Does Bernie Sanders Offer Education Advocates Enough? Are We Feelin’ the Bern or Just Feelin’ Burned?


You probably didn’t hear about this on the news.

To my knowledge no one covered it on TV, the newspaper or even on the blogosphere.

But Bernie Sanders may have made a reply to his Democratic Primary rival Hillary Clinton’s gaffe about closing public schools.

“I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better than average job,” Clinton said at a campaign stop in Iowa on Dec. 22.

The media took this to mean Clinton is in favor of closing half the schools in the country. The comment has been much debated with calls for context and explanation by the Clinton campaign.

However, very quietly on Dec. 24, Sanders tweeted, “We should not be firing teachers. We should be hiring teachers. School teachers and educators are real American heroes.”

Screen shot 2015-12-26 at 8.06.51 PM

The @BernieSanders twitter account has more than 1 million followers, a little less than the @SenSanders account. But it does appear to be affiliated with the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. If Sanders, himself, posted the tweet is unclear. The candidate used the same account to live tweet the Republican debates so he – at least sometimes – is personally responsible for the material that comes out of there.

Moreover, the comment can be connected directly to something he said on C-SPAN at a campaign stop in Cleveland, OH, on Nov. 16 – before Clinton’s gaffe. In a larger speech that touched on numerous issues he said, “We should not be firing teachers and childcare workers, we should be hiring teachers.” The line about teachers being American heroes is new.

Start the speech 56 minutes in to hear the comment.

So I think it’s fair to say that the sentiment is, in fact, Bernie’s. It’s only the timing that is in question.

Is this tweet an attempt to distinguish himself from Clinton? Is this his way of saying that he’s NOT interested in closing schools and firing teachers – instead he wants to invest in education and hire more educators?


It sure would be nice if he’d come out and tell us. Frankly, I’m getting tired of having to read the tea leaves to get a glimpse of Bernie’s K-12 education policy.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

He’s been one of my favorite politicians for years. As a U.S. Senator, he’s consistently worked against economic and social inequality for decades. He’s been a fearless critic of Wall Street and privatization, an advocate for single payer healthcare and fighting global climate change.

He champions historic investments in preschool and college – even vowing to make post secondary tuition free. But somehow when it comes to K-12 schools, he’s got very little to say.

Most notably, he voted against No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – the devastating schools bill passed with bipartisan support during the George W. Bush years. However, he also voted in favor of the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998 which further opened the nation’s piggy bank to for-profit school privatizers. He also opposed a bill in early 2015 that would have prohibited the federal government from imposing the terrible Common Core standards on the nation’s schools.

On the campaign trail, when asked about his stance on K-12 schools, Sanders has boasted he would end NCLB. That was just accomplished by Congress through a reauthorization of the bill now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sanders was an active participant in that process.

When this legislation was still in the Senate, he – along with almost all Democrats – voted for a failed amendment that would have continued most of the worst aspects of NCLB. The bill eventually passed the chamber in a potentially more palatable form. Sanders eventually voted for that Senate version but was conspicuously absent from the final vote.

Though keeping a busy campaign schedule, Sanders is known for returning to Washington to vote for important legislation. He does this much more than most of the other sitting Congressional Presidential candidates.

So why was he absent for the final vote on the ESSA? Was that done on purpose, and if so why? Could it be an attempt to distance himself from this legislation? Or is it an attempt at plausible deniability – a way of justifying both his approval and disapproval of the same legislation?

Sanders hasn’t said much.

This puts would-be-supporters in an uncomfortable position. We like what Sanders has to say about the economy and poverty, but we have little to go on when it comes to K-12 education. Certainly if Sanders was elected President and came through with all of his other promises, that would help our public schools tremendously. And since Sanders has been fighting for these things his entire lengthy political career, it’s hard to doubt his sincerity. But why not include education as part of this platform? It seems to fit perfectly with everything else he believes.

On the other hand, there’s Clinton. She is making a real effort to clarify her education positions. In fact, last week’s gaffe was part of a much larger policy speech on K-12 schools. Sander’s reply – though better stated – was a one off. It was a sound-byte. It was an applause line. It didn’t have much substance behind it.

How are we to take it? Would Sanders hire more teachers as part of a nationwide education equity policy? If so, what exactly is that policy? Or is he – like Clinton – in favor of closing some struggling schools?

Certainly Clinton has a credibility problem. One of her first actions on the public scene as the First Lady of Arkansas in 1983 was to fight against the state teachers union to enact accountability-based school reform. Many of the billionaires and shady think tanks that are working so hard to destroy public schools have donated heavily to her campaign. Her endorsement by both major teachers unions – the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers – were allegedly the result of leadership and not rank and file members.

But unlike Sanders, Clinton actually seems to care about getting the education vote. She is actively fighting for our advocacy. Bernie doesn’t seem to think he needs us.

The Democratic Primaries are about two months away. If Sanders is going to make a play for teachers, parents, students and education advocates, he still has a chance. But time is running out.

Personally I’d rather vote for him, and maybe I will. But if he finally came out swinging, if he actually made me feel like he’d strip away the high stakes testing, unproven or failing policies and put teachers in the drivers seat – he could get so much more.

There are tens of thousands of teachers and advocates standing on the sidelines looking to Bernie. If he gave us a major policy speech, he’d find his campaign offices flooded with new volunteers. Educators would take to the streets and phone banks. We’d lead the charge. We could help turn the tide in a Democratic primary where the margin of victory could well be razor thin.

We’re out there, Bernie. Just say the word and we’ll come running.

We want to Feel the Bern, but you’ve got to turn up the heat!

NOTE: This article also was published in and the LA Progressive.


