Not surprisingly, the Wellesley Class of 1969 valedictorian doesn’t believe in skipping exams, and she probably wouldn’t opt out granddaughter Charlotte from New York’s standardized tests, if it were up to her. Hillary Clinton has never skipped a test in her life. Based on the knowledge level she displays on even the most arcane policy points, she’s probably never skipped a study session or glossed over the footnotes of a book.
But Clinton has serious reservations about how the Common Core rollout and testing have happened in New York, even as she supports tough national standards and standardized tests in general.
In her visit to Newsday’s editorial board Monday afternoon, the self-avowed policy wonk showed it’s a richly deserved designation. She also shared the most comprehensive take of her views on education in this campaign. In what was the lengthiest and perhaps the most impassioned segment of the interview, she touched on her history as an advocate for children, the long struggle to improve education for poor children, minorities and those with disabilities and outlined a broad set of initiatives she’d fight for.
Clinton opposes evaluating teachers based on student test results as long as the tests are flawed, and thinks the question of whether they’d ever be good enough to rate teachers on is too hypothetical to answer right now. That’s a smart political answer right now on Long Island. Why offend teachers by saying they should someday be evaluated on the student results of theoretically perfect tests that haven’t been written yet?
She gave a little history lesson on Common Core, reminiscing that the creation of the national standards was a bipartisan idea of the nation’s governors that practically everyone supported. She’s right. Until kids started failing to pass the tougher tests and meet the tougher standards, everyone was in favor of them.
She’s also right when she says we need to be able to compare the performance of schools, districts and states to each other, and to student performance in other countries, but it has to be done right.
“I think we need better and fewer tests that are used for what tests should be used for first and foremost,” Clinton said, “as to how to improve the educational outcomes for individual children, classes of children and for schools of children.”
Clinton’s point of view is informed by her granular knowledge of the Common Core rollout in New York and the opt-out frenzy on Long Island, where more than 50 percent of public school students in grades 3-8 are refusing to take tests this year.
“I think the rollout was disastrous,” Clinton said. “I think the way they rolled out the Common Core and the expectation you could turn on a dime … it didn’t even have, as I’m told, it didn’t even have the instructional materials necessary.”
She pretty much had all of that right, which was astonishing considering her focus has been federal and then on the world for almost a decade.
Clinton spoke passionately about prioritizing early childhood education, particularly for low-income kids and districts. She shared a vision of community schools that also ensures kids are fed, well-rested, healthy and prepared to learn. And she said she’d support successful public charter schools, particularly as labs that can help find the best educational methods and bring those methods back into the public schools. She make it clear she’s not crazy about “for-profit” charters.
Education policy is a political minefield, and Clinton often steps gingerly through such patches. But Monday she was fairly frank in her support of education reform and her distress that it hasn’t been implemented more wisely and successfully.
She thinks the kids should take their tests, but she thinks administrators, education officials and the testing companies need to start passing their tests, too.