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Obama meets with Sharpton, Gingrich, Bloomberg

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday discussed ways to improve the education system with the unlikely political trio of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Rev. Al Sharpton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The independent mayor, the liberal Democrat and community activist, and the conservative former Republican congressman said their partnership shows that the issue cuts across political and ideological lines.

Improving the education system is a top issue for Obama. He maintains that students who do better in school will help themselves in an economy that’s becoming more dependent on high-skilled jobs, and that the nation will benefit in the long run, too.

Sharpton said they talked about inequalities in education that persist decades after the Supreme Court declared separate but equal schools unconstitutional with its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

“We have a crisis of inequality in this country,” Sharpton said after the Oval Office meeting with Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Fifty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education there’s still a difference in how students get up in the morning and go to school.”

Sharpton said that in some cities more than half of all black teens have no high school diploma.

Gingrich said he’ll work with anyone who commits to “putting children first, putting learning first and getting the job done in the next two or three years” and not talking about the issue for decades more to come.

Bloomberg, who is running for a third term, has been working with Sharpton and New York Schools chief Joel Klein to improve the performance of minority students in New York. The mayor, a Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-independent, said city test scores have improved seven years in a row, including for minorities.

Bloomberg said he suggested to Obama that the country follow New York’s lead.

“The results are there. We are going in the right direction and I tried to impress on the president that if the rest of the country wants to act to improve the performance of their school system, this, I think, is a blueprint for exactly what you can do,” Bloomberg said.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said later that Obama “believes and will take steps to do what’s right to improve our education system, not based on any political ideology or any particular interest group.”