Last Thursday, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, which is designed to support, coordinate and strengthen the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that African-American youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and productive and successful careers. He announced this Initiative last Wednesday night in a speech to members of the National Urban League at their annual convention.

In this order, which can be found here, the President defines the mission of this Initiative as “[strengthening] the Nation by improving educational outcomes for African-Americans of all ages”. The Initiative will be housed in the Department of Education, led by an Executive Director (to be named by Education Secretary Arne Duncan). The work of the group will be carried out by the Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, which will include senior officials from a variety of federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.

This Executive Order identified eight areas upon which the Initiative Working Group will focus to fulfill its mission. They include:

understanding the educational challenges faced by African American students;

increasing the percentage of African American children who are kindergarten ready by improving access to early learning programs and services;

decreasing the number of referrals of African American children from general education to special education;

promoting successful and innovative education reform;

supporting the efforts to improve the recruitment, preparation, development and retention of African American Teachers;

reducing the African American student dropout rate;

increasing college access and success for African American students, in part by strengthening HBCU’s; and

fostering positive family and community engagement in education.

The order also establishes the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, a 25 member body appointed by the President, which will advise the President and the Secretary on community outreach, private/public partnerships, and engaging the philanthropic, business, nonprofit, and education communities in a national dialogue on issues pertaining to the education of the African American community.

This order has created an exhaustively ambitious agenda, which includes most of the issues touched upon in any conversation about educational reform and the African American community. A very tall order, indeed (pardon the pun). Having said this, however, we must also say Kudos to the President and this administration for focusing attention and resources upon these issues, particularly in the face of the many challenges this nation faces at this time. Moreover, it is gratifying to see that the order includes “fostering family engagement in education” as one of the important means of carrying out their mission. That’s what we at GCP are talking about!

We will stay focused on the work of this Initiative and Commission, and will share and discuss the reports that they produce. Stay tuned.