Well, that was quick.
After the interwebs blew up with Clinton's ill-considered comment about closing below-average schools, Lauren Camera leapt up at US News to say, "Oh, no. Y'all just misunderstood. It was taken out of context."
I had read the original context when I first responded to her comment. It doesn't help.
The context is that she was discussing how Iowa's governor was crushing rural schools by starving them of necessary resources. She was discussing Iowa's wacky laws about not allowing school district deficits. And then she said this:
This school district and these schools throughout Iowa are doing a better than average job. Now I wouldn't keep any school open that wasn't doing a better than average job. If a school is not doing a good job then, you know, that may not be good for the kids, but when you have a district that is doing a good job it seems kind of counterproductive to impose financial burdens on it.
It is true that she did not suggest, as some slightly hyperventilating reports might have implied, that if elected President, she would make it policy to close all below average schools (i.e. slightly more than half the schools in the country). I will give her that much.
However, that doesn't change what was boneheaded about her comment.
Yes, it was an off-the-cuff comment. But if that's the comment that comes off her cuff, I have serious doubts about how well she understands the situation.
Clinton did NOT say, "If there are schools that are performing poorly, then the state should look hard at whether those schools and the communities they serve are getting the resources they need." That kind of comment would have fit perfectly in the context of the financial issues she was discussing. But she didn't say that. The context actually makes this part seem worse, because she skipped right over the financial issues that she was actually talking about.
Clinton used "below average" as shorthand for low-performing, which indicates a lack of understanding of exactly how schools end up tagged low-performing, and how the stack ranking of schools is pernicious, inaccurate, and guaranteed to always result in schools labeled low-performing (and for that matter, what "below average" really means). The use of false, inaccurate and just-plain-crappy measures to label schools and teachers as successes or failures is central to what's going on in education reform. If she doesn't understand that, she doesn't understand some of the most fundamental problems we're facing.
Clinton's glib use of "wouldn't keep any school open" shows a limited understanding of just what is involved in "closing" a school. What happens to staff? What happens to students? What happens to the community? Clinton shows no awareness of how huge a task she's glibly suggesting, nor does she suggest that there are other options that should be considered long before this nuclear option, which should be at the bottom of the list.
No, I don't think Clinton telegraphed some sort of legislative intent or policy plan. But I do think she opened a window to the bad, incorrect, and damaging assumptions that she carries into her consideration of education. And because of her long and cozy history with privatizers like the Waltons, those bad assumptions are especially troubling.
So, yes, I considered the context, and no, Clinton doesn't deserve a pass on this one. She said a really, really dumb thing. And it is just as dumb in context.