Betsy Knows Best? Checking in With Secretary DeVos

Oh, Secretary DeVos. We knew it might not be easy for you. You demonstrated a remarkable lack of understanding during your confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Education. I think everyone who saw your confirmation hearing as it was replayed over and over again had serious doubts about how you would manage our public school system. I opposed your nomination, yes, but once you were confirmed, I figured that it was worth giving you some faith. Maybe you would surprise us all with your informed, levelheaded management of the Department of Education.

Given what’s been going on in federal education policy, I’m not encouraged.

Two major events have taken place over the past week that have been pretty alarming to me. The first was your visit to a public school. You don’t have very much experience with public schools, so this was, I’m sure, a unique day for you. Your initial comments were kind– you called the school “wonderful.” That didn’t engender any worry in me. However, as the New York Times reports (everyone’s favorite source of fake news), you then trashed the teachers on a right-wing blog. You implied that they don’t have the skills to make sure that their students reach the highest levels of achievement possible by saying that the teachers operate in “receive mode”.

Attacking teachers is not the prerogative of the Secretary of Education, Mrs. DeVos.

Your job is to motivate everyone who enters the teaching profession. Your job is to make sure that teachers feel empowered by the person who acts as the highest authority in education policy in this country. How are teachers supposed to do their jobs when they feel even the appearance of mistrust from the Secretary of Education?

In the same interview where you criticized teachers, you confirmed that you would be satisfied with the abolition of the Department of Education. May I ask you, then, who would make sure that civil rights are respected in every school across this country? Who would fund and oversee federal financial aid for college? Who would make sure that no student is discriminated against because of their disability status, or their religion, or their sexuality, or their gender identity? Believe it or not, these are all important functions of the federal government.

Case in point: the administration in which you serve rolled back some of the protections for transgender students that President Obama put in place. This happen at your Department of Education, on your watch. Yes, you did oppose the administration’s rollback of these provisions, but what difference does it really make? You signed off on them to avoid going against the administration. Even if you don’t agree with the Trump administration’s actions, this signals that you’re willing to go along with them. Any moderation that exist in your views, therefore, is essentially meaningless to me.

Secretary DeVos, we need someone at the top of the Department of Education who will fight for teachers tooth and nail. We also need someone who’s willing to fight the Trump administration when they’re wrong (and I’d bet that they’re going to be wrong many more times before these four years are over). You might not be that person yet, but you still can be. All it takes is for you to do the right thing. I’ll be waiting patiently for that to happen.

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