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Civil Rights groups urge Black parents to lead on ESSA state plans

Shayla Simmons | NNPA Newswire Contributor | 8/17/2017, midnight

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 call 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.

The mother of two credits her involvement in her older son’s education with helping to get him into college.

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 student 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 are 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.”