What might President Barack Obama’s second term mean for education? In short: four more years. Education Secretary Arne Duncan—a member of Obama’s Chicago circle, with whom the president played basketball on Election Day—has indicated he would like to stay in his job, and Obama’s campaign trumpeting of education policies such as Race to the Top show the administration’s aggressive approach to competitive grant programs, meant to cajole states and districts into embracing favored reform strategies, will likely continue.
Early learning advocates will be pleased programs such as Head Start are less likely to be severely cut with a Democratic Senate and White House to help safeguard them. And the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education now have the chance to continue to forge needed links between their agencies. But those who thought Obama’s early education policies were “too little too late” might remain disappointed. The president made almost no effort to outline a plan for early learning during this campaign, especially compared to the promises of 2008, and has not specifically indicated what he proposes to do for the youngest learners. That said, there are murmurs from Obama insiders that a broad-spectrum approach to early childhood education, including the often-forgotten early grades (K-3) of elementary school, could emerge as a theme in the second term. A Tuesday night press release from the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, hinted at a desire to hold the president accountable for making headway on early childhood investments. “Throughout the campaign,” the statement said, “the president pledged to invest in education—especially in early childhood education—and to make higher education more affordable.”