Barack Obama on Education

Last Updated : Mar 08, 2011


President Obama is a strong supporter of the public education system. He has divided his educational platform into three age groups: college, K-12, and zero to five. As part of the 0-5 program, President Obama has advocated for expanded funding to provide for government funded pre-k for everyone through a program called Head-Start, pledging $10 billion in funding for the program. He stated that research shows that early experiences shape whether a child's brain develops strong skills for future learning, behavior and success. He cautioned that without a strong base on which to build, children, particularly disadvantaged children, will be behind long before they reach kindergarten. He has also advocated for increased funding for child care.

To address K-12 education, President Obama proposed a drastic change to the No Child Left Behind Program known as Race to the Top. This program was created through a $4 billion grant in to the Stimulus and hands out funds of roughly $100 Billion which was also allocated in the stimulus. President Obama was highly critical of the funding levels involved with NCLB and often stated that the legislation mandated goals but did not provide adequate funding to achieve those goals.

During the 2008 election cycle, President Obama was critical of broad testing standards. On numerous occasions in speeches and literature, Senator Obama remarked that NCLB forced teachers to instruct students on the nuances of filling in bubbles on a test and prohibited them from teaching the subjects and matter that students needed. He stated repeatedly that the rigid standardized testing models used to determine both success and funding was one of the biggest problems with NCLB.

A strong supporter of the public education system, President Obama has opposed vouchers to allow students to take their funding with them and attend a private school with that money. He asserts that such a program reduces funding for public schools. At one time, the President stated that vouchers would reduce the options available to children in need. However, he has advocated for an expansion of the charter school system, and to ensure that such schools are funded at the same level as public schools.

President Obama has been a strong proponent of increasing teacher pay and creating methods of judging merit based on something other than test scores. He has stated that a system should be enacted which is negotiated with teachers to figure out the assessments to use so that they feel that they are being judged fairly, that their pay is not at the whim of the principal, and that it's not simply based on a single high stakes standardized test. Some of these criteria are listed as serving as mentors to new teachers; teaching in underserved areas or taking on added responsibility;  learning new skills to serve students better; and consistently excelling in the classroom.


Chicago Jewish News Interview

In 2004, State Senator Obama was asked 5 questions by the Chicago Jewish News. One of those questions dealt with school choice.


Blueprint for education

During the 2008 campaign, Senator Obama made a series of views called the "blueprints for change" and outlined his views and goals for a number of issues.  In the outline for education, Senator Obama addressed his views and plans for early education, standardized testing, college, and no child left behind.  Below, are the bullets and a transcript of the video.

  • Early childhood educationrn
    • early learning challenge grants for zero to five programs
    • expand head start programs
    • affordable, high quality childcare
  • Reform No Child Left Behindrn
    • World class education
    • Highly qualified teachers
    • Closing achievement gaps
    • Fund NCLB
    • Improved Tests
    • 21st Century Curriculum
    • New assessments to test for rn
      • research
      • scientific investigation
      • problem solving
  • New era of accountabilityrn
    • spend taxpayer dollars wisely
    • only fund programs that work
    • cut those that don't
  • Improve K-12rn
    • Increase high school graduation rates
    • college courses for high school students
    • Low income and rural communities included
    • Increase number of high school students taking AP and college-level exams
    • create innovative schools fund
    • partner with industries 
    • Expand public charter schools
    • Update our classrooms for the 21st century
  • Make college education affordablern
    • $4000 tax credit for students serving community
    • Expand Pell grants for low-income students
    • Simplify Financial aid application forms


Early Education

President Obama has consistently cited what he calls the "achievement gap" between a successful group of students in the US and a failing group of students.  He cites the first step in closing this gap is to make sure that children are prepared when they start school.  To close this gap, he has proposed voluntary universal preschool programs.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Senator Obama made the following remarks about pre-kindergarden education.


Standardized Testing

President Obama is largely against standardized testing.  He has often cited the rigid standardized testing models used to determine success and funding as the largest problem with the No Child Left Behind Act.  President Obama's campaign literature states that he believes that many teachers are forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests instead of teaching.

