Improving Black Education by Executive Order

President Obama will announce to the Urban League a new initiative aimed at black achievement.

Getty Images

Toldson also noted that 95.5 percent of black children in grades K-12 attend public schools and 4.5 percent attend private schools, “yet Louisiana, the state in which the president’s remarks will be made, is diverting tens of millions of dollars from public to private schools in what is, in my opinion, a dangerous experiment with the privatization of education. Today we need the president to have the resolve to confront racial biases in education and make a commitment to all black people that they will have viable public-education options and universal access to institutions of higher education.”

The president’s panoramic initiative joins an existing White House plan — created during the Carter administration and fortified by an Obama executive order in February 2010 — to strengthen the nation’s HBCUs, which have been under pressure because of states’ budgetary woes and less money from the federal government. The nation’s 105 HBCUs are responsible for about 40 percent of the nation’s African-American science graduates, as well as significant numbers of judges, doctors and entrepreneurs.

In one bold stroke, the president has underscored his oft-stated seriousness about education reform — “a top priority of my administration,” he said in February 2010 — and offered what is likely to be seen as a rebuke to those who have criticized his administration for failing to advance any White House agenda specific to the needs of African Americans.

The president’s pending executive order carving out a new role for the Education Department counters the approach of his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said in April that “[t]he Department of Education I will either consolidate with another agency or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller.” Many on the right have opposed the agency, established under President Carter, almost from its inception in 1980.

Is the new White House initiative a blatantly political pitch to the African-American voters who were a bedrock of support for Obama in the 2008 election? If so, not without good reason: Black college students from HBCUs and other institutions were a big part of the ground game — from working caucuses to operating phone banks to canvassing neighborhoods — that helped Obama secure the presidency in 2008.

Michael E. Ross is a regular contributor to The Root and the author of American Bandwidth, on the Obama 2008 campaign and presidency. He blogs on politics and national affairs at Short Sharp Shock.