Hillary Clinton refused to answer whether teachers' unions ever protect bad teachers from being fired during Sunday night's CNN debate, pivoting to broad praise of the teaching profession and vaguely calling for looking at "anything that could be changed."
CNN moderator Anderson Cooper noted two of the county's largest teachers' unions were backing Clinton in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton previously supported charter schools, but she received the backing of unions opposed to education reform as she pivoted toward criticism of charters.
"There's an awful lot of great teachers in this country," Cooper said. "It's an incredibly difficult job, one of the most difficult jobs there is, but union rules often make it impossible to fire bad teachers, and that means disadvantaged kids are sometimes taught by the least qualified. Do you think unions protect bad teachers?"
There were some boos in the audience at Cooper's question.
Clinton responded she was proud of the endorsements of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
"I've had a very good relationship with both unions, with their leadership, and we've had really candid conversations, because we are going to have to take a look," Clinton said. "What do we need in the 21st century to really involve families, to help kids who have more problems than just academic problems … Honestly, it really pains me. A lot of people have been blaming and scapegoating teachers because they don't want to put the money into the school system that deserves the support that comes from the government doing its job."
Cooper noticed Clinton didn't answer his question.
"So just to follow up, you don't believe unions protect bad teachers?" Cooper asked.
"You know what, I have told my friends at the top of both unions we've got to take a look at this, because it is one of the most common criticisms," Clinton said. "We need to eliminate that criticism. Teachers do so much good. They are often working under the most difficult circumstances, so anything that could be changed, I want them to look at, and I will be a good partner to make sure that whatever I can do as president, I will do to support the teachers of our country."