Obama Convention Speech: 3 Education Reforms for Election 2012


President Obama accepted his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night. His speech included specific policy goals he will pursue if he secures a second term. For a president who has secured many of his first term objectives, it was critical for Obama's campaign that he cast a clear plan. Obama certainly accomplished this, and his progressivism stood in clear contrast to the conservative platform of the RNC.

Among his policy goals, Barack Obama outlined his goals for America's education system. Though these promises will fly under the radar during the campaign, if Obama is re-elected, these ideas will likely become part of our everyday lives. Here are Obama's three education policy promises:

1. Improve Early Childhood Education

Preventative maintenance is the key idea behind the administration's plan for early education. This includes a slew of programs including American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants to preschool programs, Race to the Top, and Head Start initiatives, and securing funds for childcare. A key component of this initiative, as with most of the federal educational reforms of the past several years, is to standardize curriculum and require states to submit detailed plans to the federal government in exchange for funding. The downside to this system is that school systems, which need time and stability to create effective programs, are dependent for their income upon the whims of  federal officials with and frequent elections. Questions about the continuing effectiveness of early education programs as Obama plans to continue them are also prevalent. One analyst comments that increased federal subsidies for preschool could just end us a middle- and upper-class subsidy on services and programs that already exist. According to this study, three-quarters of American children are already enrolled in some kind of preschool program. 

2. Recruit More Math and Science Teachers

This is a goal the president has had since 2010. The panic that comes from reports of America losing its scientific, technological, and innovative edge has spawned a wholesale rush into teach math and science. Specifics of this plan include training recommendations from a science board, a public-private initiative with awards for creative teaching ideas, and a coalition of CEOs dedicated to creating new science programs. While a higher standard is certainly required for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines, pouring resources into one small area will do nothing to overcome the structural and holistic problems plaguing the aging American educational system. Furthermore, similar programs have been tried in recent years ($4 billion on teacher-quality programs in 2009) with little sign of effectiveness from the isolated programs targeting only one discipline. 

3. Cut Student Loan Costs in Half over Ten Years

With the average student debt for borrowers under 30 rising to $21,000, this is probably the promise that will be remembered the most -- for better or worse -- should Obama secure another term. The danger behind this promise is that historically, taxpayers have always put up with subsidizing the nation's college costs, as universities use federal money to pay for tuition increases. The vicious cycle occurs when colleges must secure funding to sponsor major projects (like huge fitness centers) to compete with other universities. But then they can't lower tuition (which would attract students) because they are overcommitted. Obama's plans rely heavily on subsidizing Stafford loans, which is a short-term fix that could cost $30 billion over five years. 

Millennials should care about Obama's goals for education. If you are one of many Gen-Yers who majored in education, your career will depend on this. If sweeping changes are made to the student loan processes in the next four years, that could affect your repayment plans. Finally, it seems a long way off, but many of us may have preschoolers of our own in five or ten years. If this president is re-elected, we should remember Thursday's words and pay attention to the policy it becomes.