White House: New African-American Initiative to Cover All Education

President Barack Obama’s new initiative on African-American education will focus on the full spectrum of learning from pre-k to higher education and will “complement and reinforce” the federal initiative on historically Black colleges and universities, the White House says.

The president this week formally announced creation of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. In a speech to the National Urban League on Wednesday, Obama said he was establishing the initiative “so that every child has greater access to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.”

He also described the initiative as an extension of the White House effort to get colleges to cut costs. “A higher education in the 21st century cannot be a luxury,” he said. “It is a vital necessity that every American should be able to afford.”

Obama on Thursday formally signed the order creating the new White House initiative. In February 2010, he signed an order for a White House initiative on HBCUs. In referencing the earlier order, the document signed this week states that “together they both will support enhanced educational outcomes for African-Americans at every level of the American education system” from the early years to college and career education.

The executive order states that the focus of the new initiative “will produce a more effective educational continuum for all African-American students.”

Focus areas will include:

n  Increasing the share of African-American children who enter kindergarten ready to learn.

n  Decreasing the number of African-American children referred for special education.

n  Cutting the school dropout rate and helping African-American students graduate high school prepared for college.

n  Increasing college access and success, partly by strengthening the capacity of colleges serving a large number of African-American students.

The executive order drew strong support from the NAACP. “This is a bold and welcome step in our country’s ongoing quest to be one nation where all our children show up ready to learn and find teachers ready to nurture and teach every student,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous.

If fully implemented, he added, the initiative can promote fairness in school discipline, reduce unneeded special education placements and ensure that African-American youth “have fair access” to Advanced Placement classes important for college.

The new initiative will reside at the U.S. Department of Education, where one of its tasks will be to advise Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The executive order also creates a federal interagency work group with representatives from the departments of Education, Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services and Defense. The initiative’s executive director will chair this panel.

In addition, the executive order creates a President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans of up to 25 members, with appointments made by the White House.

Other goals of the initiative are to encourage partnerships with public, private and philanthropic organizations and “increase the participation of the African American community” in education-related programs at other federal agencies.