President Obama Launches Black Education Excellence Initiative

August 1, 2012
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President Barack Obama signs the Executive Order for the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans in the Oval Office. Photo Credit: The White House

In the wake of Education Secretary, Arne Duncan’s recent testimony to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, regarding the automatic cuts included in the 2011 Budget Control Act - taking effect in January 2013 - could mean the slashing of billions of dollars in education grants, resulting in “tens of thousands of teacher layoffs,” President Barack Obama signed an executive order on July 26 launching the “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans.”

The President said the new program is designed to “restore the country to its role as the global leader in education, to strengthen the Nation by improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages, and to help ensure that all African Americans receive an education that properly prepares them for college, productive careers, and satisfying lives…”

In the executive order, the President stated; “In the less than 60 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision put America on a path toward equal educational opportunity, America's educational system has undergone a remarkable transformation. However, substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity remain in America's educational system. African-Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, and challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline and referrals to special education.”

The workings of the new initiative include naming an executive director and an interagency working group with the goal of “increasing general understanding of the causes of the educational challenges faced by African-American students” from preschool through college graduation.

There will also be a 25-member President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. “In addition to the 25 members appointed by the President, the Commission shall also include two members from the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” states the order. President Obama named Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, as the first chairman of the new commission.

“I am pleased that President Obama signed an executive order focused on improving educational outcomes for African-American students," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said in a written statement. “For three years, I, along with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), have worked diligently with the Obama Administration to develop a mechanism within the Executive Branch to comprehensively address the state of African American education. The President’s initiative will provide African American students with the type of comprehensive and in-depth educational policies they need to ensure that they are successful in their studies and their future careers.”

The day before he signed the executive order, Obama told the National Urban League in New Orleans that he was “establishing the first-ever White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans 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.”

According to the White House, the Initiative is designed to “deliver a complete and competitive education for all African Americans” and undertake efforts to meet several objectives, including:

  • Increasing the percentage of African American children who enter kindergarten;

  • Ensuring that all African American students have access to support services that will prepare them for college, a career, and civic participation;

  • Providing African American students with equitable access to effective teachers and principals in pursuit of a high-quality education;

  • Promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools, and decreasing the disproportionate number of referrals to special education by addressing root causes of the referrals;

  • Reducing the dropout rate of African American students and increasing the proportion of African American students who graduate from high school prepared for college and career;

  • Increasing college access and college attainment for African American students;

  • Strengthening the capacity of institutions of higher education that serve large numbers of African American students; and

  • Improving the quality of, and expanding access to, adult education, literacy, and career and technical education.

“By focusing on the complete pipeline of our educational system — from pre-school through graduate school — the President’s initiative has the potential to ensure that the generational cycle of educational underachievement in the African American community becomes a thing of the past,” stated Rep. Waters.