By Micha Green (NNPA/ESSA Contributing Writer)
Parents, school experts, and civic leaders expressed their concerns about the state of education in the Black community during a recent town hall meeting at the National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Md.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) hosted “The National Black Parents Town Hall Meeting on Educational Excellence,” in an effort to increase parental engagement related to the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law in December 2015, in an effort to empower states to design their own high-quality education standards for their students.
The NNPA’s ESSA public awareness campaign is funded through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas, the program manager for the NNPA’s ESSA public awareness campaign kept audiences engaged and the panelists on topic as the town hall’s moderator.
Education experts, including Dr. Tia Hill, the president and CEO of Fighting For Lives, LLC; Chris Stewart, the president and CEO of the Wayfinder Foundation; Lynn Jennings, the director of national and state partnerships of Education Trust; and Marietta English, the president of the National Association of the Black Educators, shared their perspectives on the challenges facing the educational system in the Black community and the importance of parental involvement in their children’s academic careers, particularly within the context of ESSA.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, said that the purpose of the town hall was to educate the masses, particularly about ESSA, which is why the NNPA decided to livestream the event.
Richard Campbell, a concerned parent from Howard County, Md., said that he was absolutely delighted that parents have a new set of programs coming out to strengthen education starting this fall.
“I’m also very happy that they’re doing listening tours, like they did in Washington, D.C. and that the schools, and the systems, and counties, are actually working to listen to parents,” said Campbell. “When you go to these kinds of sessions, you get better output. So, as a parent, we’re really happy to see this kind of program.”
Markus Batchelor, 24, the youngest member elected to the D.C. school board, said that ESSA is a way for educators and policymakers to really be creative in how they design new educational programs.
“I think that No Child Left Behind gave us a top-down, testing-sanctioned form of educational accountability and education policy,” said Batchelor. “The fact that the Every Student Succeeds Act is going to really provide that personalized attention to our students and our schools in the community is going to be great for the country, but definitely for the children of Ward 8.”
During the town hall, one of the issues audience members emphasized was the anxiety that parents feel when navigating the public school system; other said some parents simply don’t understand the importance of getting involved and staying involved in their children’s education.
“As a parent and a citizen your biggest impact…comes from advocating at the local level,” said Stewart.
Mollie Belt, a grandmother and the publisher of The Dallas Examiner, shared her concerns regarding parental engagement.
“We have meetings, but the parents don’t come, the parents don’t read the agenda,” said Belt. “How do we reach our parents, because an important part of this, as you all have said, is parental engagement?”
Hill said that education advocates and community leaders have to go to the parents.
“When I started going to the homes, I began to understand why they weren’t coming to the [PTA] meetings,” said Hill, adding that PTA meetings, are often the least of their worries.
“They’re worried about eating, they’re trying to keep a roof over their children’s heads. They have homes that are infested with roaches, rats,” said Hill. “They’re dealing with gunshots, they may or may not have transportation.”
Hill continued: “When they do come to the school…they’re upset. And when they walk into the building they’re cussing everyone out, and then they get their needs met. So, there’s kind of like a conditioning of, ‘If I act out, you’ll be at my service, but after I get my service, I don’t have to come back,’” Hill said, explaining the disconnect between parents and the schools.
Marietta English, the president of the National Association of Black Educators, said that now is the time for Black parents to get involved in the planning for how school resources will be allocated under ESSA.
“These funds are targeted to our Title I schools, so there are programs, there’s money there for parent training, there’s money in ESSA for parent engagement,” said English after the town hall meeting. “Parents need to be involved in the planning of these curriculums in our schools and that’s why it’s so important to them.”