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Hillary Clinton addressed the National Education Association's annual conference on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Getty)

Clinton's Pro-Charter School Comments Draw Boos from Teachers Union

Democratic presidential frontrunner has a mixed record on support for corporate education reform

Deirdre Fulton

Hillary Clinton was booed at a National Education Association (NEA) event on Tuesday after suggesting that public schools have something to learn from their charter counterparts.

"When schools get it right, whether they're traditional public schools or public charter schools, let's figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America," she said to the labor union's annual conference in Washington, D.C., provoking audible boos. "Rather than starting from ideology, let's start from what’s best for our kids."

She went on to specifically denounce "for-profit charter schools," but as Politico noted, "[a]t some charter schools...the distinction between for-profit and nonprofit status is murky."

So too is Clinton's own stance on the corporate education system. Politico reports:

The Clintons are longtime charter school supporters, but charters are opposed by many teachers union members. Clinton was endorsed in October by the NEA — at a critical time in the Democratic primary. But Clinton’s support for charters has created some unease among rank-and-file union members, some of whom view charter schools as a threat to the survival of traditional schools. Soon after Clinton received the NEA endorsement last fall, Clinton surprised charter school backers when she criticized charter schools that "don't take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don't keep them.”

Indeed, as former teacher and ProPublica reporting fellow Jessica Huseman wrote on Twitter:

The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers both endorsed Clinton early in the primary process, causing controversy among rank-and-file members.

"The push to endorse Clinton can't be based on what we know about the differences between [Bernie] Sanders and Clinton," retired art teacher and former president of the Park Ridge Education Association Fred Klonsky wrote at the time, noting that "Bernie's opposition to corporate education reforms is miles ahead of Hillary's. Instead, the decision seems to be based on a claim of inevitability."

Indeed, Klonsky wrote last September, "None of Clinton’s statements so far suggest that she would break from the corporate reform polices that have dominated [Barack] Obama's Department of Education and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan."

Earlier this year, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)—described by public education advocate Steven Singer as "a hedge fund front promoting the privatization of public education"—penned an op-ed in which he praised Clinton's position on charters.

Last week, citing damning reports on the failures of the "charter-industrial complex" as well as ongoing attempts to expand it, Esquire's Charles Pierce called for the Democratic Party to take a stronger stance on public education. 

"Resolved: No matter how noble the original motives, public school 'reform' as pursued by private interests in general, and by plutocratic dilettantes in particular, has been an abject failure and an almost limitless vista of low-rent scams and high-tech brigandage," he wrote, drafting a potential platform plank for the Dems.

"Education is not a damn marketplace," he said. "We ought to learn this pretty soon."


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