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Every Student Succeeds Act

Randi Weingarten on Clinton, Trump, and Winning Over ‘Skeptical’ Teachers

By Alyson Klein — September 22, 2016 3 min read
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Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, is very enthusiastic about the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton. And the vast majority of her members are also behind the Democratic nominee, she said, even though some are wary that Clinton may be too much like President Barack Obama when it comes to K-12.

“Our members are no different than other Americans in terms of having a skepticism about politics these days,” said Weingarten, whose union endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary, even though some of its members wanted more consideration for her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Obama pushed policies early in his tenure that were really unpopular with a lot of teachers, including teacher evaluation tied to test scores and dramatic school turnarounds, Weingarten said over drinks with reporters Wednesday night.

Weingarten, who is one of Clinton’s top education advisers, gave Obama credit for figuring out, albeit “six or seven years” into his presidency, that he had contributed to “the testing fixation” and for helping to right the ship by signing the Every Student Succeeds Act, which allows states to dial back the role of tests in accountability.

But Obama’s early initiatives have meant Clinton has had some work to do with teachers.

“People are skeptical because the policies [he enacted] through Race to the Top actually worked as they were intended and they made schools into testing factories,” Weingarten said. “People are skeptical because they want to know that it’s going to be different.”

Clinton is good at making her case when she speaks to members in person, Weingarten said.

“When you hear her actually talk about education—K-12, because she’s talked about pre-K and college more—but when you hear her actually talk about K-12 and you engage with her on that, people who don’t know her, like I’ve known her for twenty-five years, see how much she knows and how real she is and how she has a very different sense of what to do on public education than the president did,” Weingarten said. “But you have to earn that and frankly, what we’re seeing in terms of our members is that when you talk to them, they get it and they are overwhelmingly supporting her and it’s [really] a matter of getting them out to vote.”

AFT in Action

And she said that teachers are willing to lend Clinton’s campaign effort a hand.

“Our volunteer numbers are better today than in 2012,” she said. “There were thousands of volunteers even in the primary” and more excitement as the general election draws closer. (AFT couldn’t immediately produce numbers comparing this year’s volunteer stats to the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. We’ll update this post when we get more information.)

AFT has also joined with a bunch of other unions, including the National Education Association, to create For Our Future, a political action committee, Weingarten said. More on the organization here.

“Dangerous” Donald Trump

Weingarten really, really doesn’t want to see real estate mogul Donald Trump, the GOP nominee, elected in November. She called him “dangerous.” And she really hates his key K-12 proposal, which calls for taking $20 billion in federal K-12 money from some unspecified pot and allowing states to use it to create vouchers.

“It is cynical. It is vapid,” she said. “It is basically saying, I don’t really want to have public education.”

And she’s hearing from teachers about a “Trump effect.” The GOP nominee’s tough immigration talk, has some Latino kids worried they or their parents might be deported, she said. See more about her thoughts about Trump and the election here.

No on Keeping King

Also, Weingarten clearly doesn’t think Potential President Clinton should keep U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. at the helm of the department if she wins in November.

“I think she needs a new education secretary who is someone who is in sync with, assuming she gets elected, the things that she has been talking about, which is making sure that public education works for all kids,” Weingarten said. “Public education has to have credibility for working for people, for working for kids.”

Weingarten would not say who she thought should be Clinton’s education secretary. But she made it very clear she not interested in the job herself, and said any rumors to the contrary are “ridiculous.”

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