Taking Stock of Educational Progress Under Obama
Secretary John King’s exit memo offers a first look at what the administration thinks it has—and hasn’t—achieved.
As they prepare to leave office, members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet are beginning to file their exit memos. Partially a chance to take credit for progress made and partially a final opportunity to call for changes in policy they’ve yet to push through, the memos offer insight into what the administration’s top officials think they have—and haven’t—accomplished over the last eight years.
On Thursday, Education Secretary John King delivers his memo. Entitled “Giving Every Student a Fair Shot: Progress Under the Obama Administration’s Education Agenda,” the 14-page document is divided into two sections: One outlines notable progress and the other lays a framework for sustaining that progress.
Clearly, some of what King touts as “progress” (say, Race to the Top grant competitions), others (for instance, teachers’ unions and labor groups) see as mistakes or failures. But, as a whole, the memo paints an initial picture of what the administration—and King, personally—would like its education legacy to be. (Obviously, whether it receives the credit it is looking for remains to be seen and will vary depending on who is doing the evaluating.)
King spends a good chunk of space noting work the department has done to expand access to preschool, pointing out that 31 states increased the percentage of 4-year-olds attending state-funded preschool between 2009 and 2015. He praises an early-learning Race to the Top competition for spurring programs that help the nation’s most vulnerable youngsters. It’s unclear how many states would have taken steps to expand preschool access without prodding from the administration, but the same way any good resume or report offers concrete examples of work done, King sprinkles his memo with anecdotes. Delaware used a 2012 grant from the administration, he reminds readers, to launch a new early-learning agency and screen nearly 20,000 students for health issues.
The secretary also touts record high-school graduation rates, a reduction in what the administration dubbed “dropout factories,” and the expansion of technology (as a tool for creating individualized learning plans) in classrooms. He lauds the fact that it has become easier to apply for federal financial aid to pay for college, and the development of a college “scorecard” to help students evaluate which colleges might be a good fit.
King devotes significant space to the hard-fought Every Student Succeeds Act, a rewrite of the nation’s main federal education law and a rare bipartisan effort. Predictably, the secretary sidesteps acknowledging that some elements of the law Taking Stock of Educational Progress Under Obama - The Atlantic: