Betsy DeVos’s most recent op-ed may have been intended to smooth over some of the rough edges of her brief tenure as the most unqualified secretary of education ever, but it actually shows her reliance on two rather tiring strategies as it pertains to reforming public education: “pleasant platitudes” and the “status quo fallacy.”
The text of DeVos’s cliché’-ridden statement can be found here – http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/04/i_support_all_schools_that_put.html.
The title of the op-ed – “I support all schools that put students first” – is an ignorant, yet pleasant, platitude that not only shows her total disconnect with her duties as the secretary of education, but that her viewpoint of public education is from the exterior because she has never been a part of the system itself as a student, teacher, administrator, parent, or leader.
Why is it ignorant? Because aren’t all schools trying to put students first already?
Some of you may say no. Then I would challenge you to see what is keeping those schools from “putting kids first.”
And “failing test scores” or “not teaching students” are not ample answers because if you really want to see what might be holding students back, it probably has more to do with conditions that surround them in their lives and in their communities rather than just the schools.
Take for example my home state. The school performance grading system here in North Carolina may be a means for a polarizing General Assembly to identify schools that “don’t put students first,” but what that system really shows is that poverty affects communities in such a way that schools in those areas are dealing with many more variables than they are resourced to cope with effectively.
In reality, that system shows where lawmakers are not putting communities first.
And DeVos’s “pleasant platitudes” keep coming in the first few paragraphs even as she opens her op-ed with two personal “facts.”
“In today’s polarized environment, it can often be hard to discern the truth. So allow me to lay out two facts plainly and clearly:
I believe every student should have an equal opportunity to get a great education.
And I believe many of those great educations are, and will continue to be, provided by traditional public schools.”
Those should be very nice words to hear if you are a public school teacher. “Equal opportunity” and “great educations” provided by “traditional public schools” sounds great.
But considering that she opens up with the words “polarized environment,” it is hard not to think of how much DeVos herself has been a part of that very polarization. Here is a woman who has contributed money directly to institutions such as:
- The Acton Institute
- The American Enterprise Institute
- The Council For National Policy
- The Federalist Society
- The Heritage Foundation
- The Mackinac Center For Public Policy
Anyone can research the “unpolarizing” actions of these groups.
There is also the now famous quote she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call in 1997.
“I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment. People like us must surely be stopped.”
No. That’s not polarizing at all.
Then (back to the op-ed) DeVos lets out her credo. Her driving principle. Her maxim. Her apothegm.
“School choice is pro-parent and pro-student.”
That statement alone has triggered more debate than I could ever begin to tackle in this post, but I will offer Jason Blakely’s recent Atlantic expose’ entitled “How School Choice Turns Education Into a Commodity” as a starting place and invite DeVos to explain how her view of school choice does not create losers in a competitive market. That article can be found here – https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/04/is-school-choice-really-a-form-of-freedom/523089/.
DeVos then tries to pull off a maneuver that many others in the re-forming movement have done to justify their actions in altering the landscape of public education: changing the “status quo.”
“What we will not do, however, is accept the status quo simply because it’s how things have always been done. We owe the rising generation more than that. The complexities they will face in life look very little like the environment of the mid-19th-century, which underpins much of the thinking behind our current educational system.”
And what DeVos and people like her conveniently ignore, forget, or simply misunderstand is that she is actually the “status quo.”
Consider the following quotes:
“The heat is already intense not just because it involves the future of our children but also because a lot of money is at stake. Essentially, it’s a debate between those in the education establishment who support the status quo because they have a financial stake in the system and those who seek to challenge the status quo because it’s not serving kids well.” – Mitt Romney in the Washington Post endorsing DeVos, January 6, 2017.
“We just can’t accept the status quo in education anymore.” – Sen. Joe Lieberman at DeVos hearing, January 16, 2017.
Asked by George Stephanopoulos what the single most important thing teachers could do to ensure the success of the Common Core, Gates’ answer was simple: The status quo must go. “Grasping the standards requires more than just the standards being present themselves, and disrupting the status quo is key to maximizing individual attention available to each student to ensure their success.”– “Bill Gates: Common Core misunderstood by opponents” (http://www.educationdive.com/news/bill-gates-common-core-misunderstood-by-opponents/239635/).
What Romney, Lieberman, and Gates, and now DeVos consider the “status quo” is intrinsically linked to a final product, measured by standardized testing and other mercurial measurements.
However, the real “status quo” is not really linked to that final product. It is more a reflection of the constant infusion of reform models that have altered the process by which public schools have been able to teach our children. The truth is that the existing state of public education is always being subjected to scrutiny, modification, alteration, and change from outside forces for political or profit-minded reasons.
What I would consider the “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.
Again and again each has misinterpreted the situation of public education because there really has been no “status quo” in public education. If anything, the terrain of public education has been in a state of constant flux for the past thirty years. With the “Nation at Risk” report to “No Child Left Behind” to the advent of high stakes testing to the innumerable business models infused into education to “Race to the Top” to Common Core to charter school movement to vouchers, the thought of even calling what we have had in our country “status quo” is not just wrong –
It’s ignorant. And it is purposefully done. That’s how we get Betsy DeVos, the most unqualified candidate for secretary of education, as a cabinet member of a president who touts his business acumen.
If one were to simply look at all of the initiatives introduced into public education (both nationally and state-based) while considering changes in curriculum and requirements, that person would see an ever changing landscape.
If one were to track all of the tests that have been constructed, graded, and disseminated by “experts” outside of public education, that person would see that measurements that grade students and schools are like invisible targets constantly being moved without any warning.
Ironically, the conversation about changing the “status-quo” in public education has been fueled more by the business world and politicians who have been altering the terrain of public education with “reforms.”
A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, ACT, standardized tests, achievement gap, graduation rates, merit pay, charter schools, parent triggers, vouchers, value added-measurements, virtual schools, Teach For America, formal evaluations – there are so many variables, initiatives, and measurements that constantly change without consistency which all affect public schools and how the public perceives those schools.
If there is any “status quo” associated with the public schools, it’s that there are always outside forces acting on the public school system which seek to show that they are failing our kids.
DeVos is one of those forces.
That’s the status quo that should not be accepted.