In a rousing and passionate address to the National Education Association Representative Assembly on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said the nation needs to give our schools more “TLC “- teaching, learning, and community, the three pillars of her vision to strengthen public education. But any national campaign to create great schools for every student, she added, will only succeed with the strong voices of educators.
“I’m with you,” Clinton declared to enthusiastic applause. “I have this old-fashioned idea that we should listen to the teachers and the support professionals who are with our kids every day.”
In introducing the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García described her as someone who has “always spoken truth to power, but it’s the action she’s known for” - on issues, ranging from universal health care to institutional racism.
“And she is someone who sees a student as a whole child, not a test score,” Eskelsen García said.
Clinton told the 7,000 delegates gathered in the Washington Convention Center that it was time to discard the “education wars” that have polluted the national debate over education in state legislatures and media outlets across the country.
“There is no time for finger pointing, or arguing over who cares about kids more,” Clinton said. “It’s time to set one table and sit around it together – all of us – so we can work together to do what’s best for America’s children.” And that table, Clinton promised, will have always have a seat for educators.
I have this old-fashioned idea that we should listen to our educators - the teachers and the support professionals who are with our kids every day.”
Lifting up educators will be central to Clinton’s plans for public education if she is elected in November. In her RA speech on Tuesday, she announced plans to launch a national campaign to elevate the profession that will spotlight the importance of career-long professional development, higher salaries for teachers and education support professionals (“no educator should take on second and third jobs just to get by,” she told the delegates), and relief for crippling student debt. Clinton also said it was an outrage that Education Support Professionals continue to struggle to provide for their own families.
“And supporting educators means supporting unions,” she continued. “Unions helped create the strongest middle class in the history of the world. You’re not just fighting for your members. You’re fighting for your students, and families across the country.”
Supporting teachers also requires a shift away from teaching to the test to the original purpose of assessing students – to provide valuable information to teachers and parents to help their students and children truly learn. If less time is spent on test prep, then schools can devote more time and resources on “educating our children for the future, not the past,” which must be the focal point of student learning moving forward, Clinton said. And this means getting our schools up to speed on computer science and digital technologies, including greater access to broadband.
“We’ll work to close the ‘homework gap,’ so that students have the broadband access they need at school and at home. And we’ll use all the tools at our disposal, including technology, to give our children an education that meets the times we’re living in,” Clinton said.
Focusing on 21st Century learning and strengthening the teacher profession can only get us so far, however, if we continue to ignore what goes on in students’ lives outside school walls. The scant attention paid to the devastating impact of poverty, Clinton said, is unsustainable.
“That’s on all of us. You see students coming to school hungry, or exhausted from a long night at a shelter. So many kids have the weight of the world on their little shoulders.”
Clinton championed community schools - public schools as community hubs, offering services and programs beyond the school day, and creating strong learning cultures
The bottom line, she said, is that every child in the United States should have access to all the resources available to wealthy children, whether it's access to great teachers, extracurricular activities, or counseling services.
Unions helped create the strongest middle class in the history of the world.
You’re not just fighting for your members. You’re fighting for your students, and families across the country.”
In her speech, Clinton proudly contrasted her vision for public schools with that of her expected opponent, Donald Trump. She derided the presumptive GOP nominee’s plan to eliminate the Department of Education and slash funding for critical programs – from pre-k to Pell Grants - that serve low-income students. “[Trump] has said that America spends too much on education. He would leave our most vulnerable students to fend for themselves. He shouldn't have anything to do with our children’s education.”
Such an agenda dismantles public education’s historic and indispensable role in giving every child a chance to live up to his or her potential. We must do better, Clinton said.
“I feel passionately about this because I’m the product of great public schools – and great teachers…So let’s keep working for better schools, more resources, more support for educators.”
I’m asking you – and educators across the country – to work with me. Advise me, hold me accountable. And keep advocating for your students and profession."
Video: Hillary Clinton's Address to the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly