The nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary has raised eyebrows both for what she has done in public education in the past and the lack of experience she brings, leaving her woefully unprepared to take on the broad responsibilities of the education department.
The experience DeVos brings is a danger to the foundation of public schools in America.
In her confirmation hearing, DeVos would not commit to agreeing that all schools that receive federal tax dollars should be held accountable to school achievement standards, saying only, “I believe in accountability,” repeatedly without answering the question. The “public” charter schools DeVos has championed in her home state of Michigan have consistently underperformed traditional public schools in the state.
Her refusal to state that charter and private schools receiving federal monies need to be evaluated on a level playing field reflects her belief that federal monies should go to those institutions regardless of whether or not they perform adequately.
Because DeVos remains resolute in providing vouchers to private schools using federal funds allocated to public education, and because of her unfailing support of privately-held “public” charter schools, many fear the destruction of public education altogether.
Heather Giles, a parent and learning assistant at Most Precious Blood Catholic School in Denver, presents another concern about using federal money to fund private schools.
“I don’t want federal mandates about what we can and can’t teach to come into our school. We are Catholic. This is a religious school, where we believe in teaching about religion. The federal government has no role here.”
When asked whether charter schools, which receive federal money but are generally independent of teachers’ union or school district rules, should provide education for special needs students, DeVos replied, “I think that is a matter best left to the states.” In disbelief, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine replied, “It’s the federal law.”
DeVos’s confirmation hearing also pointed out that she is uninformed about fraudulent for-profit universities (including Trump University, as an example) taking advantage of college students.
The exchanges between Senator Al Franken and DeVos also show how wholly unprepared she is. When asked about a long-standing debate in the education community, about whether schools should measure a student’s growth or a student’s proficiency, DeVos struggled to understand the question. This fact is important because it addresses the difference between whether or not a student is performing at grade level and how well he/she has improved over all. This debate is over which retrospective lens to look through: to assess where a student is based on grade-level expectations versus measures in improvement. As the only choice as Education Secretary, DeVos could not answer even the most basic of questions regarding student assessment.
These assessments are used to determine both the compensation of teachers and the future of schools. Schools that are deemed underperforming are at risk of being privatized.
DeVos did not attend public schools, send her own children to public schools, nor has she held positions in public education. The only thing that links her to education is that she has spent her share of her family’s multi-billion dollar fortune on pushing Michigan towards the adoption of school choice and privatization.
She would not commit to preserving unchartered, district-run schools. These schools, like LHS, are committed to offering education to all children, including those with discipline problems and disabilities. The same cannot be said of all charter schools.
A new change in American schools comes with all presidential transitions of political power. Yet DeVos, with her lack of experience and alarming reputation of dismantling public schools, stands to disturb the already existing system of education that millions of children and teenagers, like all of us at LHS, receive every day and count on as a foundation for their futures.
DeVos’s consistent approach to the dismantling of public schools is why she is not only unfit to lead this country in education, she is dangerous to all those who rely on public schools.
It is still possible to contact Colorado’s US Senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, through multiple channels: email, phone calls to their local and Washington DC offices, and letters to major publications and their editors. Tell them to vote against the confirmation of DeVos as Secretary of Education.