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Jane Sanders: Bernie and I Stand With Unions and Against Standardized Testing

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 29, 2016 2 min read
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The No Child Left Behind Act was a huge mistake, standardized testing isn’t worth believing in, and teachers should be more respected and better paid than they are, according to Jane Sanders, a social worker and academic and the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a hopeful for the Democratic nominee for president.

In a question-and-answer session about K-12 policy with The Nation, Jane Sanders also said that while wealthy philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates deserve to have some say in the conversation about public schools, the Chicago Teachers Union is ultimately on the money when it comes to charter schools and high-stakes testing. The union has been outspoken about its view that charters have a negative impact on traditional public schools, and that using tests to evaluate schools and teachers is bad policy.

“I think that some of them, like Bill and Melinda Gates, have very pure motives. They really want to help. I think that they should be part of the discussion. I really do. But we agree with the Chicago teachers,” Sanders told Nikhil Goyal in the interview, published April 28, when asked about the concept of “corporate education reform” backed by organizations like the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation created by Eli and Edythe Broad. (Both provide support to Education Week, which publishes edweek.org. EdWeek retains sole editorial control over its content.)

As I noted in a profile of Sen. Sanders earlier this year, that’s consistent with his public backing of the Chicago union. He supported its work stoppage on April 1 and has blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, saying he wouldn’t want the mayor’s endorsement. The senator himself hasn’t spent a lot of time talking about K-12 education during the 2016 campaign. But in the interview with The Nation, Jane Sanders delved into topics such as corporal punishment in schools, and how she and her husband back unions even though the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have backed his rival in the Democratic nomination fight, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She also had this to say when asked to describe “progressive education":

“Pretty much under John Dewey. Just having the students have more of a say in what it is they want to learn. You might be studying philosophy, math, or English, but you’re learning about what your passion is. Instead of having there be a prescribed set of study—that has a person conveying that knowledge to you—the teacher, the professor is a facilitator to try to meet your needs and to get you thinking critically and writing clearly and communicating effectively.”

Sanders demured when asked to comment on the testing opt-out movement, but said tests designed to measure whether students know grade-level English or history are a “disaster.” Sen. Sanders himself isn’t a big fan of standardized testing either—in fact, in our election guide to presidential candidates we noted that he opposed NCLB back in 2001 due to skepticism about standardized tests, although his position on accountability as a general matter has shifted somewhat in recent years. And Jane Sanders says a President Bernie Sanders administration would “be going in the exact opposite direction” of the past couple of decades of federal education policy.

Not everyone was impressed with Sanders’ interview, including Andrew Rotherham, the co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners and a supporter of charter schools:


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