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What Did O'Malley and Sanders Tell NEA?

The National Education Association is getting started early on its 2016 presidential endorsement process. The union's president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, has already met with Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and a contender for the Democratic nod. 

And Thursday, the union met with two more candidates for the Democratic nomination: Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is technically an Independent, identifies as a socialist, but is running as a Democrat anyway.

Dying to know what did the two leading, Non-Hillary Democratic candidates in the race have to say for themselves on education? Luckily NEA sent around some excerpts.

Under O'Malley, Maryland won a Race to the Top grant, changed its teacher evaluation laws to better incorporate student test data, and it is a leader in one of the two consortia offering tests aligned to Common Core State Standards. But he didn't emphasize those things to the NEA, at least not in the remarks the union sent around.

Instead, he talked about the limitations of testing. And he stuck up for the federal role in K-12, which isn't so popular these days:

"We need to do a better job of listening to the people who are doing the job. I've never believed one could make teachers the enemy and expect to improve student and classroom outcomes.

"The issue of more time in the classroom is related to this holistic approach about how we educate children. Increasing the frequency of tests doesn't necessarily increase the quality of education. We have to be mindful of the whole child—their development, their nutrition, their health. Learning is about more than that feedback loop of tests and quizzes.

"As president I would make education funding an economic issue and continue to spread that understanding that the more a child learns, the more that child will earn and the better for our entire economy. As governor, we made public education a priority by partnering with teachers, and by not doing less but by doing more."

"No child is a spare American. In Maryland, we came together to forge the consensus to make the investments at the state level to give our children the quality education they deserve. There's so much the federal government can do better in education, but we won't do better if we insist on doing less, not more."

Sanders, meanwhile, has been one of the most outspoken Democratic critics of the Obama administration's competitive grants. But, in his remarks, he hit mostly on his distaste for the No Child Left Behind Act, which is on its last legs anyway:

"I am running for president of the United States to start a political revolution. We have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income in the country since 1929. The great middle class has been disappearing. The American dream is disappearing. We have priorities that are absolutely backwards. There are 45 million Americans living in poverty. A teacher at a recent town hall meeting told me that 90 percent of her students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. This is not what America is about.

"Our country belongs to all of us, not just billionaires. No president can take care of all the problems facing Americans today alone. We need a movement of working people, of middle-class people, to stand up right now. If we don't, I worry about the future of our children and grandchildren.

"As I sit on the Senate education committee, it's fair to say that there are few people on the committee who are as opposed to No Child Left Behind and as opposed to this absurd effort to force teachers to spend half of their lives teaching kids how to take tests. If I have anything to say in the coming months we would end NCLB.

"If elected president, we are going to look at the whole child. We are going to give teachers the opportunity and freedom to work with kids in any and all ways to improve their lives and to give them the best possible education. Teaching kids just to take tests in my view does not go far enough."

For those keeping score at home, NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have each met with Clinton, Sanders, and O'Malley. The NEA doesn't have any other meetings scheduled just yet, but it's still early in the union's endorsement process.

It's worth noting that when he ran for president back in 2007, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a GOP candidate again this time, took the NEA's endorsement process seriously, and wound up getting the stamp of approval of the union's New Hampshire affiliate, which turned out to be a mixed blessing for him.

Also, back in the 2008 season, the union didn't elect to endorse in either the GOP or Democratic primaries.

Still, it will be the biggest edu-political surprise of the year if either union endorses anyone but frontrunner Clinton, who is continuing to hit education on the campaign trail.

She told the National Conference of Latino Elected Officials in Las Vegas Thursday about her plan to move toward universal preschool, expand college access, and staff "our primary and secondary schools with K-12 teachers who are second to none in the world, and get the respect they deserve for sparking the love of learning in every child."

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