Citing “substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity” in the country’s educational system nearly 60 years after the Supreme Court ruled separate public schools for Blacks and whites unconstitutional, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The initiative comes two years and five months to the day after the president signed an executive order for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The new initiative is aimed at “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.” Signed by the president on July 27, a day after he announced it during his speech at the National Urban League’s annual conference in New Orleans, it establishes a President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African-Americans — chaired by Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County — and a Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, to be chaired by the initiative’s executive director, who had yet to be named when this issue of The Network Journal went to press. Among other tasks, it will identify evidence-based best practices that can provide African-American students a rigorous and well-rounded education in safe and healthy environments, as well as access to support services. It will also develop a national network of individuals, organizations and communities to share and implement best practices related to the education of African-Americans.
“Substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in America’s educational system. African-Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline and referrals to special education,” the president said on signing the executive order. “African-American student achievement not only lags behind that of their domestic peers by an average of two grade levels, but also behind students in almost every other developed nation. Over a third of African-American students do not graduate from high school on time with a regular high school diploma, and only 4 percent of African-American high school graduates interested in college are college-ready across a range of subjects. An even greater number of African-American males do not graduate with a regular high school diploma, and African-American males also experience disparate rates of incarceration.”
The initiative complements the administration’s White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which brings together federal departments, agencies and offices, as well as other public and private partners, to work with the White House on strengthening the capacity of HBCUs to participate in federal programs; fostering private-sector initiatives and public-private partnerships that, among other measures, promote specific areas and centers of academic research and programmatic excellence; improving the availability, dissemination and quality of information concerning HBCUs to inform public policy and practice; sharing administrative and programmatic practices within the HBCU community for the benefit of all; and exploring new ways of improving the relationship between the federal government and HBCUs.
“Together, they both will support enhanced educational outcomes for African-Americans at every level of the American education system, including early childhood education; elementary, secondary and postsecondary education; career and technical education; and adult education,” President Obama said. “Enhanced educational outcomes lead to more productive careers, improved economic opportunity, and greater social well-being for all Americans.”
Both initiatives are part of the president’s broader goal to restore the United States to its role as the global leader in education.