Obama’s Education Hits and Misses

Has the Obama administration reached their education goals?

obama education policy
Obama’s “Race to the Top” education policy went into effect in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. (Photo: Getty Images)
Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Like all presidents, Barack Obama has had some wins and losses when it comes to education policy.

In May 2008, Obama gave a speech titled “What’s Possible for Our Children” at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, Colorado. His talking points centered on American students competing with their peers globally, the need to fix the failures of No Child Left Behind, and the urgency of hiring new teachers to replace retiring ones.

Along the way Obama created more goals.

In 2009, for instance, he said he wanted the United States to become the top-ranked country in the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. In his 2012 State of The Union address, Obama challenged higher education to stop increasing tuition or risk cuts to federal funding.

More: Obama and Romney: Not So Different on Education Issues

On his reelection campaign website, Obama lists fewer goals for the next four years and cites more of his accomplishments from over the last three and a half. He cites student loan reform, affordable college through grants, and the implementation of his “Race To The Top” program, which is a more progressive take on “No Child Left Behind.”

Many former commanders-in-chief have had a desire to become known as the “education president,” and Obama is no different. He has made it clear that he wants to leave a legacy of education reform that will help the United States excel, and compete, in a 21st-century global economy.

According to political fact checkers, Obama has kept many of his education policy promises—for example, rebuilding schools in New Orleans and increasing research and educational funding for land-grant colleges—which is especially notable considering the gridlock in Congress. Many of the projects he talked about during the 2008 campaign, such as improving high school graduation rates and creating a community college partnership program, are currently in the works.

Obama’s successes during his presidential term so far include:

  • “No Child Left Behind” waivers. Currently, 32 states and Washington, D.C. have received waivers from the act that many educators believe set unattainable and unfair goals. While not a blanket reprieve from all aspects of NCLB, states are allowed to set their own standards in certain areas.
  • Student loan reform. In 2010, Obama signed legislation that eliminated subsidies to private lenders, thereby making more money available to expand federal programs like Pell Grants. He implemented a 10-year limit on repayments for certain types of borrowers and also cut interest rates. The administration has continuously updated and created new tools for students to understand the financial aid process.
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds. A recent study shows federal stimulus money curtailed the effects of the economic downturn on the K-12 education sector and created jobs.
  • STEM Master Teacher Corps. Recently announced, the Obama administration plans to invest more than $8 billion to create an “elite corps” of science, technology, engineering and math teachers.

While Obama has accomplished much in education in a short time, he has also had some failures, mainly due to budget constraints.

  • After-school program funding. During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to double funding for these programs for the 8,900 centers that serve about 1.5 million students. In the 2013 budget, the funding has leveled off and not increased.
  • Children’s First Agenda. Obama made this campaign promise to give “care, learning and support to families with children from birth up to 5 years old.” So far, the administration has not been able to secure funding or create such an agenda.
  • Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID). The first program of its kind, TPSID was designed to help students with intellectual disabilities attend college and succeed in order to graduate. Funding became iffy after its first year and now has an uncertain future.

If reelected, Obama may be able to push through projects that are currently in the pipeline. If not, he leaves behind the groundwork and legislation that could easily be built upon by a new Republican administration if it chooses to do so.

What do you think of Obama's education policy? Let us know in comments.

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