How Obama's Educational Policies Benefit Blacks

As part of The Root's series about how President Obama's policies affect African Americans, we take a look at the administration's initiatives regarding education.


This is Part 4 of The Agenda: What Obama Has Done for You, a series of articles looking at President Barack Obama's record on issues that affect blacks.

There is perhaps no issue more important to the black community's success than education. Few things -- health care included -- can practically guarantee a life filled with opportunity the way a comprehensive education can, and a testament to its power is how long blacks in America were literally banned from schooling.

Today African Americans are still facing tremendous challenges on the road toward high-quality education for all. In 2007, 54 percent of black children were obtaining high school diplomas, and that same year, only 43 percent of black college students ultimately completed their education and received a degree. Race aside, U.S. children in general trail the world in math and science ability.

In response to these abysmal statistics, President Obama has made education reform a primary fight of his administration. And, as with most of his other policies, he's taken note of the plight of African Americans.

K-12: Establishing a Solid Foundation

"We've got to focus on the early years through 12th grade," says Melody Barnes, director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council, "because we have to ensure a complete and competitive education for all students so that they're prepared for college and career."

In order to jump-start early public education, Obama's main strategy has been his Race to the Top grant program. Using a point system that rewards things like "improved teacher effectiveness" and "making education funding a priority," the Department of Education then doles out grants to the highest-achieving states.

Inherent in the scoring system is also a demand for racial justice. Points are awarded for states "demonstrating significant progress" in closing achievement gaps and "ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals" in high-poverty and high-minority schools.

As of August, 11 states and the District of Columbia had won $4.3 billion in Race to the Top grants. The administration estimates that these funds "will directly impact 13.6 million students, and 980,000 teachers in 25,000 schools."

Shortly after Obama announced his plans for Race to the Top, civil rights groups attacked the plan, saying that it didn't adequately benefit black and Latino students. Barnes considers that view to be shortsighted.