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Hillary Clinton and Education: What’s Her Record? What Will She Campaign On?

By Alyson Klein — April 12, 2015 3 min read
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It’s been pretty clear for quite a while now that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was going to run for president. But what’s less clear, even now that she’s announced: Where would Clinton take the nation—and a divided Democratic Party—when it comes to testing, the Common Core State Standards, accountability, charter schools, and education funding?

It’s too early to say for sure. But Clinton’s edu-record holds a lot of clues.

Clinton first got involved in education in her early 20s, when she researched educational opportunities for migrant children during a summer stint at the organization that later became the Children’s Defense Fund.

Later, as first lady of Arkansas, she helped her husband—then-Gov. Bill Clinton, one of a handful of Southern governors who were active early on in the standards movement—to help bring rigorous coursework to far-flung corners of the Natural State. She also helped bring HIPPY, an Israeli home-visiting program to Little Rock. These days, HIPPY is in states across the country—its U.S. headquarters are still in Little Rock, though.

Both Clintons attended President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 summit on education in Charlottesville, Va., Hillary Clinton reportedly sat next to the president at dinner and bent his ear about the need to bolster early-childhood education.

When she got to the White House, Clinton helped to push Early Head Start and programs for foster children. And she was a fan of after-school programs such as the 21st Century Community Learning Center program (which is slated for the chopping block under a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act just introduced in the Senate).

As a senator, Clinton voted in 2001 for the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the ESEA, but expressed qualms behind the scenes about the bill’s impact on high-flying suburban districts. And, when the Senate was mulling an NCLB rewrite in 2007 (yes, really, they were working on it back then, too), she wanted to add a preschool grant program that was a clear forerunner of the one that top congressional Democrats and the Obama administration floated in 2013. (Or as Andy Rotherham of Eduwonk fame, a former Clinton White House aide put it to me, “you can definitely say she was pre-K before pre-K was cool.”)

Clinton also introduced a laundry list of other bills—including one calling for voluntary math and science standards—most of which never made it over the legislative finish line.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, she earned the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers and maintains close ties to the organization. The National Education Association didn’t pick a horse in the primaries but is getting started early in the process this time around.

One big thing from the 2008 primary season: Clinton was not in favor of merit pay for individual teachers based on test scores, an idea that then-candidate and later President Barack Obama embraced. And she’s a fan of charter schools. (She even said so at New York State United Teachers’ event back in 2007.)

Does all this add up to a significant record for Clinton on education? Or is she just going with traditional Democratic views? And what can we tell about her possible campaign platform, other than early education is almost certain to be a huge focus? More in this recent story.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center left, and New York City first lady Chirlane McCray, right, share a laugh during a visit to an early childhood development center in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on April 1.--Kathy Willens/AP

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