Waving "NYSUT Hillary" signs and shouting "We Love You Hillary," a packed convention hall of delegates gave a heartfelt welcome to New York's "favorite daughter," the front-running candidate for president.
Against her staff's wishes, New York's junior senator, Hillary Clinton, squeezed in an early-morning RA visit between debates in South Carolina and California. Clinton said she did not want to miss the chance to thank the "quiet heroes" of the education system.
She railed against the Bush administration's lack of respect for the work educators do every day. "To this White House, so much of what you do is invisible," Clinton said. "But you're not invisible to me, to NYSUT or the governor and you're not going to be invisible to the next president of the United States," she said to a standing ovation. "When I'm president, our schools will be at the top of the national agenda."
The former first lady said President Bush has turned his back on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, not even coming close to the 40 percent of funding promised for special education. And now, No Child Left Behind has become yet another unfunded mandate, she said.
"The ink was not even dry on the No Child Left Behind Act when the president began to renege on his promise for full funding," Clinton said. "We all believe in accountability ... but not the kind of accountability with such a heavy and arbitrary hand."
Clinton said the over-emphasis on standardized testing has shifted the focus from learning to memorization and "teaching to the test."
"The test has become the curriculum," Clinton said, to much applause. "While our children have gotten good at filling in those bubbles, these high-stakes tests are pushing out physical education, art and music, special opportunities like field trips and doing things outside the box," she said.
Clinton said the federal government needs to rethink its huge investment in Supplemental Education Services, which provide tutoring to needy schools under NCLB. "We don't hold providers accountable, nor do we expect them to be highly qualified," she said. "And there's absolutely no evidence SES is helping students achieve."
Instead, she said, funding should be invested in programs that work: preschool, smaller classes, teacher-retention programs, extended teaching time and summer school.
She closed her 30-minute speech with a tribute to a series of public school teachers who made such a great impression on her own life.
Her recollections included her fifth-grade teacher who pushed math and science during the Sputnik era and a prescient high school government teacher who forced her to play the role of the Democratic presidential candidate — even though her family was solidly Republican.
"I think about what my teachers meant to me," Clinton said. "That's why I believe so passionately in public education."