I believe that how we educate our children in this country will influence greatly the scope and breadth of each child’s life and also will determine our fate as a nation. But, on the campaign trail, the candidates for President have not said much at all about K-12 education. So I decided to investigate their positions on it.
After fact checking the Republican and Democratic candidates for President to find out what they have said and what they have not said about K-12 education, I have reached a conclusion: The only candidate who exhibits any understanding of K-12 education and offers any hope for K-12 education being a building block for the future of our nation is Bernie Sanders.
Bernie Sanders is the only candidate, Democratic or Republican, who has commented at all about the complexity of educating the economically diverse population in our country. According to differing definitions of poverty, either 1 in 5 or 1 in 3 children in the United States live in poverty. Bernie Sanders recognized that the country has a large disparity between the haves and the have-nots when he voted against No Child Left Behind in 2001. He said he objected to No Child Left Behind because it relied on standardized tests as the way to increase student achievement and “ignored other factors, such as the impact of poverty, the access to adequate health care, mental health, nutrition, and a wide variety of supports that children in poverty should have access to”. As a senator, Hillary Clinton voted for No Child Left Behind and continues to list on her website and to comment publicly that voting for No Child Left Behind was a noteworthy accomplishment of hers.
We need a President who recognizes that no standards and no tests can raise achievement without the addressing of the physical, mental, and emotional effects of living in poverty.
Bernie Sanders also is the only candidate, Republican or Democratic, who has demonstrated an understanding of what real student achievement is. When No Child Left Behind came under review in 2015, he once again objected to standardized tests being the sole measure of achievement and authored a proposal to expand how achievement is measured. He recognized that “our 21st century economy requires skills that standardized tests cannot measure, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork”.
To assess those skills that students require for their future, Senator Sanders suggested “evaluating students based on their understanding of the curriculum and their ability to use what they have learned creatively”. He proposed innovative assessments that do not rely on standardized tests, such as students presenting a portfolio of their work or students demonstrating their skills through projects that they present to panels of reviewers. His proposal was adopted as part of the new bill that replaced No Child Left Behind called the Every Student Succeeds Act. Seven states are piloting the kind of authentic assessments that Senator Sanders wrote into the bill.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has said that she thinks that standardized tests should continue as the way to assess students. She has said, “A testing system, based on a core curriculum, helps you to organize your whole education system.” She advocates, therefore, that standardized tests drive what is taught.
We need a President who will look at how to engage students in meaningful learning and how to assess that meaningful learning instead of a President wedded to the unsuccessful test-and-punish regimen of NCLB. That person is Bernie Sanders.
Moving beyond the classroom and into issues of school structure, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate, Democratic or Republican, who supports publicly run and publicly accountable schools for all and is opposed to charter schools that call themselves “public” because they take taxpayer money but are privately managed. At a CNN town hall meeting in Cleveland on March 13, 2016, he stated that he would not support public charter schools that are privately managed. All the other candidates support the privatization of education in which charter schools are run for the profit of private individuals or corporations. Under existing laws, these charter schools are funded with taxpayer dollars but have little or no transparency or accountability over the use of those taxpayer dollars. Those charter schools take money from the traditional public schools with funding appropriated though state budgets to start and expand them and through the per pupil allotments from traditional public schools, which go with students to the charter schools. Hillary Clinton has let her major contributors, who are also proponents of charter schools, know she would continue to support the charter school industry as President.
The money that is being made by those investing in the charter school industry points to the larger issue of whether private enterprise and competition will be the foundation of education in the United States or whether public K-12 education be democratically run with oversight by local school boards and state agencies. All of the Republican candidates advocate for private enterprise and competition. Hillary Clinton has deep ties to the billionaires who are currently usurping the functions of public education in this country. For example, Bill and Melinda Gates who are the sole funders of the writing, promoting, and implementing of the Common Core Standards, which were not written not by educators and written without a research base, are major contributors to the Clinton Foundation. Also, Eli Broad, a major funder of the charter school industry, is a big contributor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In addition, Hillary Clinton has been a highly paid speaker at events of those championing the privatization of education.
A particularly troubling aspect of charter schools is their racial segregation. According to the UCLA Civil Rights Project, black students in charter schools are “far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings”, and “some charter schools enrolled populations where 99% of the students were from underrepresented minority backgrounds”. Sixty-two years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, we have racial segregation returning in an intentional way due to the charter school movement. Among the candidates for President, Republican and Democratic, only Bernie Sanders has said, in that same March 16, 2016 televised town hall meeting, that he will not support charter schools that lack diversity.
Only Bernie Sanders stands separate from the private individuals and corporations that work to impose their will, instead of the will of citizens, parents, and educators, on public education in this country. Only Bernie Sanders has demonstrated that he knows that what kids learn and how they will be assessed on that learning needs to be improved. Only Bernie Sanders says that how schools are structured in this democratic society should be not be decided by billionaires whose only credential is that they have the deepest pockets. Only Bernie Sanders, among Democratic and Republican candidates, has gotten anything done to improve K-12 education in this country.
Therefore, Bernie Sanders has my vote.