14 thoughts on “Does Bernie Sanders Offer Education Advocates Enough? Are We Feelin’ the Bern or Just Feelin’ Burned?

  1. I am a teacher. Education is extremely important to me. Whether or not Mr. Sanders comments on education is frankly irrelevant to me. I have heard the Republicans bashing teachers and supporting charters on a larger scale. I do not support Hillary Clinton on education (or anything else) where she changes her positions depending on who she’s addressing. I support Sanders because of many, many positions he holds and advocates for and against. I do not believe I will ever see a candidate who has every position I want. I accept that. I like his higher education support. The things I have heard I support. He doesn’t need to change his strategy for speaking out. Let him be him, and not another plastic candidate who responds to every pressure group – even education advocates- to say something they like. He has my support because of his other, rational ideas. There’s no one else I feel has education as a priority, and hopefully people will look at all issues.


  2. Just as he has on economic matters, Sanders is in a perfect position to articulate not just opposition to the much hated NCLB, but an alternative vision for improvement. That vision would be grounded in the values of equity, democracy and social responsibility. Here are some suggestions:


  3. How does any U.S. president hire teachers without the support of both Houses of Congress?

    I’ve heard all of the candidates running for president for decades say things they can not do without support of the U.S. Congress. I’ve heard Trump and others claim they would do this or that but if the U.S. Supreme Court was doing it’s job, Trump and others who make these outrages claims would be stopped in their tracks because what they say they would do would be unconstitutional.

    For instance, Presidents do not approve federal budges. Congress does. Presidents cannot raise taxes. Congress does that. All a president does is submit a proposed budget to the U.S. Congress where it goes through committee and is revised sometimes up and sometimes down.


    • Presidents also petition and advocate and twist arms and convince and negotiate in order to push their agenda. President Obama chose to befriend the Republicans and really advocated for only one or two of his policies. Bernie Sanders has had a lot thrown at him as far as ESSA. There are parts that he is very much against, such as allowing Wall Street to make money off of students not receiving special education services. Bernie Sanders has always believed that Public Education was an equal rights issue, hence the above-mentioned vote. Over the years, instead of “educating” our Democratic officials, we have allowed them to believe testing is the only to measure and fill the achievement gaps. We have allowed “early childhood education” to become a soundbite and forced no one to provide a K-12 plan. Bernie Sanders has said he will listen to teachers to make educational policy. That is enough for me because that is more truth than we have received from any other.


      • “Presidents also petition and advocate and twist arms and convince and negotiate in order to push their agenda.”

        That’s correct, but that process doesn’t always get what a President wants. I read once that the first 100 days in the White House is the best time for a president to go after the things he wants to get done. Obama is way past his first 100 days and he spent most if not all of his 100 day capital getting healthcare for the uninsured. That also meant he had to give something to those who supported him. Maybe that something was giving up the public schools.


  4. Maybe Sanders has not had time to sort it all out and come up with new ideas, and does not want to say things when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I will be voting for him because he is a person of conviction and integrity. He is not going to sell our public schools to campaign contributors and pretend that it’s a civil rights issue.


  5. Maybe Sanders has not had time to thoroughly consider the situation and develop worthwhile ideas. However, as a person of intelligence, integrity, and conviction, you can be sure that he will not sell our schools to campaign contributors and pretend he’s doing so as a civil rights hero. I’m confused at your confusion; he has so much more integrity than anyone else running…I am having trouble comprehending how any decent, civic-minded person could consider not voting for him.


  6. SHROUDED IN MYSTERY: I’ll start by saying teachers and parents should support Bernie all the way because he is laser focused on the #1 problem with education. That problem is money-in-politics, and it is the same problem infecting healthcare, the tax code, the military, the environment, trade and much else, including Hillary’s campaign (and career).

    But Bernie is also more specific than many education-watchers think, he is just not some publicizing his views well enough. A few examples:

    1 – Bernie’s website since last Spring has said he wants to “do away with fill-in-the-bubble tests”

    2 – Bernie co-sponsored an amendment in the ESEA to create flexible, alternative assessments in a 7-state pilot. It passed with bipartisan support.

    3 – when pressed for an explanation about his vote for the Murphy amendment mentioned above, Bernie’s spokesman revealed that he had misgivings about the accountability elements in the amendment and relayed them to chairman Alexander.

    What remains a mystery then? Almost everything about the process that led to the ESSA law. Bernie gave out some information about his values and his votes, perhaps more than any Democrat including Sen. Warren, but this article is right – we need more – we need clarification – and above all, we need transparency.

    Why did Democrats believe testing young kids strengthens their “civil rights”? What influence did big money have? What was promised to unions? The American people have been cut out of the process as the bill sped through committee.

    So the ESSA law is a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. The language is vague (perhaps this is why it passed so easily) and it leaves all the major battles yet to be fought, state by state. Both sides have declared victory. But Bernie is running for president, and he’s way behind. So YES let’s do all we can to encourage a Bernie speech that brings education to the fore and puts Hillary and her corporate/union reformer pals on the spot.


  7. I’m feeling the Bern! Is it possible that if Bernie brought up the subject of K-12 education, Hillary can fire back with the fact that both teachers’ unions endorsed her? If Hillary was to bring up education would the topic that Hillary was on the board of Walmart prior to President Clinton getting into office be brought up? Would it open the door of the discussion of his education reform Goal 2000 that advanced charter schools? The truth is, Hillary is friends with the very people that have helped business make money in education. She talks the talk, but Bernie walks the walk. Who do you want for president? A lady that may give you a temporary fix or a man that is focusing on fixing the root of the problem, poverty.


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