As the nation anticipates a new presidential administration, questions abound as to how the next commander in chief will impact education reform. Candidates’ brief education remarks to date have focused largely on the Common Core, but in a new article for Education Nexteditor-in-chief Paul E. Peterson says that if school reform is to move forward in the United States under the next administration, it will be through school choice and competition. Charter schools and other school choice programs are achieving results and leveling the playing field for low-income and minority students.

After nearly 15 years of federal regulation, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have not been able to inspire sustained achievement in the nation’s student performance. During the Bush Administration, black, white and Hispanic 4th- and 8th-graders experienced moderate gains in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). But for blacks and whites those gains stalled between 2009 and 2015, and only negligible gains were registered by Hispanic students. The policies of both presidents were flawed: the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law shone a spotlight on shortcomings of America’s public schools but its measuring stick treated schools serving disadvantaged students unfairly, while the Obama administration’s NCLB waiver policy lacked a stable legal framework and required of states and localities little more than promises. Average U.S. student performance on the international tests of reading, science, and math remained stagnant after 2000 and actually slid backwards after 2009.

School choice provides a potential route out of the current stagnation. Nearly three million students are enrolled today in well over 6,000 charter schools across 43 states, and in 16 cities, more than 25 percent of students attend charter schools. In general, urban charters outperform their traditional public-school counterparts. Twenty-eight state legislatures have passed some kind of voucher program, tax credit, education savings account, or other intervention that provides government aid to students attending private schools, although none of these programs have been brought to scale. Research shows that both forms of choice enhance the chances that minority students will graduate high school and enroll in college.

Top-down regulation is gone, says Peterson. “If school reform is to move forward, it will occur via new forms of competition—whether they be vouchers, charters, home schooling, digital learning, or the transformation of district schools into decentralized, autonomous units… The Bush-Obama era of reform via federal regulation has come to an end.”

To receive a copy of “The End of the Bush-Obama Regulatory Approach to School Reform: Choice and competition remain the country’s best hope” or to speak with the author, please contact Jackie Kerstetter at jackie@alessicommunications.comThe article is available on and will appear in the Summer 2016 issue of Education Next, available in print on May 23, 2016.

About the Authors: Paul E. Peterson, editor-in-chief of Education Next, is a professor of government and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School.

About Education NextEducation Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit


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