Looking for Ideas Behind the Endorsement

This afternoon, the American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary Clinton for President of the United States of America.  It should be no surprise.  The former Clinton administration had strong support in the teachers unions.  And Senator Clinton has long been a friend of UFT, NYSUT, and AFT.  In its endorsement, AFT cites Clinton’s “proven ability to advance our nation’s key priorities, and her bold plans for a stronger America.”

And good for the AFT.  Rather than wait for additional polling data from the key early states, or wanting to see another quarter of fundraising totals, or waiting to hear more detail on specific issues and policies, the AFT has put its money down on the horse they expect to see in the winner’s circle.  And they’ve done so believing that Clinton represents the best opportunity for AFT-friendly policies come January 2009.

Eduflack is going to assume that Clinton just wowed AFT during the interview process, discussing those bold plans and awing them with her discussion of how she would deal with those key priorities.  Now she’s won their endorsement, and the organizational prowess, resources, and support that come with it.

But it’s got me scratching my head.  For those of us watching from the cheap seats, what exactly is Hillary Clinton’s education platform?  Visit her website, and you don’t even see “education” in her issues menu.  Take some time to explore, and in the “Supporting Parents and Caring for Children” list, you’ll find a bullet to attract and retain good teachers and principals, one to improve NCLB and a bullet increasing access to high-quality early education (a plank she has been quite vocal on and should be credited for).  But those issues are part of a laundry list that includes care for elderly Americans, support for “kinship families,” and opposition to sex and violence in the media.

We all talk about the importance of education.  About the need to improve our schools.  About the need to give every child a chance.  And about how high-quality education affects everything from jobs to healthcare to justice to environment.  Many of us cite education as the top domestic issue this nation faces.  And national polls seem to regularly put it in the list of top fives issues, foreign or domestic.

So if it is so important, why are we still hearing so little of it from presidential candidates?  What platform did Clinton offer to win the support of AFT?  What changes would she make to improve NCLB?  What commitments will she make to attract and retain good teachers?  Does she support merit pay?  What about alternative certification programs?  How about multiple measures of progress?  What interventions does she support to increase the graduation rate?  What is the platform?

I don’t mean to pick on Clinton.  She should be credited for putting forward a meaningful, thought-providing plan for improving early education.  And at the end of the day, she may be the strongest education candidate, in terms of policy ideas, an understanding for the possible, and the capability to reach for the near-impossible.  But if she wins the endorsement of the AFT (and we assume and NEA endorsement may not be too far behind), don’t the voters have a right to hear the specific ways the candidate will improve educational quality and delivery in the United States?  And if we don’t, how do we hold the candidate, any candidate, accountable?

 

In this rush to wrap up the presidential campaigns by this winter, we run the risk of placing assumptions and core rhetoric ahead of real ideas and policies.  In doing so, we continue to perpetuate the same old empty reform rhetoric, with no one being held accountable.  For those of us who vote on education issues, we want to hear those “bold ideas” Senator Clinton has.  That doesn’t come from one debate question or a well-placed oped.  It comes from an integrated, coherent strategic plan for improving K-12 education.  

Eduflack has bold ideas for a strong America too.  But no one is going to rush to endorse me for President.  Now that Clinton has the backing of AFT, I hope she will tell 1.4 million AFT members (and hundreds of millions of American voters) what specifically she is going to improve public education in the United States.  That would be something to truly endorse.  Now where’s Ed in 08 when we need them?

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