Obama: We Must Fix Education in Black Communities

Cynthia Gordy, Essence, August 17, 2009

{snip} In a recent conversation with reporters, Obama easily cited education as the most important issue for the black community.

“If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished,” Obama told a small group of journalists from black media outlets, including ESSENCE.

“Now, how do we do that? Better teachers, greater accountability, and more resources combined with more reform.”

According to a recent study from the National Center for Education Statistics, African-American students continue to score significantly lower in reading and math than their white counterparts.

Although the gap narrowed slightly between 1992 and 2007–about 7 points on a 500-point scale–the disparity remains wide, with black students still scoring about 28 points behind whites. Consequently, black children also have a far higher high school dropout rate and a lower rate of college enrollment.

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On the early education front, the Recovery Act secured $4 billion for programs like Head Start and Early Head Start, which provide education and parent involvement services to low-income families, for infants and children up to age 5. The 2010 federal budget has also called for a significant increase in these programs.

With regard to the K-12 part of the pipeline, the Obama administration is using money given to states from the Recovery Act as a proverbial carrot to drive education reform in the country’s worst performing schools.

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The president has also called for federal budget funds for charter schools, where he sees thriving education innovations taking place, and for proven programs focusing on dropout prevention and college enrollment.

Another Obama proposal is Promise Neighborhoods, which would make grants available to low-income communities to start comprehensive education and parenting programs similar to New York’s successful Harlem Children’s Zone program.

On higher education, the president is working with Congress to increase funding for the Pell grant, which is targeted to low-income students. “It’s an incredibly important tool, and we’ve seen it underfunded and not rising with inflation,” said Higginbottom.

The Recovery Act also included a $2,500 annual tax credit, which working families can use toward college tuition and which covers the full cost of tuition at most two-year community colleges. {snip}

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