By Lynette Monroe
In my role as the program assistant for the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Public Awareness Campaign, I closely followed the proposal process for the District of Columbia’s ESSA plan. I have to admit, I was disappointed by the final version of the plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Overall, D.C.’s ESSA plan is, at best, an incomplete assignment. The ‘to be continued’ tone of the plan could be partly due to the discontent expressed by many community members during the final stakeholder meetings. Parents and educators alike expressed concern about the lack of resources and implementation strategies to support the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE) aggressive goals for academic proficiency and high school graduation. The participants at the meetings noted the glaring socioeconomic disparities throughout the district and the unique resources required to increase achievement in each ward. One could conclude that OSSE’s aggressive academic goals are mirroring the affects of a rapidly gentrifying city that continues to marginalize the needs of its majority Black residents.
According to District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), 71 percent of their student population is Black and 70 percent of the entire student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch. In August, DCPS released the latest scores for tests under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). Black students showed the smallest improvements with a 4.8 percent increase in English Language Arts proficiency and a 2.1 percent increase in math proficiency. In both categories, less than 20 percent of Black students achieved proficiency in reading and math. This increase is compared to a 6.2 percent increase in English Language Arts proficiency for Hispanic students in the district and a 9.6 percent increase by their White counterparts. Similarly, Hispanic students showed a 5 percent increase in math proficiency while White students increased their proficiency by 4.8 percent. According to the PARCC assessment, less than 30 percent of Hispanic students are proficient in reading and math. While more than 80 percent of White students, according to PARRC, exhibit proficiency. White students make up just 10 percent of the DCPS student population.
DCPS needs to try harder to raise the test scores of its Black students. DCPS should also quickly work to reaffirm their commitment to expanding college and career support for students, especially Black students.
At a recent town hall meeting hosted by the National Newspaper Publishers Association in Atlanta, Ga., Vickie B. Turner, a school board member for District 5 in the DeKalb County School District, encouraged participants to reach out to parents, who were not present at the town hall and who are not engaged, declaring “we are preaching to the choir.”
Nevertheless, we all share a responsibility to educate our children. Some parents may not be able to dedicate as much time to participate in their child’s education as others. You can help out by dedicating an hour, as often as you can, to make sure Black parents are present, represented, and fighting in the best interest of our children. “It takes a village” is not just a cliché or an excuse to discipline a stranger’s child. It is a vow to develop the whole child, irrespective of his or her parent’s shortcomings.
To learn more about the District of Columbia’s plan, or your state’s plan, to implement ESSA, the nation’s new education law, visit nnpa.org/essa.