I love a woman with a plan! And, Senator Warren, it seems like you have a plan for just about everything. There are currently 50 plans listed on your campaign website, outlining your goals for America for 2021 and beyond.
But there is a glaring omission. Fifty plans—and not a single one addresses the systemic problems in K-12 education.
You’ve also zeroed in on a number of vexing problems in education, such as meager and insufficient salaries for teaching professionals, the need for increased special education funding and free universal childcare and early learning, and you’ve hit it out of the park with your plans for canceling student loan debt and making college affordable and accessible for all students. You also want to address the role of an overzealous gun industry in school safety and gun violence, you support targeted resources to reduce class size and you’ve made it clear that you intend to uphold strong collective bargaining rights.
And I can tell you know that race matters. You’ve promised a minimum $50 billion in federal funds for HBCUs, a $100 million investment in Pell Grants and vowed to prohibit public colleges from considering an applicant’s citizenship and criminal history during the admission process. Further, you’ve promised to dismantle the destructive school-to-prison pipeline, to support implicit bias training to help reduce suspensions and expulsions and to boost federal support of local integration efforts. This kind of thinking is going to make a big difference.
All together, that seems like a lot. And for any other candidate it might be. But only a few of your proposals are accompanied by an actionable plan. And when I dig a little deeper into your history, Senator Warren, I find a much more complex story that muddies the waters around your education agenda.
This Work Isn’t Easy
Look, Senator—I get it. Like you, I’ve been on both sides of the veil. I know there’s really no political home for someone who truly cares about kids and families no matter which type of school they attend.
In my own journey from teaching in a traditional public school and leading in my union, to later teaching in a charter school and advocating for the right of all families to access high-quality education, I’ve thought long and hard about what I believe. I’m still navigating some of these difficult, but important questions as I write this.
But I’m not running for president of the United States. Nor do I have a specific and concrete plan for nearly every other public policy challenge. We’re all allowed to evolve on issues, but your silence on K-12 schools, at this point, is deafening.
You Need Teachers Unions, And They Need You, Too
You and I both know that the union vote is no joke! You are smart and pragmatic in positioning yourself as a close ally—you need their support. National teachers unions are well-organized and have a considerable amount of political power. They donate millions and they have tens of thousands of members on the ground to help get out the vote.
Teachers unions do incredibly important work for educators across this nation. The teachers they serve have the weight of extraordinary expectations, coupled with insufficient resources, inadequate salaries and very little respect. They care about their students deeply and in order to serve them well, someone must look out for them, too. That’s the unions’ role—and they do an excellent job of looking out for their members. But here’s the thing—that’s their job. Your job is not only to look out for teachers, but also to look out for the families and the students—especially those who are most marginalized.
You’re never going to please everyone—no matter what you choose to say or not to say. But know this: They need a progressive firebrand as much as you need them. Isn’t it time to let them—and all teachers—know where you stand?
You don’t take issue with nonprofit charter schools, but you don’t want to fund them either. When you say public money must stay in public schools, do you acknowledge that charter schools are also public schools?
Why are you focused on reform and accountability when it comes to college access and affordability—but seemingly unwilling to think the same way about K-12 education?
Everyone is excited about your plans to make college accessible to all students and to cancel 95% of crippling student debt, but do you realize that neither of these initiatives will do much for our kids if we can’t get them through high school?
So Senator Warren, I need some answers. We all do. To date, your education policy is a cluster of contradictions that voters must assemble in a piecemeal fashion on their own. Meanwhile, your campaign T-shirts literally say, “I have a plan for that!”
I believe in you and I'm rooting for you. If you truly want to “put power back into the hands of the people,” be courageous, be clear about where you stand and why, and give voters the information they need to make an informed decision about your education platform.
When it comes to K-12 education, isn’t it about time you had a plan for that?
Lisa Hollenbach is Senior Digital Manager for Education Post. Prior to joining Education Post, Lisa developed digital and content strategy for Teaching Channel. She served on the Bill and Melinda Gates Teacher Advisory Council from 2014-2017 and was active in the planning and execution of several Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) convenings at both the regional and ...