A National Spotlight on African American Achievement

By Kisha Bird 

In the State of the Union address, the President sent a strong signal that  we should focus not only on income equality, access to quality education at all age levels, and pipelines to a good job—all of which would have an impact of African American achievement—but also committed to building a new initiative that would address the unique challenges facing young men of color.  This is an area ripe for innovation, partnership, and action to ensure these young men have ladders of opportunity that will allow them to excel in school, work, and life.

In support of this commitment, last week, the White House announced appointees to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.  The appointment of these prominent leaders in the academic and African American community comes just over a year after the President’s Executive Order to establish the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (White House Initiative).  While housed within the U .S. Department of Education, the White House Initiative has worked 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 postsecondary credentials.  

CLASP applauds the Obama Administration for its continued commitment to strengthening education for all Americans and for its attention to disadvantaged and non-traditional students.  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 are essential.   We are especially supportive of the Administration’s acknowledgement that many of the nation’s children and youth, specifically African Americans, do not begin at the same starting point. 

Through their educational careers, African American students face a variety of hurdles that place their achievement at risk. While greater percentages of African American children are enrolling in early learning programs each year, they are less likely to attend programs that are high quality. African American students are more likely than whites to attend under-resourced schools that lack the well-rounded teaching and counseling staff, rigorous curriculum, and supportive services that prepare students for postsecondary education. African American students are also disproportionately impacted by school and district discipline policies that serve to push students out of school, are more likely to live in communities of concentrated poverty where violence and trauma impact their development and learning, and are far less likely than other ethnic groups to complete high school on time.

There is a lot that we already know about what works to improve educational outcomes for African Americans.   The field focused on African American male achievement has advanced in recent years.   As an ardent advocate, CLASP has supported leadership activities in this space to lift up research-based practices and outline federal, state, and local policy reforms in partnership with prominent stakeholders. In 2012, CLASP created the Partnership Circle for Boys and Young Men of Color to establish a venue for national policy organizations, advocacy groups, and researchers to discuss policy opportunities that may improve education, employment, and health outcomes for boys and young men (ages 12-24) of color.   Our efforts are reinforced and informed by the commitments of many others, including the philanthropic community, which has demonstrated considerable leadership in this area.  Notably, last spring, 26 foundations joined together to make a public commitment to form an alliance to address the issues facing this population, explore promising strategies, and invest in research to support action.

In the coming weeks, CLASP’s Partnership Circle will offer key recommendations to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans as it explores strategies to improve outcomes for African American students. Recommendations include:  

  1. Advance solutions for naming, increasing understanding of, and addressing implicit bias in education.
  2. Encourage a community-wide approach to address poverty as an impediment to academic success.
  3. Decrease disparities in school discipline.
  4. Elevate middle school as a critical time for intervention for African American students.
  5. Redesign the high school experience in high-minority schools to support college and career readiness.
  6. Invest in the recovery of African American students who have dropped out of school.
  7. Foster policies that support postsecondary access and completion for African American students.