Barack Obama on Education

Americans voted in Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States in an election weighted down with the harsh realities of a down-turning economy and two costly wars. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, many Americans are wondering what the new president will do to improve their children's education.

Throughout his campaign, Barack Obama has said he plans to take a fresh, objective look at the age-old debate over education issues. “A truly historic commitment to education – a real commitment will require new resources and new reforms,” Obama says. “It will require a willingness to break free from the same debates that Washington has been engaged in for decades – Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo; more money versus more accountability. And most of all, it will take a President who is honest about the challenges we face – who doesn’t just tell everyone what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.” Where does Obama stand specifically on the most pressing education issues? Here’s our cheat sheet on education according to Obama:

Standardized Testing

Standardized testing is stuck in the crossfire in the debate over accountability, and Obama has stepped up to take aim. He says that too often standardized tests fail to provide valuable or timely feedback. Meanwhile, “creativity has been drained from classrooms, as too many teachers are forced to teach to fill-in-the-bubble tests,” Obama says. He doesn’t go so far as to say he’ll drop testing completely; it should be one of the “tools that we use to make sure our children are learning. It just can’t dominate the curriculum to an extent where we are pushing aside those things that will actually allow children to improve and accurately assess the quality of the teaching that is taking place in the classroom.” How does he plan to revamp testing? “I will provide funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas,” says Obama.

School Choice

Obama says his focus is on providing good schools for all kids, and that's why he does not support vouchers that allow parents to use public school money for private school. “We need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support,” he says. “In the end, vouchers would reduce the options available to children in need. I fear these children would truly be left behind in a private market system.” Obama is more open to charter schools working within the public school system, calling them “important innovators” which improve healthy competition among public schools. However, Obama says there need to be strong accountability measures in place.

No Child Left Behind

Obama's catch phrase for this topic is, “No Child Left Behind left the money behind,” meaning that unfulfilled funding promises have limited the program's effectiveness in improving public education. He says while the goals of No Child Left Behind are right, the way they’ve been implemented is wrong: there needs to be better assessment and a greater effort to ensure that every child has a successful teacher. “Particularly at a time when our nation is facing a shortage in teachers due to retirement and retention problems, it is important to ensure that we can attract, support, and retain high-quality teachers,” he says. How does Obama propose we do this? By experimenting with alternative preparation, mentoring and professional development programs, in addition to providing fresh incentives for serving high-need schools. Specifically, he plans to provide funding for 200 new Teacher Residency Programs, an idea he introduced in the Senate last year. In these programs, individuals completing coursework for teacher certification could serve as apprentices in the classrooms of veteran teachers, as long as they pledged at least three years of service in the sponsoring district.