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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is on a mission: He wants to tour several historically black colleges and speak directly with African-American male students about teaching in the nation’s public schools.

It’s a bold and unprecedented initiative – and comes at a critical time for black America.

Consider this: Only 1.7 percent of the nation’s 4.8 million public school teachers are black men. Most black boys may never be educated by someone who looks like them, and sadly, some African-American boys will never experience a black male role model in their public school classrooms.

“And people ask why black males are struggling,” Duncan said in a recent interview. “I’ve talked to the first lady about it. I plan to visit black colleges and talk to freshmen and sophomores. I want to talk to them about a call to service.”

One of Duncan’s first opportunities to speak with black students will be at Xavier University in New Orleans, where he is scheduled to speak in May, his aides told Thursday.

Duncan’s plan to persuade young black men to teach for a living after they graduate college is an important initiative for the African-American community and may even silence some Republican critics who claim President Barack Obama has no fresh ideas.