In her recent meetings with the nation's top two teachers unions, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton positioned herself as a standardized-testing skeptic who believes deeply in the value of teachers.
On Monday, Clinton met with Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country. García interviewed Clinton as part of the NEA's candidate endorsement process for the 2016 election. In the interview, Clinton expressed skepticism about contemporary standardized tests.
“Are tests important? Yes. Do we need accountability? Yes. But we’ve gotten off track in what we test and what we test for that we sacrifice so much else in the curriculum, in the school day and school year," said Clinton in an interview excerpt released by the NEA.
“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," Clinton said in another excerpt. “I would like to see us get back to looking at individual children, looking at age appropriate learning experiences, looking at enriching the classroom experience.”
In March, the NEA formally began considering who it would endorse in the 2016 presidential election. To jump-start this process, it sent all viable candidates from both major parties questionnaires about prominent education issues and hired organizers for states with early voting.
The interview comes a week after Clinton, along with fellow Democratic presidential candidates Gov. Martin O' Malley of Maryland and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), attended the executive council meeting of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's other major teachers union.
During that meeting, Clinton emphasized her appreciation for teachers, saying, "It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society’s problems."
"I want to work with you to make sure we do what needs to be done based on evidence, not ideology. … And from what I’ve seen, all of the evidence, and my own personal experience, says that the most important and impactful thing we can do for our public schools is to recruit, support and retain the highest-quality educators," Clinton said, according to an excerpt of the meeting.
She continued: "Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too."
AFT President Randi Weingarten has a close personal relationship with Clinton. The AFT endorsed Clinton over President Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries for the 2008 election. The NEA did not make an endorsement during that primary.
García has been outspoken about her opposition to "the over-use and abuse of standardized tests." She shared her reaction to her meeting with Clinton with The Washington Post.
“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 told the outlet. “I loved that.”