Pre-CNN/Facebook Democratic Debate: K-12 Education Quotes from Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

2016 Presidential Elections

October 8, 2015

By Charles Barone and Marianne Lombardo

bernie-hillary off pics


As part of our series leading up to the first Democratic Presidential debate, we present quotes on K-12 education issues directly from the campaigns and public statements of the two main candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Our goal here is to present insights about their positions based on primary sources. We will present analyses of these positions in subsequent posts. We did feel compelled here, however, to add a slight editorial modifier that we call “Bernie on the other hand.” While the quotes below indicate fairly consistent positions from Hillary Clinton over the entire length of her political career, those of Bernie Sanders are somewhat in conflict, even those separated by very small amounts of time.


Importance of Education, as noted on the Candidates’ websites:

“We need a president who will fight for strong public schools in every ZIP code and every community across the country. I want to be that president. I want to fight for you and for educators, and for students and for families. I think they go together.”

Hillary Clinton, 2015, Campaign website

Bernie Sanders’ official campaign website ( does not have “Education” as a topic under the “Issues” section. 

Student Testing and Accountability

“[ESEA] was passed in 1965 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement to ensure that low-income, disabled, and minority children receive a good education. I strongly believe that this spirit must be maintained in this bill. To that end, I believe the federal government should monitor student performance to ensure our children, parents, and educators are receiving the support they need to ensure academic success. The truth is, we can do a much better job at assessing student performance, and this legislation goes a long way toward fostering the kind of innovation in student assessments that will move our nation’s education system into the future.”

Bernie Sanders, 2015, Senate Hearing SH-216

“Senator Murphy introduced an amendment on the Senate floor that would have required states to hold schools accountable for the academic performance of low-income, minority and disabled students. Senator Sanders voted for this amendment because he believes states must do more to protect every student’s right to a quality education, and that from a civil rights’ perspective, the federal government has an important role to play in protecting low-income, minority and disabled children.”

Phil Fiermonte, Campaign Field Director, Bernie 2016, Letter to Arthur Goldstein, chair, United Federation of Teachers

Bernie Sanders “on the other hand”:

I voted against NCLB in 2001, and continue to oppose the bill’s reliance on high-stakes standardized testing to direct draconian interventions. In my view, NCLB ignores several important factors in a student’s academic performance, specifically the impact of poverty, access to adequate health care, mental health, and nutrition. By placing so much emphasis on standardized testing, NCLB ignores many of the skills and qualities that are vitally important in our 21st century economy, like problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, in favor of test preparation that provides no benefit to students after they leave school.

Bernie Sanders, May 2015, Statement to the American Federation of Teachers

Hillary believes that it is critical that Congress retain its commitment to high academic standards for all children, which will include measuring how children are doing each year. Hillary believes that testing provides communities with full information about how our low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities are doing in comparison to other groups so that we can continue to improve our educational system for all students.”

— Clinton Campaign website, 2015

We have to do things differently, but it should all be driven by the same commitment to try to make sure that we educate every child. That’s why I was a senator and voted for [NCLB], because I thought every child should matter and shouldn’t [be told], ‘You’re poor’ or, ‘You’ve got disabilities, so we are going to sweep you to the back; don’t show up on test day because we don’t want to mess up our scores’. No! Every child should have the same opportunity, and so I think we’ve got to get back to basics, and we have got to look to teachers to lead the way on that.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2015, Kirkwood Community College, Iowa.

The standards and accountability movement has grown dramatically over the last decade. The No Child Left Behind Act became law, and it has laid bare the problems in many of our poorest, worst performing schools. We can no longer say that we didn’t know that these schools were failing some of our most vulnerable kids.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dec. 2006, “It Takes A Village,” page 304

“Since 1983, I have been a vigorous advocate of reforming & fixing schools that do not work. I have seen that we do know how to turn around failing schools. What we have too often lacked is the staying power & the will to deliver on what we know would make a difference. But if we are to make that difference, then we have to make a solemn vow never to abandon our public schools or the children who attend them, but to instead redouble our efforts to pursue strategies that we know can make a difference. Because in every school district in America, you and I know, there are schools that are working against the most amazing odds. They are taking children who are poor and poorly prepared and are getting results.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1999, Remarks to NEA in Orlando, Florida

Charter Schools

Bernie does not oppose charter schools–that is, schools that are privately managed but funded by taxes. Indeed, Bernie voted for the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998. Nonetheless, Bernie believes that these institutions must be “held to the same standards of transparency as public schools” to ensure accountability for these privately managed organizations. It is worth noting that while charter schools are privately managed, they do not charge tuition to students and are considered public schools., “Issues,” 2015

Bernie Sanders on the other hand:

Questioner: “In your earlier remarks, you said stop privatizing public education, one way to stop that is to make sure there is a very strong, very reasonable cap on charter schools – I come from a district where children are leaving in droves to attend these “miracle” buildings – and we’re losing valuable funding in already strained budgets – will you keep public funding in public schools?”

Bernie Sanders: “Absolutely.”

Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Teachers Association Bargaining Summit, (via YouTube), October 2nd, 2015.

I actually do believe in charter schools.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2007, Convention of the Federation of New York teachers’ unions

I also hope that you will continue to stand behind the charter school/public school movement, because I believe that parents do deserve greater choice within the public school system to meet the unique needs of their children.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1999, NEA National Convention, Orlando, Florida

“[E]very child deserves a quality public education as part of their American birthright. We’re here because we believe that charter schools can play a significant part in revitalizing and strengthening public schools today – by offering greater flexibility from bureaucratic rules, so that parents, teachers, and the community can design and run their own schools, and focus on setting goals and getting results…. The President believes, as I do, that charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together – instead of other efforts – like vouchers – which separate people out – siphon off much needed resources; and weakening the school systems that desperately need to be strengthened.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1998, Charter School Meeting, Washington, DC

Alternative Teacher Certification (e.g. TFA)

 “We’ve got to do everything we can to attract the best and brightest young people into education … I am a strong supporter of programs like Teach for America and other efforts to attract young people into education.”

 Bernie Sanders, 2011, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

Bernie Sanders on the other hand:

“[Under my amendment, TFA teachers] would not qualify as ‘highly qualified’ [under ESEA/NCLB].”

Bernie Sanders, 2011, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

To improve the quality of education, we need to improve instruction in the classroom … In 2001, I proposed the National Teacher Corps, which brings teachers into the classroom, and a new initiative that would provide more schools with strong principals. Both became law.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dec. 2006, “It Takes A Village” p.304-305

The Secretary [of Education] is authorized to award a grant to Teach For America, Inc., the national teacher corps of outstanding recent college graduates who commit to teach for 2 years in underserved communities in the United States, to implement and expand its program of recruiting, selecting, training, and supporting new teachers.”

— Senate Bill 1367introduced July 1st, 2005, Co-sponsored by Senators Hillary Clinton, Lamar Alexander, Harry Reid, and Mike DeWine.

Common Core

This legislation … supports states, like Vermont, that have adopted the Common Core Standards so students are taught the skills they need to be in college and career ready.”

Bernie Sanders, 2011, Press Release on ESEA Reauthorization.

 When I think about the really unfortunate argument that’s been going on around Common Core, it’s very painful, because the Common Core started off as a bi-partisan effort — it was actually nonpartisan. It wasn’t politicized, it was to try to come up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was, that there wouldn’t be two tiers of education. Everybody would be looking at what was to be learned and doing their best to try to achieve that.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2015, Kirkwood Community College, Iowa.