The White House Champions Education Excellence for African Americans

August 03, 2012

By Kisha Bird and Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant

Last week, the President issued an Executive Order to establish the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, consisting of a Presidential Advisory Commission and Federal Interagency Working Group to Enhance Educational Outcomes for African American Students.   Housed within the U.S. Department of Education, the Initiative is charged with working across federal agencies to identify best practices that will improve educational outcomes for African Americans at all age levels, from early care and education to the successful completion of post-secondary credentials.  To support this effort, the Department of Education will develop a national network of partners -- business and philanthropic leaders, practitioners and educators, and non-profits -- to share and implement best practices as well as to support the overall objective outlined in the order.  This objective is to ensure African American students "receive an education that fully prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers."

CLASP applauds the Administration for its continued commitment to strengthening education for all Americans and for its much-needed investments in a range of polices and strategies that prepare students for school, provide academic and social supports to keep students connected to school, and promote lifelong learning.  In particular, CLASP is supportive of the Administration's recognition that many of the nation's children and youth, specifically African Americans, do not begin at the same starting point.  African American students face a variety of hurdles throughout their educational career which place their achievement at risk:  

  • In U.S. public schools that serve the most African American and Hispanic students, only 65 percent offer Algebra II, 40 percent offer Physics, and only 29 percent offer Calculus. Thus students are not offered the courses necessary to make them eligible for postsecondary education.(Toldson & Chance, 2012)
  • They are disproportionately impacted by school and district discipline policies that serve to push students out of school. One in five African-American boys and more than one in ten African-American girls have received out-of-school suspension. Forty-two percent of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are African-American. (US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, 2012)
  • They are far less likely than other ethnic groups to complete high school on time. Only 58.7 percent of African American students complete high school in four years. For African American males, this figure drops to 51.9 percent.(Diplomas Count, 2012)
  • Just 33.4 percent of African American males entered post-secondary programs after graduating from high school (College Board, 2008). African American men account for only 4.3% of the total enrollment at four-year higher education institutions in the U.S., the same rate as it was in 1976. And more than two-thirds of African American males who start college will not have completed a degree six years later. (Palmer et. al, 2010)

CLASP has long advocated for comprehensive, community-wide, cross-system approaches to solve some of the nation's most pressing issues, and we support similar efforts that are also underway focused on Disconnected Youth.  We support the role of federal policy to help local communities in developing a continuum of community support for its children and youth, and to facilitate the ability of communities to connect resources, expertise, and services of all state and local youth-serving systems.  Strong and viable partnerships with state and local education agencies are paramount.  Federal policy should be targeted to support this integration of service delivery in high-poverty communities while also being flexible enough to spur innovation in the implementation of education approaches.  And of great significance, these efforts must be provided with funding that is commensurate to the needs of high poverty communities and of African American students.  

There is a lot that we already know about what works to improve educational outcomes for African Americans.   In 2010, CLASP in collaboration with the 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys released a document entitled We Dream A World that outlined many of the policy reforms at the federal, state, and local level that would foster African American male achievement. Similarly, the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color has developed a set of research-informed standards and promising practices for successfully educating boys of color. The Open Society Foundation has been involved for several years in funding successful programs that impact black male achievement. In like manner, many other foundations such as the Kellogg Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have made a commitment to targeted funding to benefit young people of color. These areas of work serve as a strong starting place for making significant positive changes for African Americans in the area of education.

As the work of the Department of Education and the newly established Commission begins, we encourage them to consider dropout recovery and reengagement as key area of work.  There are an estimated 6.7 million "opportunity youth" ages 16-24 that are unattached from education and work.  African-Americans are over-represented in this group and comprise 32 percent of all "opportunity youth", while they represent just 15 percent of this age population. By contrast, whites or other racial groups (excluding Hispanics) represent 67 percent of the age population and only 46 percent of "opportunity youth" (Belfield et. al, 2012). There is a clear need to focus on multiple education pathways that blend education, training, work experience, and support to help African Americans --especially those who lack high school diplomas and job skills -- achieve successful postsecondary and life outcomes.

Read more about CLASPs Youth Policy work and our focus on improving education and employment outcomes for black men and boys>> 



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