Today, the Senate voted 50-50 to confirm Betsy Devos as secretary of Education. It was so close and so contested that VP Mike Pence was brought in to cast the final vote.
Maybe you’re not a teacher; here’s why you should still care and what that means for you.
Since Betsy Devos rose to prominence in November 2016, very little of the coverage has impacted my main concern, which has churned in my stomach since. As a teacher, I immediately Googled her, since I didn’t recognize her name.
I saw the same things many of y’all saw: never taught in a public school, sent her kids to a private school, worked with large educational organizations. All three of those are also true of Arne Duncan, the prior Secretary of Education.
Who happens to look like Tim Curry.
So what makes Devos scarier than Duncan? You’ve probably seen a zillion reasons to hate or praise her, some of which may be true for Duncan, also. For me, it’s one word that makes the educator and parent in me cringe:
In Michigan, Betsy Devos lobbied for the expansion of charter schools, even when they underperformed their publicly-staffed counterparts. As a teacher, I fight an uppity reflex when I hear about classrooms that inadequately prepare students for the future.
I taught in a high school like that, and it was a gross feeling when former students sent me emails that said, “I am so unprepared for college. I’m in three remedial classes and I’ll probably need a 5th year to graduate.”
The New Yorker is concerned that, if we begin to funnel public dollars into private schools without holding them to the same standards, there’s no guarantee that our graduated students will have any minimum set of skills.
That’s a fair — and scary — concern.
As of this writing, there are 25 voucher programs in the country (14 states), serving some 176,000 students. That sounds like a lot, but we have roughly 50 million students in the country.
What happens to the remaining 99.6% of our kids who still attend public schools?
Even if vouchers are expanded and more US students attend private schools instead, what happens to those left behind in public schools with no money and poor teachers? And for those in private and charter schools, Devos has given no indication that they be held to the same minimum standards as public schools.
All students deserve a quality education; I’m not convinced Devos will get them there.
The world probably won’t implode, my middle-class, white children will probably have a fine K-12 education, and I — the public education employee — will continue to ask tough questions and advocate for quality public education.
And the silver lining to Betsy Devos getting confirmed: it’s gonna force us to have some hard conversations about what we want school to be.
~Matt “Trying real hard to be objective” Vaudrey
UPDATE: 15 February 2017
Tweets like this can be read either way. I’m choosing to hope for the best.
I’m honored to serve, and I look forward to discussing how we give every student in America an equal opportunity for a great education.
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) February 15, 2017