Clinton looks to move Democrats away from ‘Education Wars’
Can she unite the party’s opposing sides?
In an event that could be called a love fest, Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton laid out her education priorities in a rollicking speech at the annual assembly of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union. Clinton profusely thanked teachers for doing the difficult job of educating the nation’s children, and the 7,500 educators in attendance responded with cascading chants of “Hillary, Hillary.”
There was, however, one moment of discord.
“When schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working,” said Clinton to loud boos over the mention of charter schools, which are publicly-funded, independently run public schools that often employ non-unionized teachers.
Clinton paused and continued: “We don’t have time for these education wars.”
In most policy areas the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign want to be seen as the inheritor of the popular sitting president’s legacy, but perhaps no area has divided the party more than K-12 education. While the Clinton campaign has focused on issues that unite the party—such as expanding access to pre-kindergarten programs, raising teacher pay and increasing school funding— a recent fight over the party’s platform, a document that lays out the party’s policy goals, underscores how difficult ending the party’s internal education wars could be.
At a July meeting in Orlando, Florida to write the party’s platform, delegates appointed by Clinton’s main rival in the primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, pushed through a slew of amendments to the original draft, which together represent a sharp turn away from the policies of the Obama administration which used federal funding to push states to raise academic standards and to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. The new language supports the rights of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests, demand more oversight of charters and oppose evaluating teachers using their students’ standardized test scores.
“We moved the debate and raised some issues that the party had ignored,” said Chuck Pascal, a Sanders delegate, former school board member and former mayor from Leechburg, Pennsylvania. “We introduced amendments that made the platform more reflective of the positions of rank-and-file Democrats in the field, educators and activists.”
“We needed to make clear that the party is not in lockstep behind what had become orthodoxy for a while, more charters and more testing and all of these things that have weakened public education,” added Pascal.
But the reformers who shifted the party away from its traditional stances, groups like Democrats for Education Reform, individual educators like Louisiana superintendent John White and President Obama himself, are still a potentially powerful force in the party, even if the platform, a non-binding proposal, includes rebuttals of Clinton looks to move Democrats away from ‘Education Wars’: