EdNext Podcast: The Shared Legacy of Bush and Obama in Education Policy

Paul E. Peterson and Marty West
Paul E. Peterson and Marty West

At first blush, there wouldn’t seem to be much that George W. Bush and Barack Obama share in common. The two presidents differ not only in style and temperament, but also in their approach to economic policy, health care reform, and foreign affairs. But in a new article in Education Next, Paul Peterson argues that the two presidents pursued the same basic strategy when it comes to education policy – and that a new approach will be required to put American schools on the right track.

In this week’s episode of the Ed Next podcast, Peterson describes how both presidents embraced the regulatory approach to school reform, with a focus on test-based accountability. Before the 21st century, he notes, the federal government did not tell states and local school districts how to run their schools, with the exception of areas like desegregation and special education where there had been court rulings. The idea that the federal government would hold states accountable for producing student learning outcomes was very new. Did this approach work? Gains in student achievement were seen during the Bush administration, but over the past 8 years, little progress has been made (and in 8th grade math there have been declines).

An alternative strategy that Presidents Bush and Obama could have embraced would have been a choice-based approach, but only weak efforts have been made in that direction, Peterson says.

What options are open for the next president? He or she will likely be very constrained by the new federal education law Congress has passed, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The next president can play an important role, though, in emphasizing to the American people the importance of a high-quality education system to our nation’s future. He or she can only hope that states will take up this cause as well.

Paul E. Peterson’s article in the new issue of Education Next is “The End of the Bush-Obama Regulatory Approach to School Reform.”

The EdNext Podcast is available on iTunesSoundcloudStitcher and here every Wednesday.

– Education Next

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428
Email Education_Next@hks.harvard.edu

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488
Email subscriptions@educationnext.org

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College