Obama administration hopes to help black students from ‘cradle to career’

President Obama signs executive order authorizing African-American education office.

President Obama signs executive order authorizing African-American education office.

The Obama administration has launched the first steps of an ambitious plan to dramatically improve academic achievement among African-American students from the “cradle to career.”

President Obama signed an executive order last week, which established the first ever White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans.

The new initiative will coordinate federal agencies, various partners and communities nationwide. Its charge will include seeking and sharing evidence-based `best practices’ around the critical issue of black student achievement.

The initiative has sweeping goals. They include providing African-American students with greater access to high-level, rigorous course work and support services; developing and retaining greater numbers of top-notch African-American teachers and principals; reducing dropout rates and increasing college access; and expanding access to quality adult education, literacy, and technical programs.

President Obama recently told an audience at the National Urban League convention in New Orleans, he wanted to ensure “every child has greater access to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born,” with pathways to high school and college graduation, and a productive career.

“Since day one, President Obama has made it a top priority for America to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president.

In order to achieve that goal, Jarrett said, the Obama administration will dedicate new resources and support services to the new initiative, which builds on the president’s existing educational efforts.

They include a 2010 executive order he signed to strengthen the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

“This was a natural progression,” said Jarrett.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans will use a series of approaches to tackle its mission.

Among them is creation of an office housed within the U.S. Department of Education, designed to work with the president, his cabinet and other federal agencies.

Additionally, a newly created presidential advisory commission will consult with president Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The advisory group will also help lead a national dialogue that engages the business, philanthropic, non-profit communities and academia on educational matters involving the African-American community.

“The nation’s future will depend heavily on the extent to which we educate all of our nation’s children,” said Dr. Freeman Hrawbowski, a nationally renowned educator who has been tapped to chair the commission.  

Named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012 by Time magazine, the Birmingham native marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a child and now serves as president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). U.S. News & World Report ranked UMBC the #1 “Up and Coming” university in the nation for three years straight, including in 2011; the school has been widely recognized for producing significant numbers of black male and minority graduates in the sciences.

“There are important questions to be raised about what we can do academically and emotionally to increase the numbers of African-Americans who excel and go on to college,” said Hrawbowski.