Presidents and Education Reform – Part 1 of a Series


June 4, 2015

By Charles Barone

This blog is Part 1 of ERN’s “Presidents and Education” Series

When it comes to education and the 2016 race for President, Common Core is pretty much all people are talking about. But the reality is that in the Presidential arena, the Common Core debate is mostly theater and is likely to have very little to do with the things the next President will do – or not do – on education that really matter.

Yes, Presidents and cabinet members can make a difference via the bully pulpit. In the case of Common Core, one can say at the very least that support from President Obama and Secretary Duncan provided red meat for opponents on the left and right to serve up to under-informed voters. The problem is that the decibel level here is drowning out debate on other important issues. It’s also distracting even some very smart people from thinking about what will be pivotal governing decisions for the 45th President.

To that end, we at Education Reform Now (ERN) will launch a couple of new efforts to drive a more balanced discussion of where the next President can make a real and lasting difference for our nation’s students, families and communities. One is a blog series looking at decisions past Presidents have made on education and those decisions that will confront the next. The key points here will be:

  1. The federal government has had a role in education for three centuries;
  2. The federal role in education, as a matter of principle, has been controversial pretty much from the beginning;
  3. The feds in general and Presidents in particular – including those who strongly embrace local control – nonetheless impact education and will continue to do so either by action or omission.

As people who have been on the inside, we at ERN intend to cover many things that Presidents do that make a difference that we hope will surprise you. While it’s obvious we’re not philosophically opposed to that role, we’ll strive to be candid about both its strengths and limitations. We want to catalyze both new ideas and fresh ways of thinking and provide a practical guide on how things get from the campaign trail to the Oval Office to the classroom.

The second effort we will be rolling out over the coming weeks is a series of white papers and issue briefs on how this President, Barack Obama, has changed education for millions of Americans over the course of his tenure. We think he deserves an enormous amount of credit for raising the bar and expanding educational opportunity, arguably more than any President in recent memory.

Not everything went equally well, though. In other cases the jury is still out or the clock for action is winding down. We’ll cover those things too in the hope that the next President continues to do what’s worked and spends less time on what hasn’t.

Nothing said earlier about Common Core means that we intend to ignore Presidential politics – far from it. It does mean, however, that we will focus on those things Presidents can do, have done, or have failed to do to provide more Americans the opportunity of a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and citizenship. That’s always been where the federal government has stepped up and done something of national importance when no other level of government was able or willing to do so. Because an unprecedented majority of parents doubt, for good reason, that their children will be better off than they are, it’s more important than ever that the next President fulfills that responsibility.