You are here

K12 Education in Barack Obama’s Second Term of Office

What will another Obama term mean to K12 superintendents and school districts? While indications are found in the Democratic national platform, the speeches, interviews, and K12 documents from the president, and education plans on the White House website, we asked longtime school superintendent Randall Collins, executive director of the District Administration Leadership Institute ( to share professional insights. Here is his conversation with Odvard Egil Dyrli, District Administration’s executive editor.

Dyrli: What can K12 district administrators expect from President Obama’s second term of office?

Collins: In the first place, educators can breathe a sigh of relief that the basic educational priorities will continue, and they will not have to deal with the inevitable policy and funding shifts with a new administration. Changing direction every four years does not lead to long-term growth, and the president reaffirmed his commitment to helping early learners, recruiting and supporting teachers—especially in science and math—preparing students for college and career, and turning around low-achieving schools. Whereas in his first term the president was concerned with getting reelected, he is now reflecting on his educational legacy and looking for consensus across parties.

Dyrli: What will happen to the federal programs “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top?”

Collins: President Obama is committed to redesigning and reforming No Child Left Behind, and has been granting waivers liberally for states to escape its mandates. However, a strong lesson is the importance of setting realistic goals, and since the NCLB directive to achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014 could never happen, many did not take the law seriously. Also, the NCLB waivers do not put enough emphasis on graduation rates, which conflicts with Obama’s commitment for the U.S. to have the highest college graduation percentage in the world by 2020. In contrast, Race to the Top, where states use student test scores in evaluating teachers and principals, is expected to develop and expand.

Dyrli: How does the “Common Core State Standards Initiative” fit into the K12 picture?

Collins: Common Core is an outstanding vehicle to raise educational standards and bring uniformity across the country, and it provides a consistent and clear understanding of what students are expected to learn. Almost every state has adopted the standards. Moving forward, it will be crucial for the major professional organizations to be involved in establishing K12 goals and writing the curriculum, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Education debate is currently focused on the Common Core, and supporters and detractors wonder if it is an interim step toward a national curriculum. Look for these arguments to continue and escalate.

Dyrli: How will fiscal challenges in spending cuts and tax increases affect funding for local schools?

Collins: Frankly, I think the public will become more accepting of local tax increases to support schools, and strong examples were seen recently in referendums in California and Oregon. But at the same time we are fooling ourselves if we think that districts are immune to spending cuts on the federal level as a result of sequestration, because they are not. We will also need to learn to “do with less” and look for supplementary funding sources, including foundations and corporations. I also see a significant national shift from “formula-based” federal funding, such as Title I, to competitive school-improvement grants (SIG) based on involved written proposals. But the huge downside is that most districts do not have the time, resources, or expertise to prepare those proposals, and will need outside assistance.

Dyrli: What is the role of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Obama’s second term?

Collins: If Duncan continues in office, which I think is a safe bet, I see him as sort of a bystander, since he hasn’t really built much of a power base. Instead, I see federal education policy being controlled by the president, speaker of the house, and the senate majority leader. Duncan has certainly done a credible job, though he is sometimes criticized for not being an educator, but to me the best education secretary we ever had was former S.C. Gov. Richard Riley (under President Bill Clinton), who was not an educator either. If Duncan were to leave, some think he might be replaced by the controversial Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the D.C. public schools, but she alienated so many educators that I don’t see that happening.

Dyrli: What is the future for vouchers, charter schools, and other educational alternatives?

Collins: The president favors strong public education and programs, with support for charter schools, magnet schools, teacher-led and career alternatives that try new ways to address poverty and dropout issues in particular. He is also committed to recruiting, preparing and retaining effective teachers and principals where needed, and investing in community colleges to make higher education more affordable. Obama has pledged to secure more than 100,000 math and science teachers, especially since STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—is now at the forefront. However, any federal support for voucher programs under this administration is likely dead in the water.

Dyrli: What are effective professional advocates for schools at the federal level?

Collins: The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) is emerging as the premier federal advocate for K12 schools, as is the Association Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) on public policy, the state professional associations and the District Administration Leadership Institute (DALI) for school superintendents. In addition, organizations such as the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS), Council of the Great City Schools ( and the National Alliance of Black School Administrators (NABSA) are committed to urban education and improving educational opportunities for minorities.

Dyrli: Are there concluding thoughts you would like to share?

Collins: When times get tough and money is tight, I typically see administrators back away from professional development in their districts and that is a mistake. The education challenges and negative forces will be with us indefinitely, and it is more important than ever to be informed, involved, and in touch with our legislators. Hopefully my comments will initiate thinking. I look forward to talking with fellow administrators at the next District Administration Leadership Institute’s Superintendent Summit to be held at Torrey Pines in La Jolla in February. If any superintendent is interested in attending this premier professional development event, just contact me at the address below. This is an invitation-only event.

Please send your comments about this piece to Randy Collins at