Speaker touts education’s ability to aid children from broken families


Shavar Jeffries, President of Democrats for Education Reform, spoke about his efforts toward education reform and his goals for future education policy in Newark, New Jersey, at this year’s Center for Ethics and Culture’s Fall Conference, entitled “For Freedom Set Free.”

Jeffries’ talk was one half of a panel entitled “Freedom and the Sexual Revolution,” which focused on the ways in which the breakdown of the family following the Sexual Revolution is particularly detrimental to the poor.

According to Jeffries, the fall of Adam and Eve was due to lack of knowledge of their own identity, and lack of understanding of what it meant to be made in the image of God. Now, a similar dearth of knowledge is plaguing students across the nation. Jeffries asserted that young people no longer recognize their own potential, rendering them unable to achieve that for which they have the capacity.

With a high school graduation rate of around 50 percent—with only half of those teenagers actually having test scores sufficient for college—Newark’s students are struggling to see the potential Jeffries claims they possess. Seventy-two percent of children in his district are born to unmarried mothers, meaning that single parenthood and broken families are the norm in these communities. Jeffries works toward “filling the gap” created by the lack of strong families through the design of his schools in the public charter network.

The regular 8:20 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. school day does not make sense for his students, Jeffries claimed. The parent, or even sometimes parents, of the child remain at work until 5 p.m., so the lack of opportunity, guidance, and adequate after-school programming in the community is one of the gaps Jeffries seeks to fill. In his schools, the students are in the classroom from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended opportunities offered in the evenings.

The school week extends into Saturday to fill the need for developmental programming. The school year is also longer, in an attempt both to keep students in school and prevent the loss of learning that occurs during the summer.

Teachers chosen to work in these schools are held to high academic standards but also are called to espouse a love for and belief in their students. Teachers in Jeffries’ schools fill a parental role for many of their students and give encouragement and the educational tools necessary for their success. No teachers are able to receive tenure or be members in a teachers’ union, in order to retain a certain high standard of performance.

These schools have incredible success compared to other schools in Newark. Eighty percent of Jeffries’ students attend college after graduating high school, and many have returned to teach in the schools after they finish college.

Jeffries claims that the notion “all are responsible for all” rings true in education; the responsibility to serve all of God’s children begins within the family but extends to everyone.

Jeffries received his B.A. from Duke University and his J.D. from Columbia Law School, where he served as managing editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. A former assistant state Attorney General, Jeffries was a mayoral candidate in New Jersey during the 2014 election cycle. His group, Democrats for Education Reform, promotes more charter schools, increased levels of school funding, and stricter teacher evaluations to reform public education.

Aly Cox is a junior studying biology, theology, and Catholic Social Teaching. She is a Sorin Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture and is dedicated to and passionate about pro-life and bioethics issues. Contact her at acox8@nd.edu.