Grading Barack Obama’s Presidency on P-20 Education
When Barack Obama assumed the presidency, he was confronted by a nasty set of problems in P-20 education. High student loan debt, lack of affordable early-childhood education options, and everything in between were put in the President’s lap and have been issues he’s addressed in both terms. Given the nature and sheer number of challenges, his administration has done a great deal to foster positive change and progress.
In a previous article, I outlined Barack Obama’s Top Ten P-20 Education Accomplishments. In this article, I decided to write an assessment of Obama’s overall P-20 education record, issuing a letter grade (A-F) to make my position abundantly clear. I will use a selection of his most impactful initiatives to assess his record.
STEM Education Reform. The President was not only vocal about the need for stronger programs in science, technology, engineering, and math but he put some money behind his words. His 2014 budget included $3.1 billion in investments in federal STEM programs – an increase of nearly 7 percent over the budget from the previous two years. Of that $3.1 billion, too, Obama designated some $80 million to recruit 100,000 qualified educators. He also earmarked another $35 million to launch a pilot STEM Master Teacher Corps. The rest of the money went to supporting undergraduate STEM education programs and investment in breakthrough research on best teaching practices for STEM subjects, helping to prepare today’s students for the worldwide workforce.
Obama administration released a testing action plan for K-12. President Obama was determined not to allow the moniker of “lame duck” to stick to him. In 2015, Obama and the Department of Education released their Testing Action Plan, which aimed to reduce the burden of tests that many students are tasked with taking.
While Obama has little recourse in scaling back how often States tests its students, his administration can at least provide an outline. Part of that outline included having schools “send parents written notice” if students exceed a two-percent cap on classroom time that they may spend taking tests.
The whole point of this initiative is to utilize additional ways to measure student success as opposed to just testing. Included in the action plan are ways that schools may determine “how well students are learning and schools are functioning” by using “portfolios, projects, technology-supported assessments, students surveys,” etc. It’s still assessment, though, instead of just teaching and letting students learn—something that critics argue is sorely lacking in P-12 classrooms today.
In addition to the cap on testing and student measuring tools, the administration stated that it would be more flexible with federal standards when it comes to teacher evaluations. On his way out of the White House, Obama is attempting to untangle the legacy of No Child Left Behind and create a new path and perhaps leave a presidential legacy on education.
Expansion of Community Colleges. In July 2012, President Obama proposed the American Graduation Initiative, intended to put more money and planning into community colleges, helping to promote more affordable options and high levels of training for all prospective college students. As part of this initiative, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act poured $2 billion over the course of four years into an expansion of career training at community colleges, focusing on the high-demand health care field.
Enforcement of the DREAM Act. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act provided an estimated 2.1 million young people in the U.S. with access to an education and amnesty from deportation. While Obama’s administration stressed the ethical points of this act, rightfully so, it offers may economic benefits for America as well.
The Center for American Progress estimates that the DREAM Act will create 1.4 million new jobs by the year 2030 and that it will infuse some $329 billion into the U.S. economy.
Higher College Tax Credits. The Obama-Biden administration tripled the tax credits available to students and parents of students paying college expenses, too. The American Opportunity Tax Credit gives a $2,500 tax credit maximum per student and students can claim it for four years.
According to the IRS, up to 40 percent of the credit is refundable, up to $1,000, to people that file even if no taxes are owed. In addition to courses and fees, the new tax credit also covers related costs like books, supplies, and required class materials.
Income-Based Loan Repayment. President Obama has often said that he believes that paying for college should not overwhelm graduates. As a reflection of this, he has pledged to expand income-based repayment options to keep the bills from college from becoming unmanageable. Around two-thirds of college students have a debt of over $23,000 upon graduation. This can be especially difficult for students that want to enter public service jobs and those who face unexpected financial hardships like unemployment or serious illness.
Students can limit payments to 10 percent of income – a reduction from 15 percent in the previous law – which means a reduction of $110 per month for unmarried borrowers that owe $20,000 and make $30,000 per year. An estimated 1 million borrowers will be positively impacted by this change in repayment options. Also, borrowers that make monthly payments will be allowed debt forgiveness after 20 years. Public service workers like nurses, teachers, and military employees will receive debt forgiveness after just ten years.
Promise Neighborhoods. In 2010, President Obama another important educational initiative known as the Promise Neighborhood Grants emerged. The Promise Neighborhoods Grants supported cradle-to-career services intended to improve the educational attainment and healthy development of children. The program aimed to provide students in Promise Neighborhoods with access to effective schools and well-built networks of parental and community support, preparing them to receive an exceptional education and effectively transition to college and a career. Patterned after Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods are a “promising” reinvention of an existing educational innovation.
When Obama assumed the presidency, a nasty set of problems confronted him in K-12 education. Given the nature and sheer number of challenges, his administration did a great deal to foster positive change and progress with education reforms like Race to the Top and Promise Neighborhoods. Overall, therefore, I think the president deserves an A, which reflects his solid P-20 education record as Commander-in-Chief. I am sure many will disagree with this assessment, but it is my opinion in light of the policies mentioned above. I am looking forward to reading your comments, and I encourage you to use this article as a springboard for discussion.