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President Barack Obama will face education issues in second term

President Barack Obama’s election to a second term means Arne Duncan will continue as U.S. Secretary of Education. Education Week blogger Michele McNeil identified five key issues Duncan will confront.

During Obama’s first term, waivers to the No Child Left Behind act were granted to 34 states and the District of Columbia, creating a mixture of relief, controversy and confusion. Dealing with the fallout will be one of Duncan’s key duties in the second Obama administration.

“In several states, education advocates are loudly complaining about rules that allow states to set different school targets for different subgroups of at-risk kids,” McNeil wrote. “And on the national scene, many are growing alarmed at the small role graduation rates are playing in accountability systems.”

Questions are also swirling around Obama’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top. The contest between states to spur education reforms will be up for renewal in two years. So far, 11 states plus the District of Columbia have shared $4 billion under the program, but opinions about its effectiveness are divided.

Reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act will likely be slowed by a divided congress, McNeil wrote, and Duncan will face controversies surrounding common core state standards, which some Republicans have characterized as a pathway toward a national curriculum.

Fighting to spare education programs such as Title I, Pell grants and special education from funding cuts will be Duncan’s fifth big task, McNeil forecasts.

The interactive political blog forecasts that Obama will continue to call on states to invest more money in education, in keeping with his initiative to make the United States “the country with the highest share of college degrees or certificates by 2020.”

National Journal writer Fawn Johnson writes that Obama will likely devote his bully pulpit to higher education during his second term.

“The president wants the United States to again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, and to do that he will need to lean on higher-education institutions to keep their tuition down and their enrollments up,” Johnson wrote.

The higher education law that authorized many student-aid programs will expire next year, giving Congress the opportunity to re-tool those programs, the National Journal said.

New America Foundation’s Higher Ed Watch blog greeted Obama’s new term with a wish list. Among the wishes were several focused on helping young Americans climb out of college-loan debt:

  • Reform the back-end of the student loan program so that borrowers who are too financially distressed to repay their federal loans are not subject to the same harsh treatment as those who deliberately skip out on their loans.
  • Provide relief to struggling borrowers who were victims of the private student loan industry’s predatory lending practices.
  • Promote experimentation and innovation. The administration should use the authority it has to create experiments with federal financial aid that could pay for innovative delivery of higher education.