Hillary Clinton’s Missed Opportunity

Last week, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received an endorsement from the National Education Association. Before that, she met with the NEA’s board of directors, and blogger Mike Antonucci posted Clinton’s responses during the meeting. Clinton talked about ESEA reauthorization, testing, standards, and college affordability. But what Clinton chose not to talk about in a meeting with a room full of teachers is just as instructive as what she did talk about.

Seeking the support of the nation’s largest teachers union would have been a great time for Clinton to discuss her plans for improving the teaching profession, but she declined the opportunity. The closest Clinton got to discussing how she views the profession happened when she touted her New College Compact proposal—a college tuition assistance program. While talking about the proposal, according to Antonucci, Clinton said, “If you do public service, and I consider teaching public service, you will have a lot of debt forgiven depending on how many years you serve as a public school teacher.”

This framing of the teaching profession contrasts with the Obama Administration’s work, which has influenced states and districts, and by extension, the general public, to reconsider teaching as less of a public service and more of a true profession. Through Race to the Top, ESEA waivers, TIF and other programs, the Obama Administration set forth an ambitious path forward to reshape the teaching profession. Under these policies, teachers are held accountable for student achievement and paid handsomely when they lead students to academic success and take on leadership roles that improve overall school performance.

As many districts, big and urban to small and rural, struggle to fill teacher vacancies, treating teaching like a charity role is not the kind of policy that is going to attract and retain the professionals needed in public education. To be sure, Clinton has many more months to unveil her full education policy platform. Her remarks to the NEA’s board of directors were just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully Clinton will not stay silent on pressing teacher policy issues for much longer.