DeVos: Out of Touch, Out of Line, and Unfit

So far, Trump's idea of a "Great America" features a White House composed of majority white men and billionaires.  Many of his cabinet and agency head nominees are individuals who want to destroy the departments they are being asked to lead. Trump's chief strategists include racists and bigots like himself, and incompetent people who are unfit or unwilling to serve the interest of the general public above their personal gain. All of this is consistent with the overall theme of his campaign and candidacy.

When choosing nominees for his cabinet, Trump apparently did not go out and find the best and the brightest in their fields. In an attempt to inject some diversity in his cabinet, he tapped, renowned neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has zero experience in the work of the department he was nominated to lead. And Billionaire Betsy DeVos, with her long track record as an adversary of public education, is Trump's pick to head the United States Department of Education, the nation's public education authority.

The full scope of public education in our country is long overdue for reform. The notion that the whole system  is wrong and should just be done away with is not the answer, but that’s been DeVos' approach. I am one that believes that judging the entirety of anything by the least common example is the easiest way to adopt false notions and misguided prejudice as fact. DeVos has no experience as a public school teacher, or as parent of publicly schooled children, or as a public school student herself--so it is bothersome that Devos formed this uninformed opinion. Taking such an approach can negate the progress we have made thus far. Though education in our country was never great, we have seen our public schools trending in the right direction.

DeVos has no education degree. I will be the first to admit that one does not need to possess an education degree to be an educator. After all, teachers come in many forms. However, we are talking about someone who is being considered to lead the country's public education authority. As such, one who leads in this capacity should be adept with educational philosophy, pedagogy, concepts and evidence-based practice. At the very least, the Secretary of Education should have some industry knowledge other than turning education into profit, and skills to offer to inform his or her opinions and decisions.

DeVos' answers during her confirmation hearing were very troubling for many reasons. From suggesting that guns be allowed in school to ward off attacks from Grizzlies to not being able to differentiate between growth and proficiency, she seemed out of touch with the realities of public education in our country. In awkward moments of coached smiles and non-committal answers, Devos failed to demonstrate even a passing knowledge of the basic issues at the heart of education.

When asked what her thoughts were on the growth vs. proficiency debate, DeVos could not differentiate between the two metrics nor opine on the subject. The head of the governing body that is responsible for setting the federal mandate for assessments not having any inkling as to how we ought to assess students is troubling. This discussion is critical as we continue to work to reform education and build systems of equity for the most under-resourced communities and schools. Without knowledge of the subject matter, Devos is not able to join the discussion.

In a time where reformers are seeking to remove barriers for children and create environments that support individualized levels of success for students, it is important that we eliminate all forms of assessment that look at students from a deficit model. Assessing children using individualized growth goals is the best way to ensure we’re building thoughtful people that can problem solve, work collaboratively, and think critically.

Education is still funded at 2008 levels, but the nominee for Secretary of Education believes public school teachers are overpaid. This belief offers no consideration of the fact that teachers now have to learn new ways to teach more material as we shift to Common Core.

I come from a family of educators. After teaching sixth grade, my mother taught pre-school most of her career. She worked long days, and the moment she walked through the door from work, she got food on the table and got ready for the next day. My mother had little to no free time and money was always tight.

When I was in high school, my cousin was the activities director. She was also my neighbor and my ride to and from school. She spent long nights and weekends planning and preparing for lessons, meetings, events, and activities. I was fortunate to see what the lengths educators go to provide students with opportunities they otherwise would not have.

The amount of time and effort my mother and cousin dedicated to their craft never matched the compensation they received. This reality is not unique to them--it’s something most public school teachers experience.

The myth of the overpaid public school teachers is harmful. The truth is that low pay is one of the key reasons we lose great teachers and educators to other professions, and also one of the reasons many communities are facing teacher shortages today. True, some great teachers will take on the task of educating children no matter what the pay is. But given the tremendous impact teachers have on society, this dilemma is one that our teachers should never have to contemplate. It is a disservice to our students and their families. As we are asking more of students, we are also asking more of our teachers; their pay should reflect that. So too should public education funding.

Betsy DeVos is out of touch, out of line and unfit for to be our nation's Secretary of Education. When she appeared with Donald Trump on his victory lap in Michigan, she pledged to "Make Education Great Again." What she meant was she hoped to advance her business of making education more profitable for private interests. Gross inequities have persisted in education for more than a century, so I am curious as to what point in history she would say that education was "great."

With Trump at the helm, our country is headed back to the days when our government valued the dollar over the people; this is a direction that we just cannot afford. Too much is at stake, and our children's futures should not be.