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Clinton K-12 Adviser Talks Higher Ed., Early Childhood, But Few K-12 Specifics

By Alyson Klein — July 25, 2016 2 min read
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Does presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton agree with the Democratic Party platform, which blasts away at a “test-and-punish” culture and says parents should be able to opt their children out of standardized tests? Exactly what would implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act look like in a Clinton administration?

If you were hoping that the Democratic convention and surrounding hoopla here would provide the down-and-dirty answers to those questions, you may end up disappointed.

In speaking to Education Reform Now, Ann O’Leary, Clinton’s top education advisor, instead hit big and broader themes, at times directly echoing Clinton’s own speeches to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

“We really need to make sure that we improve our K-12 programs,” O’Leary said. “It is a crime that we are making [students] pay for remedial education when they get to college” because K-12 schools were inadequate.

The Clinton campaign deliberately hung back, O’Leary said, from weighing in on K-12 when ESSA was under development. It didn’t want to trip up the bill politically, she said. Now Clinton has moved on to an approach to K-12 that can be described as “TLC” or Teaching, Learning, and Community, O’Leary told the group.

On teaching, O’Leary said, Clinton wants to help bolster professional growth opportunities for educators. On learning, she favors the Common Core State Standards and wants to “update” learning to better get students ready for the workforce. And the “c” stands for community schools. Clinton wants to expand those models to better pair academics with support services.

O’Leary, who served as a top aide in Clinton’s office when ESSA’s predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, was under development, said Clinton strongly supported the accountability provisions of the law, but thinks it lead to unintended consequences, like overtesting.

O’Leary showcased Clinton’s higher education plan, which she noted was revamped with help from her rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Clinton borrowed his idea for “free college” and instead put forth her own plan for allowing children from families who make less than $125,00 a year to attend public college for free. And O’Leary also noted Clinton’s longstanding interest in moving toward universal prekindergarten.

She also hit on Clinton’s early career working with the Children’s Defense Fund to expand access to education for migrant kids and students in special education, as well as her work helping to bolster standards in Arkansas.

Clinton, O’Leary said, would not only be the first female president. She’d be the first “child advocate president.”

Overall, O’Leary seemed bound and determined not to make news. The discipline was deliberate—she pointedly said that Clinton is not in the business of saying one thing in one room and something else in another.

Want more on what we know about Clinton’s approach to education? Check out our interactive graphic.

Photo: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the National Education Association’s representative assembly on Tuesday in Washington. —Molly Riley/AP

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