At the risk of sounding like Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos will be a disaster. Ms. DeVos is a terrific Republican leader. She’s been effective as a pol, as a fundraiser, and as an organizer. She should stay in that realm.
Her only educational training in preparation to being Secretary of Education is that she went to school–all private schools. I don’t think having been a third grader qualifies one to make decisions about federal funding of public schools. She has made herself a long-standing and vocal advocate for school choice, vouchers, and public taxes used for private schools. I’m not sure how she chose this issue, certainly not from a lifetime of educational service.
Most readers know I’m a retired public school teacher, and I’ve been pretty vocal in my own circles about my dismay at Ms. DeVos’s selection. Some have suggested that I give her a chance before challenging her. Well, she may be a relative unknown nationally, but she is not unknown to me. I became aware of her in about 2003 when she was a vocal thorn in the side of then Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s public education programs. Ms. DeVos had been a school choice advocate for years, but was in agreement with former Governor John Engler and wasn’t in the limelight that being an adversary shines.
There are two types of politicians, those who truly work for bipartisan results to problem solving and those who like to use the word, but who’s definition is everyone coming around to their way of thinking. Betsy DeVos is the latter. She claims the desire to fix education with bipartisan support, but really means that the only way is for everyone to vote her way and support school choice. She is on record as saying her way isn’t only best, but the only choice for any future success.
I’m not against charter, focus, or religious schools for those who wish to enroll. Kids learn in different ways and some may thrive in the homogenous atmosphere of like learners with like interests and/or beliefs. The problem is that many, maybe even most, learn best in an atmosphere of inclusion. Public schools look like the United States. Public schools take in all comers and welcome them with open arms. Public school teachers know that training leaders requires said future leader to have prior experience leading the oleo of people with a far-reaching mix of ideas, interests, and beliefs that will not come from choosing to study at a school full of science nerds, or at one that only recognizes one religion.
The bigger problem is that if our country is rife with focus and religious schools to which one must apply, be judged acceptable, and be admitted, there won’t be room for everyone in those schools. Are we going to operate public schools with a population of the unfocused and nonreligious?
The biggest problem of all is that Ms. DeVos’s vouchers are just that, a set amount of money to spend. There is no guarantee that the school choice of any given family will accept the voucher stipend as sufficient tuition. The rich, or even those with moderate means can likely handle the monetary difference, but the poor cannot. Add to that any amount of travel to and from school and the poor are categorically eliminated from going to a choice school. This is the issue that needs to be adjudicated. If we spend a majority of our education tax dollars on private institutions, and every American cannot be more than theoretically included, there is a profound constitutional issue raised.
Many are vexed and voice concerns that educational expenditures are wasted on failing schools. That is a simplistic, misrepresented statement that needs to be shelved. We’re not looking at money to enrich teachers. Most of us have no interest in dramatically raised salaries–unless you insist… We didn’t become teachers to get rich.
What we need is twofold. First and foremost we need to recruit and train teachers so that they are prepared both academically and emotionally to face classrooms of kids. There have been many teacher education programs that gave preservice trainees more time in schools with real kids, more time to study, and more professional support along the way; they showed a lot of promise (see my column, “Education’s Third Face” in the April 7, 2016 MLN). But, they were canceled due to state funding issues. Making educational decisions based on budget or political concerns is a huge mistake. Secondly, schools are a part of our historically neglected infrastructure.
When looking to spend tax dollars, if we put well-prepared, enthusiastic teachers into well-equipped, pride-inspiring facilities, public education is all we really need.