And Warren (D-Mass.), who was a Harvard law professor and who taught K-12 special education for a year, has a plan for higher education — offering universal free public college and canceling student loan debt for 42 million Americans. She also has blasted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And Warren has promised that if she becomes president, she will tap an educator to succeed DeVos.
But when it comes to K-12, Warren has put forth no plan, in contrast with candidates who polls show are her chief rivals for the nomination: former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The Warren campaign did not respond to my repeated queries about her plan for improving K-12 education. (Incidentally, it also did not respond to Chalkbeat when its reporter recently asked the same questions, and it did not respond to Peter Greene, a veteran educator who wrote in June about the topic in Forbes.)
Why is there no Warren K-12 plan? Is her K-12 agenda still evolving?
Warren has, over the years, changed positions on some education issues, although she is hardly the only Democratic presidential candidate to do so.
Take charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. Warren has in the past expressed support for charters (as did many other Democrats), but in 2016 she came out against an initiative in Massachusetts — funded mostly by Republicans — to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in the state. In The Washington Post’s recent survey of education views among the Democratic candidates, Warren said she would ban for-profit charter schools and increase accountability of the others.
In 2015, she co-sponsored an amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor to the No Child Left Behind law, that explicitly called for the use of standardized test scores to hold schools “accountable,” although she has since spoken out against high-stakes testing.
In The Post’s survey, she took these other positions on K-12 education:
- She supports free prekindergarten programs for low-income families; Sanders and Biden support free pre-K for all.
- She said the federal government should subsidize teacher pay; so did Biden and Sanders.
- She said federal courts or agencies should be more aggressive in encouraging or pressuring school districts to desegregate their schools; so did Sanders and Biden.
- She said she opposes school vouchers and other programs that use federal money for private- or religious-school education. In a 2003 book, she advocated for a fully funded voucher program that would enable children to attend any public school (not private or religious). In the survey, Sanders said he opposed using federal funds for private- or religious-school education. Biden did not provide a response.
Sanders has proposed a detailed public school improvement plan that he calls a “Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education,” which includes rethinking the inequitable way public schools are funded and a major boost of funding for schools in high-poverty areas. Biden has proposed his own K-12 education plan, which is less detailed but also includes more spending for schools in high-poverty districts.
As Greene noted, Warren would appear to be a natural defender of K-12 public education. She has, after all, been a longtime critic of the wealthy corporate interests that have funded the modern school “reform” movement, which has sought to operate public schools as if they were businesses.
But public education advocates have been fooled before. Barack Obama criticized high-stakes standardized tests when he ran for president in 2008. But his administration exacerbated some of the most onerous features of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and made high-stakes testing the most important measure of accountability for schools and teachers.
Greene said he finds Warren’s choice of former Teach for America corps member Joshua Delaney as education policy adviser to be “concerning.” Teach for America, which places college graduates into high-needs classrooms with only five weeks of summer training, became popular with the Obama administration and wealthy philanthropists.
Greene wrote: “If her idea to appoint a secretary of education who has taught in a public school classroom includes consideration of TFA products who taught for just two years, traditional public school teachers are unlikely to be impressed.”
Meanwhile, public education advocates say they are waiting for Warren to put forth her K-12 improvement vision.