high school, Gant is still a staunch supporter of parental engagement and the mission of ESSA.
Liz King, a senior policy analyst and director of education policy for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that the civil rights community is hoping that Black parents will drive the conversation around the implementation of ESSA to benefit Black children.
King added that she hoped that ESSA would bring new attention to data that could reveal, which opportunities are available to Black children—and which ones were not. King also said that new policy changes should “ensure that African American children get the quality of education that they are entitled to and that they need to grow and learn and thrive.”
King said that parents have to get involved and stay involved in their children’s schools.
“The school has to see consistency on the parent’s part,” said King. “Educators have to take parents seriously. It takes a lot of work; you can’t get tired of advocating for your child.”
States must submit their ESSA plans to the Education Department by September 18, 2017.
When it comes to ESSA, education advocates say that parents and community leaders should voice their concerns and expectations for their local school districts.
“One really important way for parents to have their voice heard is during the public comment process, in which a state releases its draft plan for what it’s going to do to create change in its schools and to make sure schools are working well,” said King. “During those public comment periods everyone has the opportunity to communicate with [his or her] state school board and say what their priorities are for their community and their child.”
King added: “We also need to make sure parents are communicating with the press and that the media is reflecting interest in the attitudes and beliefs of communities of color… we encourage parents to reach out and to let the media know what their priorities are.”
King said that, the truth is, there are strength in numbers.
“We encourage parents to work with one another to come together with community organizations to really advocate for the priorities and changes that they want to see in their state, in their school district and their school,” said King.
Kwesi Rollins, the leadership programs director for the Institute for Educational Leadership said that the most important thing is awareness about the new law.
“We want parents, families, and community based organizations, grassroots leaders, and teachers, as well, to be aware of what’s required of them, in terms of support, in their communities, and to be in a better position to hold their school district and their state accountable for what’s required in the law,” said Rollins.
Even though the road may be tough, education experts agree that investing in a child’s education is worth the sacrifice.
“The rewards are so fruitful in the end,” said Gant.