Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris must have been one of the people AFT president Randi Weingarten was referring to when she said on C-Span, in the context of the 2020 hopefuls being “eager for the teachers’ backing," that her “phone had rung a lot” because Harris has quickly morphed into a union mouthpiece. The language is so familiar it reads like the same old script. Students are nowhere to be found in her comments, parents are absent from her tweets, and learning outcomes don’t even get a single mention.

Harris had decided to focus on the need to pay teachers more, respect teachers more, and support one delivery system of education—the public one. She makes no mention of teacher quality, student learning, or parent choice. One does wonder if she has even looked at the numbers of children all over this nation who do not read at grade level—36 percent of fourth-graders, 36 percent of eighth-graders, and 37 percent of twelfth-graders read at or above grade level.

If we disaggregate by race, here are the percentages of students in America who read at or above grade level:

White students 45%
Black students 18%
Hispanic students 23%
American Indian/Alaskan native students 22%
Asian students 57%

82 percent of black students, 77 percent of Hispanic students, and 78 percent of Native Americans in eighth grade do not read at grade level yet Kamala Harris doesn’t even believe it worthy of a mention. More than half of white students can’t read at grade level either—but she has made the calculated choice not to make her education agenda student centered or parent centered.

Now let’s look at eighth-grade math disaggregated by race:

White students 44%
Black students 13%
Hispanic students 20%
American Indian/Alaskan native students 18%
Asian students 64%

87 percent of black students, 80 percent of Hispanic students, and 82 percent of Native American students cannot do math at grade level. Neither can more than half of white students.

But she has come out of the gate attacking privatization—which is kind of strange since she doesn’t define it but seems to be fine with public dollars funding private universities and faith based pre-schools. While it is refreshing to see at least one candidate come out decisively on education, Harris has made the calculated decision to put her stake in the ground on the side of those whose mission is to fight against the overwhelming demand from parents—especially parents of color—for more educational freedom for their children.

And on substance, this whole teacher salary thing is ridiculous in the context of fifty states and over thirteen thousand school districts. The average teacher salary in Boston, for example, is $99,368. Are we supposed to put on red t-shirts and clamor for federal raises there? Meanwhile, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has to teach for thirteen years just to earn $38,400. But Harris has decided that union support and money are more important than student learning and student outcomes and, ahem, students themselves. She avoids even talking about them.

Randi is ecstatic.

Lily at least mentions student success but then throws in her usual lazy plug for “neighborhood schools.” She must really hate magnet schools and exam schools.

Kamala Harris graduated from school reading at grade level and went on to become highly successful and accomplished. I find it hard to believe that she doesn’t believe all students in this nation—a nation she aspires to lead—don’t deserve the same. Too bad that principled belief isn’t strong enough to stand up to the powerful interests whose job it is to put adult interests before what children need and deserve.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Good School Hunting.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Erika Sanzi spent a decade as a teacher and school dean before becoming a full-time education advocate. She also served a term as an elected school committee member. Her love for writing coupled with her willingness to take on people in power has led her to spend much of her time responding to status-quo protectors inclined to put adult interests ahead of kids. She is particularly focused on inequities in the system,…

View Full Bio