Lead Story West Edition

Education issues debated at town hall forum

By Dorany Pineda

Contributing Writer

CENTURY CITY — An over-reliance on technology, the one-size-fits-all mentality of education, and a lack of parent engagement and curriculum diversity are among the key education issues minorities face, said panelists June 26 via a Los Angeles satellite viewing of an education convention.

Angelenos participated by Skype in the second annual National Black Parents Educational Excellence town hall in Norfolk, Virginia from Westfield Century City’s Microsoft store. Education advocates and community members discussed education challenges and how to improve student success in public schools.

Linda Langley Davis, executive director of Educational Services of Hampton Roads Inc., thinks the modern high-tech world is doing youth more harm than good.

“We’re not making thinking students, that’s why I don’t like it because they have machines that do the thinking for them,” Davis said.

“Yet the Department of Education wants high-level thinking. Well, you can’t get it from a brain that doesn’t have to think,” she added.

But Fred Smoot, education advocate and former professional football player, disagreed.

“They said the same thing when the calculator was introduced years ago,” he said. “We have to adapt to the kids.”

The national discourse was an effort by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) –– which represents more than 200 black newspapers across the nation –– to talk about education as a critical urban issue.

It also was meant to spread awareness about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) –– the reauthorization of 2002’s No Child Gets Left Behind –– which governs the nation’s kindergarten to 12th grade public education policies.

A parent registers for and watches a live stream of the National Black Parents Town Hall Meeting in Norfolk, Virginia from Westfield Century City’s Microsoft Store. Attendees learned how to be more involved in their children’s education to ensure they succeed. (Photo by Dorany Pineda)

Of the key differences between the two are that ESSA promotes state use of evidence-based practices that meet student needs; removes some of the federal government’s impact in education policy and decreases emphasis on standardized testing.

In particular, the event intended to inform African-American communities –– a demographic with academic achievement disparities and that historically have been educationally underserved and under resourced –– of the new law.

A town hall document pointed to the numerical achievement gap between white and African-American students. It said that by fourth grade, black students scored 26 points less in math and reading in standardized tests than their white counterparts.

Elizabeth Primas, NNPA’s program manager and the town hall’s emcee, said that ESSA emphasizes parent engagement “so that parents and the community are at the table making the decisions in order to improve education.”

That was a sentiment reiterated by several panelists during the evening.

“The problem is, right now, how do we teach and make sure every child succeeds when every child is different,” Smoot said. “You’re asking a lot for a teacher in a class of 30 kids to teach them all in a different way where they understand [the subjects].”

Smoot brought up the challenges parents often face when their children come home with homework.

“Every parent is not capable of helping their child when their child asks them ‘Help me with my homework,’” said Smoot, who has an eighth-grade son. “We have to re-educate ourselves because the curriculums are different than they were when we went to school.”

After the panel discussion, audience members asked questions and voiced their concerns.

Bee Hall, a Los Angeles participant, said the media teaches black children that they are inferior. She asked how parents and organizations can demand that school curriculums include an accurate history of African Americans.

Panelist Rev. Kirk Houston of Virginia’s Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church clarified that ESSA returns educational control to individual states and local authorities.

“By virtue of that rule, the federal government won’t be dictating curriculum,” he said. He added “It would behoove us, who are interested in that, to make sure that we are speaking to our local school boards … where these standards are being developed and passed down to the local authorities.”

The town hall is part of a three-year, multi-media ESSA public awareness campaign funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $1.5 million grant to the NNPA.

But of the numerous ideas proposed on how to improve academic opportunities for black students, a collective involvement in education policies and discourse was a unanimous one.

“We can only succeed if every part of the village is truly and earnestly engaged both in the work as well as in the ongoing conversation,” Houston said.