K12 Education in Barack Obama's Second Term of Office: Changes Are on the Horizon, but What Does It Mean to School Leaders?

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What will another President 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 (daleadershipinstitute.com) to share professional insights. Here is his conversation with Odvard Egil Dyrli, executive editor of DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION.

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 more concerned with getting reelected, he is now reflecting on his educational legacy and looking for consensus across parties.

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.

How does the "Common Core State Standards Initiative" fit into the K12 picture now?

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.

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. …