In a campaign video on education, he makes the following statement:



Vouchers and School Choice

A voucher system is one in which a student may use the public funds on private schools.  The system attaches the money to the student and not to the school they are assigned to attend.  The purpose of such a system is that it would allow students to transfer schools at will and force schools to earn student attendance in the same way that other businesses earn customers.

President Obama is opposed to such as system.  He has stated the following in speeches: 

After assuming office, the Obama administration allowed the D.C. voucher program to end.  The D.C. program granted $7,500 per student, per year to be used to attend a private institution instead of the $14,000 a year public school.


Merit Pay

During the campaign, Senator Obama proposed a merit based pay system where the pay for teachers was based not on the results of standardized tests, but on items such as: serving as mentors to new teachers; teaching in underserved areas or taking on added responsibility;  learning new skills to serve students better; and consistently excelling in the classroom.

While not specifically mentioning those criteria, Senator Obama proclaimed the same stance in an interview in October of 2008.


No Child Left Behind

 President Obama has stated both support and opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  He has expressed support for the goals and ideals of the legislation, yet has consistently stated that the program is underfunded, and that the strict testing standards are not the most effectively way of determining success.  In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Senator Obama made the following remarks about the program.



In December of 2007, Senator Obama delivered a speech to the National Education Association where he was much harsher on the standards associated with NCLB and on the lack of funding for the program.


American Opportunity Tax Credit

In October of 2010, President Obama spoke at a press conference concerning education about the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This tax credit was proposed during the campaign.


Race to the Top

In July of 2009, President Obama announced the Race to the Top Program. The program itself was provided roughly $4 billion dollars for implementation and roughly $100 Billions dollars to be issued to the states. The executive summary of the program notes that it's objectives are:

The program selects states for funding that meet given criteria. The states are judged on a point system which is established as follows:

  • A. State Success Factors (125 points)rn
    • (A)(1) Articulating State’s education reform agenda and LEAs’ participation in it (65 points)
    • (A)(2) Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans (30 points)
    • (A)(3) Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps (30 points)
  • B. Standards and Assessments (70 points)rn
    • (B)(1) Developing and adopting common standards (40 points)
    • (B)(2) Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments (10 points)
    • (B)(3) Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments (20 points)
  • C. Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 points)rn
    • (C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system (24 points)
    • (C)(2) Accessing and using State data (5 points)
    • (C)(3) Using data to improve instruction (18 points)
  • D. Great Teachers and Leaders (138 points)rn
    • (D)(1) Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals (21 points)
    • (D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance (58 points)
    • (D)(3) Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals (25 points)
    • (D)(4) Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs (14 points)
    • (D)(5) Providing effective support to teachers and principals (20 points)
  • E. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (50 points)rn
    • (E)(1) Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs (10 points)
    • (E)(2) Turning around the lowest- achieving schools (40 points)
  • F. General Selection Criteria (55 points)rn
    • (F)(1) Making education funding a priority (10 points)
    • (F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charters and other innovative schools (40 points)
    • (F)(3) Demonstrating other significant reform conditions (5 points)


2008 Campaign Website Statements

The statements below were taken from - Senator Obama's campaign website.


Below, are statements taken from, also known as Organizing for America



Voting Record

College Cost Reduction and Access Act

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act is a significant education bill dealing largely with funding for higher education. The bill removes tuition sensitivity for Pell Grants, increases the amount available for Pell grants, Funds the Upward Bound program, establishes the TEACH Grants, reduces student loan repayment rates, sets deferments based on need and establishes some partner based grants. The bill got a great deal of support in the Senate and passed easily. Barack Obama cast a "No Vote"


Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

Session-110; Bill Number-S 761; America COMPETES Act - Cosponsor

A bill to invest in innovation and education to improve the competitiveness of the United States in the global economy.


[1] Website: Chicago Jewish News Article: 5 Questions Author: NA Accessed on: 03/08/2011

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