- Faith & Family
A new multilingual poll of parents’ opinions on education reform was recently released and presented to a wide array of educators, advocates, policy experts and members of the ethnic media. But those who needed to hear the information most which lends credence to the importance of being directly involved in children’s education — Black parents — were conspicuously absent from the table. Their omission points to a continued challenge for those who consider themselves to be education reformers — how to empower minority parents so that they can take advantage of existing resources that will improve their children’s academic performance.
The poll on school quality and titled “Parental Aspirations Defy the Odds,” was commissioned by New America Media whose executive director, Sandy Close, led the panel discussion. Fourteen- hundred parents of school children in the Southeast were interviewed by Bendixen & Amandi International in states that included Florida, Georgia and Texas. Interviews were conducted in several languages — English, Spanish, Creole and Cantonese being just a few.
And the survey says . . .
Major findings included: 1) Parents have a positive view of the quality of their children’s education; 2) Parents were aware of the importance of teacher quality; 3) Parents have high educational aspirations for their children but their aspirations defy the odds. They are also heavily involved in their educational experience; and 4) Parents do not appear to understand the weaknesses of the education their children are receiving. They will only become energized to support efforts to reform schools if they are better informed. The media, especially ethnic media, has an important role to play in achieving this objective.
But several members of the Black community said they felt like the panel discussion was an example of “preaching to the choir.”
“Our elected officials are not working for the benefit of our kids but rather to make money,” said Marlene Bastien, founder and executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. “We need to see an investment in and the creation of more parent leadership councils — we need to help minority parents organize and they need to be informed of the true state of public education and how they can use their collective vote and voices to make much needed change. If not, our schools will continue to be the leading pipeline to this country’s prisons.”
Panelist Modesto E. Abety-Gutierrez, president/CEO, The Children’s Trust, says he is concerned about the formative years of children’s education.
“Close to half, 40 percent, of our pre-K children are not ready when they begin school — that means the problem begins at home,” he said. “It just gets worse for them in each successive grade. By the time they reach the third grade, 1/3 are not reading on grade level. Parents can change this by instilling a love of reading in their children and reading to them right away, therefore arming them with a stronger vocabulary that will prepare them for school and lifelong learning.”
He also pointed out that in a recent national survey of young adults seeking to enter the military, 75 percent couldn’t meet the basic requirements because they either could not pass the basic skills test, had felony records, tested positive for drugs or were too obese.
“I see no sense of urgency or outrage — and because these are our children that we failing, we should both angry and determined to change things for the better,” he added.
Does the FCAT really indicate how children are progressing?
Raquel A. Regalado, Miami-Dade County Schools board member, District 6, said, “the biggest problem we face is not the amount of funding but the misallocation of resources”
Somehow our state has become obsessed with standardized tests and whether we realize it or not, passing the FCAT has become tied to our children’s sense of self-worth.” she said.
Both she and Dr. Pablo Ortiz, provost, Miami Edison Senior High School, commented on the negative impact that the FCAT has on young children — particularly children of color.
“When I see the kinds of realities my students face and overcome every day it motivates me to do whatever I can to help them succeed,” Ortiz said. “For my 9th and 10th graders, their major hurdle is passing the FCAT. What’s wrong with that picture is they focus so much on one test that they find it impossible to envision their future. We must move away from one test, one moment and one singular method of accountability.”
Lucie Tondreau, a member of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition and a parent, said she believes there need to be more Haitian teachers and principals in the public schools.
“Many Haitian students have trouble because English is not their first language — but more than this it is the lack of understanding our culture and our children not knowing the nuances of American culture that make it very difficult for them to sometimes comprehend even basic stories. We must find new ways to collaborate as parents — we may be from different countries but as minority parents our children face many of the same obstacles.”
“Education is the new civil rights issue,” Abety-Gutierrez added. “Look at the record number of Black boys that are not graduating from high school and look at where they are going — prison. This is the new age version of Jim Crow.”
By D. Kevin McNeir