Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, raised eyebrows with some of her statements during her confirmation hearing this week. Between her seeming lack of familiarity with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act to her assertion that guns in schools may sometimes be necessary to ward off grizzly bears, DeVos is proving to be a controversial pick, especially with parents and teachers.
We asked a range of teachers across the U.S. to weigh in with their thoughts and feelings on the appointment. Here are their responses.
Katie Jaceldo, a Texas special education administrator
I am a special ed teacher in an administrative role. We help 18-21 year old students transition to productive lives. I’m also in Texas, where we have an abysmal record of providing services to special ed students. I’m terrified of the potential impact of making special education a state-by-state decision.
Adults with disabilities have one of the highest rates of unemployment of any group in the country and usually end up on their parents’ couch or institutionalized to some degree. Without the education, social skills, and job training they get through special ed services, they will need more long term supports, Medicaid, SSI, etc. It all gets expensive and is devastating for these students and families.
Ashley laPierre, a K-5 science teacher in Manhattan
A teacher’s goal is to shape world citizens. Students with learning disabilities, and likewise their ‘typical’ peers who stand to learn so much from working side by side. Students currently receiving special education services constitutes 13 percent of the total school age population; Devos’ confusion and ignorance around IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) is bewildering, considering it’s a federal mandate.
My hope is that she will visit classrooms (including title 1 schools) and conference with real educators to get some perspective on this issue in particular.
Alex Cunningham, a high school English teacher in Manhattan
I’m concerned about Ms. DeVos’ appointment. As a white, male, cisgendered teacher at a private school in Manhattan, I am shielded from almost all of the potentially damaging policies she might (help to) implement.
But I used to teach at diverse, low-income public schools. I taught at homogenous, well-funded public schools. I taught at diverse, low-income charter schools and homogenous, well-funded charter schools.
And none of those schools―nor their students―would directly benefit from lower standards for granting charters, a more diverse (and, therefore, factionalized) approach to regulation when it comes to basic issues of safety and accommodations, or minimized government assistance in financing education.
Anitra Washington, a science teacher in Baltimore, MD
As an educator for over 15 years with 11 years in an urban district, my concerns with Betsy DeVos are centered around her lack of experience and understanding of our public school system.
I am not completely tied to the idea that our secretary of education must have experience in the classroom but they absolutely must have an understanding of how our public education system works. This understanding should come with experience in some way and she has extremely limited experience (and success if you look at Detroit’s voucher program).
Her thoughts on decentralizing legislation such as IDEA are appalling. There are some areas in education where states could have more control, but when dealing with children with disabilities of all types, we should know that we are nationally responsible for ensuring that children are obligated to receive equal opportunities in every state.
My biggest fear is that her push for ‘school choice’ will leave a great number of talented young people with no options for quality education.
Cristine Warring, a former high school math teacher in Kansas
I wasn’t allowed in the classroom as a teacher without vigorous training and testing. How is DeVos allowed to lead education with no experience?
Without ever having been in the classroom, with all the training that requires, her distance from the students we teachers strive to serve is dangerous. Visiting a classroom is not enough to understand the necessary rules (IDEA, Title IX, Title I, etc) nor is it enough to grasp the implications on our society if public education funding continues to be gutted.
Her entire experience as a parent stayed insulated within the education she could buy ― she has no experience with what it takes to educate students with vast learning differences, home life issues, and cultural norms.
Regan Long, a former special education teacher in California and Pennsylvania
I feel that once again, we see that we are putting people in authority who have no training of substance, nor with the appropriate background. It’s a shame that in education especially, we never have actual teachers who have worked their way up the ladder, be in the position to shed true light upon decision making.
Kristin Harris, a 9th grade history and humanities teacher in Phoenix, Arizona
DeVos was quoted on her belief that public school teachers are paid too much! Are you kidding me? Teachers are one of the lowest paid professions in which requires a masters degree for professional certification within the first 5 years of teaching.
So just when you think you have a handle on the never-ending student loan payments, and balancing your budget to purchase supplies that you need but your school refuses to pay for, you need to go back to graduate school just to continue to teach like you have been for the past three years.
Meanwhile the leader of federal education has a bachelors degree! And not even in Education!
Christopher Black, a high-school English and journalism teacher in San Diego, California
For me, her nomination is the right hook that followed the gut punch of Trump becoming our Commander-in-Chief.I love being a teacher, and I’m so incredibly proud of my profession. I’m surrounded by inspiring teachers who demand the most of their students, and I’m constantly impressed by the young people we teach.My favorite thing about my job is that I get to help my students find their passion or cultivate ones that are already there. My colleagues and I stress the importance of taking risks, working hard, and finishing what you started.
As a journalism teacher, I teach my students the difference between an editorial and a feature, but more critically, I stress the importance of being informed. Of being credible.
What pains me about DeVos’ nomination is the message it sends about the value of public education, and my profession in general, to this new administration.
How does one who’s never attended a public school, never sent her kids to a public school, never taught, never served on a School Board or a PTA, nor shown any pedagogical understanding (as evidenced by her recent hearings) get elevated to the highest educational position in the land? Again, what message are we sending our kids?
It’s confounding to me. It’s frustrating. It’s deflating. It bums me out, her appointment, just like Trump’s ascension as POTUS, shows the kids we’re trying to parent and educate that experience doesn’t matter. Knowledge doesn’t matter.
Natalie Affinito, a former 8th grade math teacher in Nashville, TN
I would like to start off by saying that, for me, this is not a partisan issue. It’s a qualification issue. I am a registered Republican in the state of Pennsylvania and my complete disapproval of Betsy DeVos has nothing to do with the fact that a Republican President-Elect nominated her. It has to do with the fact that my experience as a former public school teacher and a current law student relying on federal student loans tells me that Mrs. DeVos is utterly and completely unqualified to be the Secretary of Education.
Our country’s children deserve better.
As a former public school teacher, I am especially troubled by her responses to Senator Al Franken. When asked about her views on using student assessments to measure proficiency or growth, she was unable to distinguish between the two measurements. This is the most passionately debated topic in the education community.
To quote my friend Camille Loomis (a music teacher in Mississippi), “not knowing the difference between proficiency and growth is equivalent to a dentist not knowing the difference between a molar and a canine as they descend upon your mouth with a drill.” It’s a basic distinction, known by virtually everyone in the trade, and failure to understand it can lead to misguided and potentially harmful decisions.
Whatever your stance is on proficiency v. growth, you need to have one if you are going to be the Secretary of Education. A failure to understand this basic concept, one that virtually every teacher in the United States must think about on a daily basis, just demonstrates how incredibly unsuited Mrs. DeVos is to be a leader in education policy.
These quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.