A year ago I sent Betsy DeVos a letter on behalf of American teachers. It felt like it was important for her to meet us in light of the fact that she had no background in public schools and had actually spent her entire adult life working to shift tax dollars away from public schools into the hands of those who want to turn a profit in the “education business.” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/an-introduction-from-public-school-teachers-to-betsy_us_5845e2fbe4b0707e4c8171a3) In the letter to Ms. DeVos I said, “America’s public schools are here to serve EVERY kid. As the teachers who keep those schools ticking, all that we ask is that you listen to us.” Well, it’s a year later and I don’t feel as though she’s listening. In honesty, the Secretary’s lack of curiosity about America’s public schools is pretty insulting.
It appears that that she has recognized that she lacks the knowledge and authority to inflict most of her vision for education on America’s K-12 schools, so she has focused much of her energy and attention on American higher education. For instance, DeVry University, a large for-profit “educational” institution recently settled a $100 million lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission because DeVry misled students regarding employment rates and income levels available to students upon graduation (https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/12/devry-university-agrees-100-million-settlement-ftc). Secretary DeVos’s response was to hire Julian Schmoke, Jr. to be in charge of policing fraud in higher education. Here is the thing though, Mr. Schmoke, Jr. was a Dean at DeVry University. So, as you might guess, Mr. Schmoke is spending his time deregulating the for-profit college industry. “From Day One, Secretary DeVos and her advisers have chosen to side with predatory for-profit schools over the interests of students and taxpayers,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in an interview. “What they've done is actually make it easier for schools to cheat these students.” (https://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/31/devos-trump-forprofit-college-education-242193)
In addition to making it easier for these for-profit schools to scam vulnerable students, Secretary DeVos has also chosen to dedicate her time and energy to roll back protections for sexual assault victims on college campuses and has stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. But, to say that she has dedicated herself entirely to post-secondary education would be unfair. In October, Secretary DeVos rolled back 72 policy documents that specifically detailed the rights of disabled children in schools. In doing so, the Department of Education is stepping away from providing school districts with guidance as to how to protect our most vulnerable students. Don Moynihan from the University of Wisconsin has argued that states and schools now “have de-facto-discretion…to deny access to services.”
I promise you that in schools throughout the country teachers are spending their time asking what it is that we want students to learn, figuring out how we will determine if they’ve learned it, what we are going to do if they haven’t learned it, and what we can offer to our students who already know the material. Those conversations are happening simultaneously with conversations about how we can differentiate instruction to ever-growing class sizes, how we move away from simply measuring students based on grades and standardized tests and begin to measure whether they have the skills and dispositions that will allow them to be successful in the 21st century, and teachers are also talking about how we help meet the needs of students who are coming to us with incredible challenges outside of our school walls.
The truth is that having Ms. DeVos in charge of the Department of Education is an insult to those of us who work in public education. She has an agenda, and that agenda is to guide our limited resources towards those who wish to profit off of our schools. She would be best served to pursue that agenda outside of the Department of Education. The young people of America’s public schools deserve a leader whose mission is to help ALL students grow. The young people of America deserve a leader who will protect ALL students rather than protect the businesses that seek to profit off of them. The truth is that Ms. DeVos is exactly what we thought she would be and that is dangerous for the future of public schools in our country.