President Obama and Education: The Possibility for Dramatic Improvements in Teaching and Learning

Summer 2009

Source: Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 79, Iss. 2; pg. 210-225. (Summer 2009)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author concludes her work heading Obama’s education policy transition team. She describes President Obama’s commitment to making the education of every child a collective responsibility and reviews central elements of the new administration’s plans for education. The central elements include:

-A major investment in early childhood education.

-Initiatives to recruit, prepare, train, and reward teachers and leaders.

-Investments in innovation and student supports in public schools.

-Incentives to transform curriculum, assessment, and accountability.

-Greater college access.

Each of these elements is a focal point in Obama's plans. Such commitments have been either neglected by federal policy since the early 1980s, when the Reagan administration pushed back on most of the Great Society programs, or undermined by the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind. Obama sees these pieces as connected and essential to achieving his goals.

Policy for Meaningful Learning and Assessment

She reflects on the importance of suggested policy changes, particularly focusing on the importance of legislation to improve teacher capacity and retention.

Improving Learning Goals
Obama talked about the twenty-first-century learning goals to which we should aspire and the changes in curriculum and testing that those goals require.

Encouraging more performance-oriented measures of student achievement is critical to getting the kind of learning we need in schools and to closing the "global achievement gap" (Wagner, 2008). Efforts to develop, test, and disseminate more valid assessments in the content areas for these students would help states include them more appropriately in accountability systems and provide more useful information to their teachers and school systems.

Finally, the federal government can also model higher-quality items and tasks that better measure standards by accepting and refining the newly developed blueprints for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which are designed to evaluate students' abilities to solve problems and explain and defend their ideas. Together these efforts could finally and firmly point the United States toward twenty-first-century knowledge and skills.

Improving Teaching Capacity
A more ambitious curriculum certainly requires a strong teaching force able to engage in sophisticated practices. President Obama has emphasized the need to recruit, prepare, retain, and reward a strong, equitably distributed teaching force; to improve the quality of preparation for teachers; to develop compensation systems that reward and develop excellent teaching; and to ensure a supply of strong teachers in all communities.

Finally, she considers how the field of education might look in 2016 should the Obama administration’s education agenda succeed as planned.

Darling-Hammond, L. (in press). The flat world and education: How America's commitment to equity will determine our nation's future. New York: Teachers College Press.

Obama, B. (2008, May 28). What's possible for our children: Remarks of Senator Barack Obama, Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, Thornton, CO.
Wagner, T. (2008). The Global Achievement Gap. New York: Basic Books.

Updated: Sep. 07, 2009