Dear Madame Secretary – Those Teachers Who Are Marching Are “Thinking About the Kids”

“I think about the kids. I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.” – Betsy DeVos on April 5, 2018 according to The Dallas Morning News concerning teachers’ strike in Oklahoma.

Speaking as an educator with actual classroom experience in public schools and as a parent with children in traditional public schools, what those teachers in Oklahoma are doing really is for “the kids.” In a state that has not given a raise to teachers in almost a decade and created a revolving door of educators coming in and out of the profession because of low investment in salaries and resources, what Oklahoma has done is create an unfavorable situation for public schools.

What those teachers are demanding is for an investment in human capital because what schools are really about are the people. When a state does not pay its teachers well and resource its schools well, then those who ultimately suffer are the students. Therefore, what Oklahoma teachers are marching for are the very people Betsy DeVos is most disconnected from – public school students.

DeVos says that these protests should not have an impact on classrooms. Ironic that she does not see that what the protests are actually bringing into the bigger light is that policies championed by the state governments of places like Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Carolina are having the most negative impacts on classrooms.

The secretary of education seems to be unable to see that while teachers may not be in the classroom with students, they are still doing the job of advocating for students and schools. In fact, they are still showing up for the job; the classroom just seems to have widened and not be confined to four walls and a school building. If the entire nation is looking at Oklahoma and Kentucky and West Virginia and getting insight into what is happening in public education, then that truly is teaching and learning at its most basic form.

And DeVos does not understand that.

Those teachers who are marching and protesting are probably spending more time working for schools now than during an average school week, yet could DeVos say the same?

Remember last year’s report by the non-partisan watchdog group American Oversight on DeVos’s time on job? They released a report on DeVos’s attendance record over the first six months of her term. Six months is four months shorter than a school year as defined by federal standards.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, American Oversight was able to conclude that DeVos only showed up for work 2 out of three days (https://www.americanoversight.org/unexcused-absences-devos). An analysis by American Oversight found that during that period – which stretches from February 8th to July 19th – DeVos only completed a full day of work 67% of the time.

That’s not a good track record.

Broken down specifically, the report says:

  • 113 federally mandated work days possible (February 8 – July 19, 2017)
  • 77 full days of work (68%)
  • 21 partial days taken off (19%)
  • 15 full days taken off (13%)
  • 5 hours of work on average partial day off
  • 11 long weekends in less than six months.

And while she was gone, the Department of Education was still open, theoretically. Even schools in Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and all other states were open.

But when teachers are gone, schools cannot open for traditional classes. It seems in this equation that teachers are more vital for schools to stay open. If you hurt teachers, you hurt schools. If you hurt schools, you hurt students.

It is also interesting to see DeVos make comment on schools and areas that she really has no insight about. Remember that drastic 60 Minutes interview from last month?  The day of the 60 Minutes interview, DeVos had more than usual activity on her Twitter account. Maybe knowing her words from the interview were not as stellar as she would have hoped, she may have tried to lessen the blowback with this tweet.

DeVos

Look at that map more closely.

  • She has not traveled to West Virginia. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Kentucky. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Oklahoma. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Arizona, whose teachers are galvanizing.
  • She has not traveled to North Carolina, whose teachers are planning a day of advocacy on May 16 in Raleigh.

Seems more than a little ignorant on the part of Sec. DeVos.

If there was one statement that came from DeVos in that 60 Minutes interview which was most memorable it was this one:

“I have not– I have not– I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” – Betsy DeVos, March 11, 2018 on 60 Minutes.

Those teachers marching in Oklahoma (and the other states) intentionally not only “visit” those schools, they teach in them. They work in them. They advocate for them.

And they march for them.

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