New education commission will advise White House on equity

Vice President Harris on Thursday swore in the new members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Advancing Education, Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.

The commission, created under an executive order by President Biden in 2021, aims to provide the president with insight and advice while focusing on creating equitable opportunities for Black students and communities, with an emphasis on career pathways like internships and work-based programs.

“The work of this commission is an extension of a profound priority for the Biden-Harris administration to be guided by equity, guided by opportunity for access to quality education, opportunity for access to capital,” Harris said Thursday.

She said the administration is counting on the commission to advise on how to enhance students’ paths toward success, identify the gaps on that path and how opportunities may be created “as part of a larger equity agenda.”

The new commission is made up of more than 20 members, including chair Malcolm Kenyatta.

When he created the commission in 2021, Biden highlighted disparities in education: Black students are more likely than white students to attend high-poverty and racially segregated schools; Black students are suspended from school more often than white students, even for similar offenses; and Black students often face limited access to Advanced Placement and college preparatory classes.

These barriers in school then translated into the workplace, Biden said.

“In the face of these historic and present-day inequities in our Nation’s schools, Black students continue to persevere,” Biden’s order said. “Black students and scholars today are breaking the barriers confronted by generations who came before. Our Nation’s schools and communities are irrefutably strengthened by the success, scholarship, and tenacity of Black students of all ages. But our Nation must go further to finally root out systemic barriers in our schools.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona joined Harris and the members and highlighted the partisan battle taking place in schools.

In June, the Supreme Court overturned race-conscious admissions in higher education, and politicians at the local and federal level have spent the year debating which aspects of Black history should be taught in public schools and whether systemic racism even exists.

“The work of this commission comes at a critical moment for both our Black and brown students and our educational system at large,” said Cardona.

“What we’re seeing is that things once done in the shade are now being done in the sunlight,” he added. “We’re seeing racist attitudes and policy being embedded in our laws and institutions under, oftentimes, the thin veil of so-called race-blindness, meaning injustice and inequity, ignorance and gaslighting.”

Harris took time to call out Florida, specifically, which came under heavy criticism for banning an Advanced Placement African American studies course from running in public schools. The state also tried to pass legislation banning diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

“These are the forces we’re fighting against,” Harris said. “And I strive for that to be one of our guiding principles: is to understand not only should people start out on the same space but should have equal opportunity to compete based on their talents.”

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