Research & Commentary: Obama Administration Education Policies

Published March 26, 2012

As the 2012 elections approach, it is an appropriate time to review the president’s record on education policy. Several prominent observers have done so recently.

The president’s education policies seem to please no one extremely well. Even his teacher union allies have publicly criticized his support for policies such as charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. Contrarian observers such as Diane Ravitch join conservative organizations such as The Heritage Foundation and commentators such as George Will in criticizing the administration’s tendency to dictate federal education policy and run roughshod over law, separation of powers, and principles of state and local control.

Those concerned about preserving or creating freedom for individuals and families fault the president’s policies for greatly restricting such freedoms, largely by expanding government intervention and requirements in many more areas of education. These include control over curriculum, tests, teacher qualifications, hiring practices, and education spending. 

The following documents offer more information about President Barack Obama’s education policies to date.


Obama’s Education Takeover
President Barack Obama has laid the groundwork for an unprecedented centralization of education policy under the guise of promoting education innovation, accountability, and student achievement, writes Lance Izumi in a short Broadside book. Obama’s new national standards, curricula, and testing shift policymaking power from individuals and communities to federal bureaucracy. Izumi examines Obama’s education policies and reveals why Americans must protect and promote the power of individuals, especially parents, to control children’s education. 

Flunking Arne Duncan
Since Education Secretary Arne Duncan likes grading educational performance so much, education historian Diane Ravitch decides to grade his. She gives him six Fs for not respecting the government’s limited role in education, breaking the law, creating a national curriculum, elevating the importance of student test scores, and more. Ultimately, nearly no national leader pleases her as a “champion for children.” 

Education: 2011 in Review
The past year has been a mixed bag for federal education policy, writes Sally Lovejoy in an education policy review for the American Action Forum. Congress has had some success reducing federal education spending and providing more choices to parents and students who attend persistently failing schools, she says, but the Obama administration has exercised unprecedented power in exerting its will over how states and school districts educate children. 

Obama Education Blueprint a Road Map to More Washington Control
Obama and his Education Department have taken the lead on increasing federal and state education spending, though this spending is at its highest level ever and the increase has done nothing to improve student achievement, writes Lindsey Burke for The Heritage Foundation. The president’s budget gives its highest domestic spending increase to the Education Department, and its blueprint for education significantly increases federal control and regulation. 

Obama’s Education Record: Does the Reality Match the Rhetoric?
Obama and Duncan have governed better on education reform than any of their Democratic predecessors, write Michael Petrilli and Tyson Eberhardt for Education Next. But to ignore the shortcomings of the president’s K-12 education record would be a mistake, and bad for the country, they write. The administration deserves to be pressed on the cost-effectiveness of its education bailouts, the results of its Race to the Top initiative, and the wisdom of its approach to federalism and separation of powers. 

Waive to the Top: The Dangers of Legislating Education Policy from the Executive Branch
Obama has announced a way to help states evade No Child Left Behind’s requirements: granting waivers from the law’s accountability requirements if states agree to a series of conditions. Although many states are enthusiastic about obtaining this relief, the waiver plan poses several notable risks, which Benjamin Riley discusses in an Education Outlook for the American Enterprise Institute. Legally, it remains to be seen whether the executive branch has the authority to craft national education policy without congressional approval. Politically, support for waivers may wane as states begin to implement these policies, particularly with Common Core standards. And logistically, creating two wholly different federal accountability regimes poses an incredible challenge for oversight. 

Restructuring Public Education for the 21st Century
The United States is losing its edge in producing highly intelligent, creative young adults equal to the requirements of global enterprise, writes Linus Wright for the National Center for Policy Analysis. American public education needs a complete restructuring to support the development of critical thinkers ready to assume their positions as productive citizens of a free society.



Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].