Last week, I spoke with Shavar Jeffries, the national president of Democrats for Education Reform. We talked about DFER’s work; his concerns about Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos; and how parents of color can effect change in their children’s schools.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Tell me about the work of Democrats for Education Reform.
Shavar Jeffries: We’re a coalition of progressive, civil rights, and equity-minded advocates who do policy work around education opportunity for young people, including college students. We focus on standards and accountability, and the need to prepare students for the global economy.
We also fight for resource equity and believe that parents know their children best, so we support high-quality charter school options and believe in parental choice.
We also work for higher ed reform, getting low-income students to college, and helping them graduate. That’s just some of the work we do. In short, we’re ready to oppose any policies that are bad for kids.
BE: Betsy DeVos may be our next Education Secretary, a federal appointment. What can families do on the local level?
SJ: Most education policy is set at the state and local level. DFER works in about eight states.
In many of our cities, 90% of kids who go to college need remediation—this doesn’t include the kids who don’t graduate from high school.
Under ESSA, every state needs to have an accountability plan that explains how that state will ensure that every child is educated at a high level, and how the state will intervene when schools persistently fail to educate kids.
Parents and advocates can make sure their voices are heard in this process, that their representatives—state representatives, mayors, school boards—are advocating in the interests of their children.
Locally, school districts have substantial discretion in who and how they hire, pedagogical methods their educators use, the curriculum, and so forth.
It’s critical for families of color to make their voices heard. Without their pressure and agitation kids of color get the short end of the stick. DFER is an intermediary between families and policymakers, but there’s no substitute for engaged parents and families.
BE: How can parents get involved?
SJ: Contact your state representatives, and ask them what they’re doing about the state’s accountability plan under ESSA. Probe your school board members consistently. Parents have disproportionate influence.
Ask what the data says, if your kids are ready for a competitive college.
It seems that black families are less involved at that level.
SJ: Single mothers and grandmothers working two jobs don’t have the bandwidth, but in middle and upper-income communities where there are two parents, black and white families have the mental strength to get involved.
Learn more about DFER here.