What is Obama’s K-12 education legacy?

Thought leaders argue that the Obama administration’s K-12 legacy found its success in partly scaling back its initial metrics-heavy approach.


President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, launched in 2013, set forth the ambitious goal of connecting 99 percent of U.S. students to the internet via high-speed broadband and wireless in five years. [Source: eSchool News]

Buoyed by stakeholder support, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later approved a historic modernization of the federal E-rate program, which provides discounts to help schools and libraries connect to the internet. The FCC’s vote increased the program’s funding by $1.5 billion, bumping the annual funding cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion. The modernization directly correlates with ConnectED’s goals. [Source: eSchool News]


“Under the Obama Administration, the department released state-by-state data about restraint and seclusion policies in schools as well as school-level graduation rates, which provided a first-ever national comparison opportunity. It also added categories to the Civil Rights Data Collection, including advanced course participation, teacher experience and absenteeism, and school discipline, all of which have highlighted educational inequities and created focus areas for school improvement.” [Source: EducationDIVE]


Under the Obama Administration, Congress replaced the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which gives state more authority and flexibility when it comes to closing achievement gaps. The law still requires periodic math and reading testing, but states have more freedom to define teaching and learning objectives and to outline accountability measures. Congress was finally inspired to replace NCLB because members of both parties wanted to stop the administration’s unprecedented exercise of federal power in education. “By exercising federal power in questionable ways, the administration gave an opening to Congress to send back a great deal of education of power to the states, many of which never covered themselves in glory in how they approached public education.” [Source: The Washington Post]


Obama signed into law the STEM Education Act of 2015, which focused on computer science education funding, included grants for informal STEM education occurring outside the classroom, and expanded a National Science Foundation (NSF) teaching program to include computer science educators. He also focused heavily on STEM education and programs to prepare educators to adequately teach traditionally hard-to-teach STEM subjects. [Source: eSchool News]

Obama also brought the importance of computer science education to the forefront, and in his final State of the Union address in January 2014, he set a goal for every U.S. student to learn computer science. Obama requested more than $4 billion in the FY 2017 budget to fund the Computer Science for All initiative. The three-year initiative would help train teachers, equip classrooms, and develop new class materials. [Editor’s note: As of press time, the FY 2017 budget had not been approved. Source: eSchool News.]

The Digital Promise Center has become a clearinghouse for educational technologies that work, the #GoOpen campaign has helped expand use of high-quality open educational resources, and the Investing in Innovation Fund has allowed flexibility for innovative, high-performing schools. At the same time, the Obama administration has urged schools to protect student data and privacy as they rely increasingly on digital devices and cloud-based technology. [Source: EducationDIVE]


Under the Obama Administration, “districts faced stronger compliance tests for providing girls access to sports, greater pressure to properly serve immigrant students and effectively communicate with their parents, and revised guidance about reducing racial isolation in schools, compared to expectations by President George W. Bush.” The Education Department also took a stand on protections for transgender students, arguing these students are a protected class in Title IX. “The Obama administration launched the first-ever Tribal Listening Tour to assess unique issues affecting this population, pushed for greater supports for students in foster care, and urged districts to address discipline policies that disproportionately impacted certain groups.” [Source: EducationDIVE]

(Next page: Charters, Common Core, teacher support)

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