Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hillary's NEA Audition [updated]

Yesterday Hillary Clinton met with NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia to take her shot at winning the recommendation of the nation's biggest union. This is a challenging moment for the union because, frankly, their last recommendation turned out to be a giant eight-year suckfest for education.

I'm a registered Democrat, and I vote in every election. Like most of my generation, I vote for candidates and not parties. And while the GOP has been more consistent in its general assault on public ed, the Democratic Party harbors some of the worst opponents of public education and the teachers who work in it (looking at you, Andy Cuomo). It has been particularly striking how much the Obama administration's education policies have been simply an extension of the Bush administration's policies. It is no surprise that Jeb Bush has been a big fan of Arne Duncan, or that Duncan turned to Bush 3.0 for education policy advice.

I would say that the jury is still out on Hillary, but honestly, I'd be lying. Hillary is pretty clearly tied to the same charter-loving, reform-pushing, corporate-driven, test-and-punishing reformsters as our last two Presidents. CAP, one of the fiercest reformster-driven advocacy groups in DC, was simply a holding pen for Clinton campaign leaders like John Podesta; they are close to Hillary and they have never, ever, been a friend to public education or public school teachers. DFER, a group that absolutely loathes teachers and the teachers union, is delighted that Hillary is running.

In the NEA's press release, Garcia says that she and Clinton had "a frank and robust conversation about what is a stake in this coming election." That's followed by a few words from Clinton, none of which are terribly convincing.

Some of it is a plate or verbal twinkies, a pretty puff of empty ear calories.

What we can do together to deal with the issues we know are at the real core of making it possible to look at every little boy and girl and say "yes, you will have the best chances we can give you."

So, we will do stuff for children, and it will be stuff that is good. Glad we clarified that. This clearly sets Clinton apart from all other candidates. But what about education?

Are tests important? Yes. Do we need accountability? Yes. 

Are tests important? Really? Which tests? A first grade teacher's weekly spelling test? The useless abomination that is the PARCC?

And we need accountability? To whom? For what? Is she saying that the public should get to know what's going on in their local schools, or is she saying that the burden of proof is on schools to prove to the government that they don't suck?

And then there's this baloney:

So many of our poorer schools have cut off all the extracurricular activities. We’ve taken away band, in so many places we’ve taken away a lot of the sports. We’ve taken away arts classes. We’ve taken away school productions.

Okay, I don't want to minimize what's here. The loss of extra-curriculars, music, sports, the arts-- these are all bad things. But if you're looking at our nation's poorest, most underserved schools, and this is what you see, I am concerned. Perhaps we could also talk about physical plants-- buildings that are crumbling and un-maintained. Perhaps we could talk about support for simple things like, say, textbooks. Or enough teachers to reduce crowded class sizes. We might even talk about the systematic silencing of poor, black voices in places like Newark and Philadelphia, where the non-wealthy non-white community members are being deprived of the fundamental democratic process that is supposed to be basic to our country.

This is just a weird thing to focus on, out of all the issues that face high-poverty schools and communities.

[Update: In Washington Post's coverage of the interview, the stress was on Clinton's promise to listen. Which, I suppose, is better than a statement that she will absolutely ignore teachers. But talk is cheap, and listening is even cheaper.

“She basically said ‘What kind of fool would be making public policy without listening to the people who live in those communities, the people who know the names of the kids’?” Garcia said. “I loved that.”

Well, I love that, too. But the answer to her question is "Everybody in the current administration and all her good friends at CAP." And no, you don't get any credit for Listening To Teachers when the only ones you listen to are ones that are carefully vetted and selected. And you don't get credit for listening to teachers if you then ignore everything they say.

Every major policy decision about education in the last decade has been made without any serious significant input from actual teachers. Clinton's promise to "listen" does not move me.]

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hillary Clinton is a better option than Scott Walker. And having just your legs chopped off is a better option than having both your arms and legs chopped off. I'm sick to death of the Democrats arguing, well, yeah, we suck, and we're going to punch you in the face, but that guy over there is going to kick you in the junk, so choose us. And frankly, at this point, when it comes to education I don't see a lot of real policy airspace between Clinton 2.0 and Bush 3.0.

I'm happy see Clinton court the NEA vote, but I remain unconvinced, and an endorsement from my union leaders will not sway my vote in the slightest. They're political animals, and they will make a political choice. But I'm a teacher, and I am so deeply and profoundly tired of voting for people who don't respect me, or my work, or the institution that is both the foundation of this country and the object of my life's work. I'll vote for Sanders or Nader before I throw my vote away on one more politician who's just going to kick me in the face.


  1. Bernie Sanders has my vote! Thanks for posts that speak to the truth of many matters killing public education. I look forward to each of your posts.

  2. I fully agree. Now if we can get Sanders to actually speak out against BS Testing and privatization (his supporters imply he shares those views but I haven't actually heard him say it) we might at least have a worthwhile debate in the Democratic primary.

  3. I fully agree. Now if we can get Sanders to actually speak out against BS Testing and privatization (his supporters imply he shares those views but I haven't actually heard him say it) we might at least have a worthwhile debate in the Democratic primary.

  4. I, too, am fed up with thinking I always have to vote for the lesser of evils.

  5. They have us trapped if we only thing about electability. Hillary is just like the Republicans on the things that really matter, just like Obama and Bill Clinton. I say shake things up for real or die trying and I only regret that Bernie says he will support the Democrat. I love Bernie but he should threaten to run as an independent if he loses the primary. Without the power to spoil Hillary's election, he means nothing to her.