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‘Communities of color’ and education reform


A new multilingual poll to be released next week at the National Civil Rights Museum will address the premise that “communities of color largely are missing from public debates over education reform issues.”

The poll was commissioned by New America Media, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is being pitched as a tool to highlight parental perspectives.

In addition, the poll is being relied upon to lead off a discussion with experts on what’s working in school reform, what worries people most, and what news media, specially ethnic media, can do through more and better coverage.

The Memphis release of the poll data will come during a session scheduled next Tuesday (March 13) from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Rose Room of the National Civil Rights Museum at 450 Mulberry Street.

Pollster Sergio Bendixen of Bendixen & Amandi International told The New Tri-State Defender that the poll measures the opinions of school parents in eight southeastern states. It probes what they think about the quality of the education their children are receiving and focuses on ethnic parents such as African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.

“I believe it is the first study of its kind where parents have been interviewed in seven different languages,” said Bendixen. “It is a very comprehensive study of what parents...that are part of these three most important ethnic minorities in the United States think about the quality of education.”

The eight states are Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Kentucky.

So, why hasn’t there been such a poll before?

Bendixen pointed to the need to provide interviewers who can speak the languages, whether it’s Spanish, Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean. He also noted that multilingual polling is a new science and that not too many people, companies or enterprises are willing to take on such surveys. It’s also somewhat expensive.

Memphians were included in the polling pool. Stops designed to introduce the poll and its data and to initiate discussions were held last week in Atlanta and New Orleans, with Memphis and Miami on tap for March 13 and March 14.

“The most important finding is that parents from ethnic communities need a lot more information,” said Bendixen. “We find a great differential between their opinions about the quality of education their children are receiving and the reality.”

That reality is not particularly good in many of the states, said Bendixen.

“A lot more information…they need to better informed,” Bendixen said, “of what’s really going on, or they are not going to be part of the reform movement, which is what’s needed to get people in the process to get more resources for education to improve education.”

Anthony Advincula of New America Media said “discussion” is the key word for Tuesday’s session at the National Civil Rights Museum.

“So the community can say, ‘hey, that’s not really the issue here. In the African American community it’s this.’ Or the Korean community there could say, ‘Well, for us this is what it is.’ And the media can cover it. So this is a discussion.”

Mark Sturgis, Memphis director of Stand for Children, said the group’s participation in the poll-stimulated discussion is in keeping with an ongoing involvement with the Gates-Memphis City Schools initiative, particularly connecting that work with the community.

“I think this poll is a very strategic way to see what parents are actually thinking and understanding about education,” said Sturgis.

While Stand for Children makes it a priority to view community involvement as part of the mix of desired outcomes, Sturgis said he is not sure how true that is of others working on local education reform.

“They are not on the ground like we are everyday in South Memphis, North Memphis, in Shelby County, in Midtown. We kind of get the vibe of it on the streets, but I think this poll really brings some realization to some of the other partners, and especially our communities that we are trying to elevate through this discussion about what is the disconnect between the work that is underway and the reality of how students are performing and what our families are thinking about education.”

With the local focus on consolidation, “to frame this in a real strategic way is going to be important,” said Sturgis, adding that he is “excited to see how momentum from the poll and the release of information affects how we all work.”


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