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Keeping Up

President Barack Obama’s new initiative to help improve the educational future of young African-American and Hispanic men could be Georgia’s next step toward increasing graduation rates for youth in both categories.

In February, President Obama introduced a $200 million, five-year initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, specifically focused on removing young African-American and Hispanic men from the back burner of America’s educational agenda.

The idea for the new initiative occurred to the president after the 2012 killing of Travyon Martin, whose death sparked national debate about race and class. The president himself said he could relate to the long pattern of inequality along racial lines in numerous institutions, namely American schools.

My Brother’s Keeper focuses on six milestones: Getting a healthy start and entering school ready to learn; reading at grade level by third grade; graduating from high school ready for college and a career; successfully entering the workforce; keeping kids on track; and offering second chances.

Sixty of the nation’s largest school districts, which represent 40 percent of all African-American and Hispanic boys living below the poverty line, are joining this initiative and have committed to expand quality preschool access; track data on black and Hispanic boys so educators can intervene as soon as signs of struggle emerge; increase the amount who take gifted, honors or Advanced Placement courses and exams; work to reduce the number of suspension or expulsions; and increase graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic boys.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights indicate black and Hispanic students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students and attend schools with less-experienced teachers. Many also attend schools that do not offer advanced math and science courses. Georgia, particularly, is ranked in the bottom 10 for graduation rates for both black and Hispanic males.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the average reading score for black youth in Atlanta in the 8th grade is 249 versus 254 for Hispanic and 294 for white youth. The national average reading score for black, non-Hispanic males is 47.4 percent lower than white males.

No new federal spending is allocated to the initiative, so support from the non-profit and private sectors is being coordinated by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts.

Early concerns about My Brother’s Keeper monopolizing funding channels prevented many black charities and organizations with similar missions from fully embracing the initiative once an eligibility rule for partnership was announced. The rule requires “national organizations defined as having active chapters or sub awardees in at least 45 states.” This excludes most black organizations without the 45-state bandwidth. The lack of partnering opportunities ultimately means a siphoning of funds.

A few leading private sector organizations who announced independent commitments that further the goal of the President’s initiative are the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association, the National Basketball Retired Players Association, AT&T, College Board, Citi Foundation and Discovery Communications.

President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper in hopes that instead of accepting the statistics as the inevitable, Americans would follow his lead and begin to take action. AT

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