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Obama's impact on Education Source Although you may have heard of countless reports on Obama's work on healthcare and foreign policy, you may have not heard enough of his stance on education

With 2016 coming to a close and an impending new presidency, we will definitely witness new changes and alterations in 2017. With that being said, we should take a step back and reflect on President Obama’s track record, specifically in the education sector. In this post I will briefly go over his proposals in the last several years and discuss what ultimately happened once his administration’s ideas went into practice. Let’s begin!

What Obama wanted to do...

Since running for president back in 2008, Obama has strongly advocated and pushed for educational reforms. For instance, although he agreed that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was an excellent concept, it had a terrible framework and poor execution. In addition, Obama called for more spending in public education, proposing “$18 billion a year in new federal spending on early childhood classes, teacher recruitment, performance pay and other initiatives.” and “spend $10 billion a year to expand early childhood education”. Later in 2012 when Obama ran for his second term as President, he maintained that he was determine to improve the NCLB. Moreover, Obama sought to keep the federal student loan interest rate 3.4%, pass tighter regulations on for profit colleges, and expand the Pell Grant program.

What actually happened…

In the span of eight years that President Obama held office, here is what he managed to get done:

  • Waivers for the NCLB
  • Eliminated federal subsidies for private student loan lenders
  • Expand the Pell Grant program
  • Increased funding for art programs across the country
  • Launched numerous programs to interest students in science
  • Increased research opportunities for college students by funding countless STEM programs
  • Lowered tuition rate for four year public universities

And much more.

Cool. But, what does this all mean?

No Child Left Behind and ESSA

No Child Left Behind logo Source In spite of its well meaning intentions, NCLB placed impossible standards on states, thus failing to complete its objective

This act was signed into existence by then President George W. Bush in 2001. Basically, the NCLB expanded the federal government’s role in education nationwide. For states to receive federal funding for their schools, they were required to meet certain criteria, namely improve students’ academic progress. Academic progress was measured through examinations in reading and math. Overall, the intent behind this act was to hold schools accountable for their students’ performance. This sounds good...on paper.

In the aftermath, critics from both sides of the political spectrum agreed that the NCLB was a terrible idea. Basically, the NCLB had unrealistic expectations and forced educators to teach students how to take an exam instead of them teaching them the subject itself. This led to teachers spending less time on other subjects as well. The NCLB strived to ensure that student groups that performed less than their classmates (particularly disadvantaged, special needs or minority kids) improve. In other words, the NCLB attempted to close the achievement gap in the nation. Nonetheless, the NCLB failed to achieve that. Plus, the NCLB was underfunded (by approximately 10 billion dollars). Source Inspired by the NLCB framework, the Obama administration sought to create an alternative model for the education system

The Obama Administration granted waivers for states who wished to opt out of the NCLB. Essentially, these waivers permit states to leave the NCLB, therefore freeing them from the restrictive and punishing guidelines of the NCLB. About 42 states have been granted waivers. In exchange, states are required to set their own educational standards. This gave states extra breathing room because a) now they held greater control of the reins and b) they were far from reaching NCLB target goal.

On November 2015, President Obama implemented ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). Although this act retains some aspects of the NCLB, it grants states much more flexibility with the federal money they receive. In addition, ESSA seeks to improve educational programs and facilities for Native American students and low performing schools. ESSA also protects art and music programs, as they are deemed crucial for a well rounded curriculum. STEM programs are also eligible for state funding under ESSA too. However, several parts of ESSA have come under scrutiny. In spite of ESSA granting states greater say on how to spend their federal money, ESSA “require(s) school districts to equalize spending among schools first before devoting Title I funds (federal money) to the neediest schools”. This specific section has divided teachers and civil rights advocates. On the one hand, equalizing spending definitely balances out the playing field. On the other hand, this could affect teacher salaries as schools have to reallocate their resources.


Wellesley college campus Source College education is an invaluable tool for the future, not a financial burden and roadblock

For my high school students out there, FAFSA will be a form you will soon come to be very familiar with. In fact, it will follow your throughout your college years. FAFSA is essentially a federal application form that decides whether students are eligible for financial aid. It used to be that students could take out private loans which were subsidized by the government. For instance, banks could get subsidized for the private loans they gave to students. The issue with this is that private loans typically have larger interest rates, meaning that it is more difficult to pay off.

Known as the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, the government has stopped subsidizing private institutions for issuing student loans. Now, students can take out loans from the federal government at a lower interest rate. With the Obama administration relocating these funds, they were able to expand the Pell Grant program. As a result, more low income students have access to Pell Grants. The government also placed a cap on annual loan payments, meaning that such payments cannot surpass 10% of the student’s annual income.

Speaking of private education, the Obama administration has also enforced transparency, especially among for-profit schools. The Department of Education has gone after for-profit schools in the past several years, especially since some are notorious for placing their students under heavy school debt. During this crackdown, large institutions such as Corinthians and ITT Technical Institute have fallen.


It is clear that the Obama Administration has accomplished several victories over the past several years. That being said, there were also shortcomings and broken promises. For instance, Obama didn’t quite provide as much funding for children with disabilities as he promised. In fact, some figures show that the federal government has only provided less than half of the funds they promised to give.

Then there’s college tuition. While Obama did manage to lower the public tuition rate, he did not deliver on passing regulations on college tuition.. President Obama also promised to double funding for after-school programs. In actuality, Obama slightly increased funding for such programs, not double it. There are still some concerns from teacher unions as well. They fear under Obama’s regulations, their jobs may be jeopardized as they become linked to their students’ performance.

Personally, although it is upsetting that President Obama did not keep all of his promises, I am aware that the mechanisms behind Congress are convoluted and complex. This is particularly true for the Obama administration, as there was extreme political gridlock between the Democrats and Republicans. Overall, I’m glad that steps were taken to try to improve the education system, whether it was offering an alternative to the NCLB or offering student loans with lower interest rates. I should also mention that Obama has been a champion for the transgender community, as he has made it clear that schools cannot discriminate “gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.” Whether or not his education policies will be successful or not, only time will tell. I’m optimistic and hopeful that such policies will work. However, should it not, it only means that we can learn from those mistakes, go back to the drawing board and try again.

Obama with education = success written in the background

Source Work has been done to improve the education system for the American people. Let's see if they will work