Our Focus

The Task Force was asked to focus on key stages in the lives of young people, from early childhood to pathways to college and career. In doing so, it has become apparent that, on the path to adulthood, there is no single moment that defines or determines future success. Recent research suggests positive impacts of evidence-based interventions at multiple critical junctures along the way.

To this end, six universal milestones are especially important and serve as the basis for the Task Force’s work and recommendations:

parent and child with building blocks

Entering School Ready to Learn

All children should have a healthy start and enter school ready —cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally.


The earliest years of a child’s life are critical for building the foundation needed for success in school and beyond. During these years, children’s brains develop rapidly, influenced heavily by their experiences. Children who live in poverty, including disproportionate numbers of children of color, face an array of environmental factors, which, in turn, affect children’s development and later outcomes. With gaps cognitive, social, and emotional development between children from lower- and higher-income families beginning in infancy, efforts to narrow disparities and facilitate economic mobility must start as early as possible. It’s also critically important that these efforts focus on the two groups of individuals who are most influential in children’s lives: parents/caregivers and teachers/caregivers.

child reading

Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade

All children should be reading at grade level by age 8—the age at which reading to learn, and not just learning to read, becomes essential.


Reading well at an early age is essential to later success in education, employment, and life. When provided frequent, quality reading experiences in the home and high-quality in-school reading instruction, nearly every child can learn to read by the third grade. Yet significant disparities in reading proficiency exist between students of color and their peers. Recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data shows that while more than half of fourth-grade students in most racial and ethnic subgroups scored below proficiency in 2013 – signaling a need for strong reforms in literacy instruction for all students – there is a particular need for attention to reading levels among Black, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaska Native students. In 2013, 83% of Black students, 81% of Hispanic students, and 78% percent of American Indian and Alaska Native students scored below proficiency, compared to 66% of White Students.1 Students who are not reading at proficient levels by the end of third grade are more likely to struggle throughout their school years, which in turn leads to higher dropout rates and fewer students being college and career ready.2 Increasing proficiency rates and closing the achievement gap are two of the most persistent educational challenges we face. Making significant progress for all children, including boys and young men of color and underserved youth, will require integrated strategies involving general and special education, home and school, and a host of other public and private community stakeholders.


Graduating from High School Ready for College and Career

Every American child should have a postsecondary option.


The economic and civic health of our nation depends on a well-educated citizenry, and ensuring that all citizens—including boys and young men of color and underserved youth—are able to participate and successfully leverage educational opportunities is critical for the nation’s future.


Completing Post-Secondary Education or Training

All Americans should receive the education and training needed for quality jobs of today and tomorrow.


The Obama Administration effectively expanded college access for millions of young people. The country has seen the highest college enrollment rates in our history and the highest high school graduation rate on record (80%). The dropout rate for all students is down. Yet there are still youth at risk. We know that many boys and young men of color and underserved youth leave high school without a diploma or the preparation to succeed in college or a career. And having a postsecondary option has been shown to be critical for success in later stages of life for all young people. Among other things, higher levels of education lead to higher wages and strong, vibrant communities. The new Task Force seeks to build on these successes in order to improve educational outcomes for all underserved youth, including boys and young men of color.

In 2018, 63 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education.4 It has been well- documented that higher levels of education lead to higher wages for individuals and, in turn, higher tax revenues for federal, state and local governments. Additionally, more education leads to increased public engagement of Americans in the life of their communities, regions and states. 5

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations requiring a postsecondary education are projected to grow faster between 2012 and 2022 than jobs requiring a high school diploma or less. Yet young men of color enroll, persist in and complete postsecondary education at significantly lower rates than their peers.6 Employers can play a key role in developing a pipeline of skilled workers to meet these needs by offering youth exposure to career opportunities from early on, such as through summer jobs and internships, so that young people and their parents are able to make smarter education and career decisions from the start. At the same time, access to and success in postsecondary education will continue to play a key role in developing ladders to jobs and positive employment outcomes for youth.

Young men in elevator

Successfully Entering the Workforce

Anyone who wants a job should be able to get a job that allows them to support themselves and their families.


Many men and women of all races and ethnicities navigate effectively through the early life stages and often proceed on a course that results in a job that provides a decent livelihood. However, Black men experience lower labor force participation rates and are more likely to be unemployed than other men. And among those who are employed, men of color have lower earnings than other men in the same occupations, and more of them tend to work in services, sales, and other jobs with relatively lower earnings. The employment and earnings disparity by race is particularly sharp for low-income workers, both in terms of accessing one’s first job and, later, for finding new jobs and moving up in the labor market. Ensuring that all young people have the tools and opportunities to enter the workforce successfully is a goal we must strive to reach. Where there are barriers to participation, we should seek to remove them. Where there are too few opportunities, we should seek to expand them to ensure that all young Americans have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

balanced scales (justice)

Reducing Violence and Providing A Second Chance

All children should be safe from violent crime; and individuals who are confined should receive the education, training and treatment they need for a real chance at a second chance.


On the path to adulthood, youth may fall victim to violence or experience an interaction with the criminal justice system that permanently alters their trajectory for the worse. While crime has generally decreased across the United States in recent years, violence continues to plague many communities, and disproportionally affects communities of color. Among Black males ages 10 to 24, homicide is the leading cause of death; it is among the leading causes of death for Hispanics, American Indian, and Alaska Native males in that age range. Persons of color disproportionately have contact with law enforcement or are victims of violent crime. It has been shown that Black youth face disparate treatment, i.e., harsher punishment, in the juvenile justice system. At the same time, all of our criminal justice data needs to be improved and forensics made as scientifically accurate as possible. Fuller data on stops, questioning, frisking, searches, arrests, detention, convictions, and sentences and the reasons for them will help us better understand the problems.

1 U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 2013 Mathematics and Reading Assessments. A First Look: 2013 Mathematics and Reading National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4 and 8 (2014).

2 Hernandez, D. Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation. Annie E. Casey Foundation (2011).

3 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD).NCES Common Core of Data State Dropout and Completion Data File. U.S. Department of Education School Year 2009-2010 Version 1a.

4 Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl, Help Wanted: Postsecondary Education and Training Required (Washington, DC: Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University, 2010).

5 The College Board. Education Pays 2010. Washington, DC: The College Board (2010).

6 Ross, T., Kena, G., Rathbun, A., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, J., Kristapovich, P., and Manning, E. Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study (NCES 2012-046). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office (2012).

7 National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System: Multiple cause mortality for (years). Accessed via Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). [cited 2012 Oct 19] Available from www.cdc.gov/injury.

8 Truman, Jennifer, Lynn Langton, and Michae Planty. Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Criminal Victimization, 2012.” Last modified September 24, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2014. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ascii/cv12.txt.

9 See Shelby County findings and getting additional support from OJP. http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/April/12-crt-540.html