Earlier this month, the National Education Association voted to endorse Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for president. But what went into that decision beforehand? On Wednesday, veteran union watchdog and blogger Mike Antonucci provided some answers that provide an interesting complement to Clinton’s record on K-12.
On his Intercepts blog, Antonucci posted paraphrased and word-for-word replies Clinton gave to 11 of the 13 questions put to her by the union’s board of directors. Ultimately, 75 percent of the NEA’s 170 members of the board voted to back her, well above what she needed to secure the group’s endorsement.
(Clinton also spoke with the NEA in June, as my co-blogger Alyson Klein reported, and the union circulated some of her remarks after the fact, but what was made public didn’t shed much light on where she’d like to take K-12 policy.)
According to Antonucci, Clinton pledged to introduce her own version of ESEA reauthorization within the first 100 days of her presidential term, if the current congressional negotiations to reauthorize the law go bust. And she hit on a big priority of the NEA by criticizing the current amount of testing in schools, saying that it doesn’t serve student learning. That matches what she said in 2007 during her last bid for the presidency, when Clinton criticized No Child Left Behind for placing too much emphasis on testing in a speech to the New York State United Teachers in Washington. She told the union at the time, “The tests have become the curriculum instead of the other way around.”
Her reply to the question about Teach for America, which the NEA strongly dislikes, is also worth highlighting. In a direct quote Antonucci posted, Clinton told the board, “There was an argument for Teach for America, but I think we’ve learned a lot about how difficult it is for people with 6 to 8 weeks’ training to manage a classroom, to be able to really teach in a way that inspires and produces results.” (Clinton goes on to tout her plan to allow college students who go on to work in public service, including teaching, to have “a lot” of their college debt forgiven.)
When she was a U.S. senator, Clinton was one of those making “an argument” for TFA. In fact, Clinton introduced legislation to direct federal money to Teach for America. Not only that, during negotiations over the No Child Left Behind Act, she also promoted alternative pathways to the teaching profession, something unions often view with skepticism.
Then there’s what she said about “neoliberal corporate reformers” (the NEA’s phrase in one of its questions). It’s not precisely clear who the union was including in that description, but Clinton said in part, according to Antonucci, “They want to destroy public education. They want to destroy every public service. I think they are not only foolish, but they are dangerous. Then there’s a group of reformers who may mean well, but they are totally disconnected from knowing teachers who know the names of the students in your class.”
If the NEA meant to include charter school supporters among neoliberal reformers, it’s also worth pointing out that Clinton hasn’t shied away from publicly supporting charters. In the same 2007 speech to NYSUT, for example, Clinton got some jeers for backing charters.
Photo: 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