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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

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Volume 12, Issue 1 (Apr 2014)


Presidential Policymaking: Race to the Top, Executive Power, and the Obama Education Agenda

Patrick McGuinn
  • Corresponding author
  • Associate Professor of Political Science and Education, Drew University, 36 Madison Ave, Madison NJ 07940, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2014-05-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2014-0017


This article offers an analysis of the origins, evolution, and impact of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive grant program and places it in the broader context of the debate over President Obama’s aggressive use of executive power. Faced with divided control and partisan gridlock in Congress – which has been unable to reauthorize ESEA, the largest federal education program – the Obama administration has opted to make education policy from the executive branch. While many observers have questioned the expansive interpretation of statutory and regulatory authority that undergirds RTTT – and the NCLB waiver process – there is little doubt that the efforts have had a significant impact on the national political discourse around education and pushed many states to propose or enact important policy changes, particularly around charter schools, common core standards, and teacher evaluation processes. Along with health care, education reform is likely to be remembered as the most significant policy legacy of the Obama administration. However, while the Affordable Care Act was drafted by Congress and secured through the “normal” legislative process, the Obama education agenda has largely been designed and enacted through unilateral executive branch authority. As a result, these actions may well set significant precedents for the separation of powers as well as for education policy.


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About the article

Patrick McGuinn

Patrick McGuinn is Associate Professor of Political Science and Education and Chair of the Political Science Department at Drew University. His first book, No Child Left Behind and the Transformation of Federal Education Policy, 19652005, (Kansas, 2006) was honored as a Choice outstanding academic title and he is also the editor (with Paul Manna) of Education Governance for the 21st Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform (Brookings Institution Press 2013).

Corresponding author: Patrick McGuinn, Associate Professor of Political Science and Education, Drew University, 36 Madison Ave, Madison NJ 07940, USA, e-mail:

Published Online: 2014-05-08

Published in Print: 2014-04-01

Citation Information: The Forum, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2014-0017. Export Citation

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