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How Two Opt-Out Leaders View the Presidential Race

The testing opt-out movement—and progressive voices on K-12—have big plans to expand their influence after the passage of the Every Student Succeds Act, the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. 

So how do a couple of the opt-out movement's leaders view the 2016 presidential race?

Diane Ravitch, the president of the Network for Public Education and a leading voice against the use of high-stakes tests, acknowledged to me that when it comes to Democratic candidates, most of her blog's readers, at least, prefer Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sanders shared his views on "privately run" charter schools and public school funding, voiced during a recent town hall event:

That isn't the first time Sanders has criticized charters. Consider his comments in that video side-by-side with his response to an American Federation of Teachers "Election 2016" questionnaire, in which Sanders wrote that he thought charters schools should be held to the same standards as traditional public schools, and that those standards should be extended to both nonprofit and for-profit charter management organizations.

And Sanders has caught fire with progressives in other ways. You may also remember that Stephen Sawchuk zeroed in on dissatisfaction among some National Education Association members in particular when the NEA endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary last year, instead of giving more serious consideration to Sanders. Recall also that the AFT backed Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary over Obama, and the NEA didn't endorse Obama until the general election.

Still, Ravitch gave credit to Clinton for her recent critical remarks about some charter schools. She said people shouldn't view those critical statements as a cynical political shift; there's simply more information available about charter schools today for Clinton to consider, Ravitch said, than several years ago.

So in the end, does Ravitch have a preference in the presidential contest? She does—she'll back any Democrat. electionslug_2016_126x126.jpg

"All the Republican candidates are so horrible, I'll support anybody nominated by the Democrats," said Ravitch, who once worked on K-12 policy for GOP President George H.W. Bush. "I don't have a problem with either Bernie or Hillary. I think they're both terrific ... There's no point in causing animosity towards either of them."

But it's not as if no Republican candidate for president has shown any antipathy towards testing mandates. During debates about ESEA reauthorization earlier this year, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, along with fellow Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, supported legislation that would have prohibited the federal government "from interfering with local decisionmaking on standards, curriculum, and assessments," as my co-blogger Alyson Klein put it.

Both Cruz and Rubio also backed federal legislation that would have allowed states to opt out of K-12 accountability altogether.

Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris, meanwhile, thinks the Democratic candidates are for the most part avoiding the debate over testing and accountability policies that has created a split among some liberals.

"It appears to be, in the Democratic Party, a third rail," Burris said.

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