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Obama's 'My Brother's Keeper' Initiative Features Focus on 3rd Grade Reading

More details about President Barack Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative to boost opportunity for boys and men of color surfaced Friday, and they include a priority on making sure that students read proficiently by the time they're in 3rd grade.

Top priorities, according to the presidential task force's recommendations, are ensuring that young people:

  • Get a healthy start and enter school ready to learn;
  • Read by 3rd grade;
  • Graduate from high school ready for college and career;
  • Complete post-secondary education or training;
  • Enter the workforce;
  • Stay on track and get second chances.

Translating those priorities into policy recommendations, the task force suggested several overarching areas of focus, including launching a public-private campaign to recruit mentors for youth and improve the quality of mentoring programs, and making the status and progress of boys and young men of color and other populations "more visible" by improving data collection and transparency. In each of its six priority areas, it pinpointed programmatic levers for improvement.

For its "healthy start and ready for school" priority:

  • Close the word gap by launching an initiative to increase joint and independent reading time outside of school and build a reading culture in more homes.
  • Eliminate suspensions and expulsions in preschool and other early-learning settings.
  • Ensure access to high-quality care and education.
  • Implement universal health and development screenings.

For its 3rd grade reading priority:

  • Build community support for reading at home with adults, and for in-home literacy programs.

For its high school graduation priority:

  • Increase the focus on transforming the schools and districts that produce most of the country's dropouts. 
  • Help schools and families recognize early warning signs and take action.
  • Encourage the use of fair discipline practices.

To boost post-secondary completion rates:

  • Expand students' access to, and completion of, rigorous courses, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and dual-enrollment options in high school.
  • Improve college advising and support.
  • Encourage FAFSA completion and postsecondary applications.

To get more young people successfully into the workplace:

  • Increase entry-level job, mentorship and apprenticeship options
  • Improve and grow summer-jobs initiatives
  • Create job opportunities by enacting a broader economic agenda: invest in infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, job training and raising the minimum wage.

To reduce violence and offer more second chances to young offenders:

  • Focus on public-health approaches in high-risk communities
  • Redouble efforts to implement community-oriented policing.
  • Reduce inappropriate referrals to the criminal justice system, promote alternatives to incarceration, and make sure incarcerated youths get a quality education.
  • Eliminate unnecessary barriers to reentering society after incarceration and encourage "fair chance" hiring.

A 61-page report detailing the findings that led to the task force's recommendations is posted on the White House website.

The My Brother's Keeper initiative was announced in February. Over the past few months, the presidential task force solicited feedback about "programs and policies that work," according to the White House. The panel has secured commitments from "cities and towns, businesses, foundations, faith leaders and individuals" across the country who will work on "helping youth get a strong start in school and life and later connect them to mentoring, support networks and specialized skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way up into the middle class," the White House statement said.

Obama called on Americans to participate in the initiative by signing up at WH.gov/mybrotherskeeper for long-term mentoring of young people.

The White House also said it expects a $200 million investment in the initiative by a group of foundations in the next few weeks.

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