A Very Serious Thank You Letter to Betsy DeVos

Dear Secretary DeVos,

I wanted to write you a small note to thank you for what you have done in your capacity as U.S. Secretary of Education, but not for the reasons that you might think.

It is not because of your zealous crusade to expand vouchers at the expense of traditional public schools to satisfy some sort of personal agenda. The fact that I am a public high school teacher and a parent of students who attend public schools already puts us at odds.

It is not because you displayed absolutely no comprehension of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act during your confirmation hearings. The fact that I am a father of a special needs child already casts you into extreme doubt.

It is not because you have never served in any capacity as an educator, administrator, parent, or even student. The fact that almost anyone who has worked in a public school is more qualified to be secretary of education seems apparent.

It is not because you seemed to have paid your way into your confirmation. The millions of dollars that you have poured into the coffers of lawmakers, many of whom were on the HELP committee that enabled your confirmation, is well known.

It is not because you have not approved a single application for student debt relief for the tens of thousands of students who were targeted for bad loans. Your allegiance to for-profit business over actual students was apparent before you came into office.

It is not because you removed protections for LGBT students in public schools. As Donald Trump’s nominee, it would be expected that you would continue to push his political views.

It is not because you accepted a $100,000 check for the Department of Education that would have been the president’s second quarter salary. That should go a short way to helping repay the drastic cuts in the budget for public education. It should also make a rather small dent in the almost one-million-dollar-a-month bill you have accrued just for security since you were placed under protection from U.S. Marshals.

It is not because you have surrounded yourself with more neophytes in education and left a vast number of DOE jobs vacant.

It is not because you seem to only visit charter schools and other non-traditional school settings. The fact that almost 9 out of 10 students in this country attend traditional public schools should not be a reason for actually observing public schools (or maybe it should).

It is not because you are hardly a public figure when you are the leader of the public schools. Disregarding invitations to conferences and speaking opportunities to defend your policies has actually become the norm for you and totally expected.

IT IS because you have single-handedly placed public education and its importance back into the national dialogue. And the longer you stay in your office and continue your nebulous approach to privatizing public education, you will convince more people that the need to support public schooling really is important.

IT IS because more people realize that “school choice” really does not entail “choice” at all.

IT IS because more people understand that while someone may have enough money to buy herself an office in a presidential administration, that money cannot buy a true passion for educating any child who walks through the doors of a public school. That still cannot be bought.

IT IS because by your refusal to speak with the press, you actually validate the power of the free press thus confirming that the First Amendment is a foundational part of our country’s fabric.

IT IS because your timidity at talking with special education advocacy groups that many begin to understand just how complex the issue of special education is and that it should be fully funded.

IT IS because that your failures at privatizing schools in your home state become more visible on a national stage and expose the deleterious effects of your platform.

IT IS because knowing that you supposedly lead the nation’s public school without having any public education experience, you are actually confirming that when it comes to education, preparation programs really are vital.

IT IS because when you actually leave office, whether due to a new election or the fact that you are incompetent, the focus on public education will be even more keen and the next individual in the capacity of secretary of education will almost assuredly be infinitely more qualified.

IT IS because that every day that you supposedly serve our students in public schools you validate the very reasons why I advocate for public schools and all students.

But mostly, IT IS because I have never felt so much more committed to be a public school teacher if just to help combat what you stand for.

So, thank you.

I just hope the damage you inflict can be reversed.

SB599 on Steroids – The Fast Tracking of DeVos and Johnson

Teacher resume

This past month, I wrote about SB599 in a post called The Stench of SB599.

In it I stated,

“The overall premise of this bill is to ensure that we have a proper teacher pipeline going into the schools.”  – Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R- Wilkes, in response to questions about SB599 on House floor in Raleigh on June 26.

Senate Bill 599 is the bill (as Alex Granados from EdNC.org reports), that,

“allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The measure includes private, for-profit organizations. And while the bill passed the full House, it did not survive without debate” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/06/26/educator-preparation-bill-passes-house-returns-senate/).

What that means is that for-profit outfits can make money fast-tracking teacher candidates in a rather precarious preparation programs.

In actuality, we have already experienced a manifestation of SB599 here in North Carolina, but on a larger basis.

Imagine putting together a list of possible qualifications for becoming an instructional leader of a large public school system such as a state superintendent of secretary of education in a democratically controlled country.

How much experience do you think is necessary to be that instructional leader?

Does there need to be a working knowledge of the system, the curriculum, the pedagogy, the theory?

Does there need to be a perspective that is shaped by being in the classroom and serving as an administrator?

Or can you have someone lead who has never been a part of the system before?

Take a look.

Because it seems like some leaders were fast-tracked by those who will profit by them. In DeVos’s case, she already made sure to fill the coffers of the very committee (HELP) that nominated her.

Think of it as SB599 on steroids.

Criteria Betsy DeVos Mark Johnson Veteran Public School Teachers in NC Who Have Taught For Five + Years
Has a degree in education or went through a teacher preparation program at a college or university NO NO Most all of them. Lateral Entry in most states still requires that teachers take certain preparation courses.
Has teaching experience NO YES – two school years YES –
Attended public schools NO YES – graduated from Louisiana’s equivalent of a Magnet school for math and science IF 90% of go to traditional public schools, then safe to say MOST OF THEM
Sends children to public school NO NO MOST OF THEM, if they have kids
Believes vouchers hurts traditional public schools NO NO DON’T MEET MANY WHO LIKE THEM
Supports teacher unions and teacher advocacy groups NO NO MOST DO – IF NOT WITH MEMBERSHIP, THEN DO RELY ON GROUPS TO LOBBY FOR THEM
Administrated in a school NO NO Most administrators were teachers
Been through a principal change as an educator NO NO MOST OF THEM
Been through a curriculum change NO NO YES
Seen a group of students matriculate throughout an entire school experience from beginning of high school to graduation to another level of schooling NO NO YES
Managed budgets for public funds NO Served a partial term as a local school board member but was campaigning partially during that time PROBABLY NOT
Talked to teacher advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Talked with special education advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Finished an entire term in elected office NO NO NOT APPLICABLE
Oversaw a budget that expanded resources for students in traditional public schools NO NO A GREAT MANY OF THEM ON A SMALL SCALE
Displayed understanding of IDEA and IEP law. NO NO YES
Led a school in a reaccreditation process NO NO MANY OF THEM – IT’s A SCHOLLWIDE INITIATIVE
Participated in a PTSA NO NO MANY OF THEM
Coached a public school sport NO UNKNOWN MANY OF THEM
Oversaw a budget for a school NO NO ADMINSTRATION DOES THIS
Had continuing certification NO NO YES
Mentored a younger teacher NO NO YES
Had a student teacher NO NO MANY OF THEM
Sponsored an extracurricular NO NO MOST OF THEM
Written curriculum standards NO NO MANY OF THEM
Led a professional development workshop NO NO MANY OF THEM
Published scholarly work on educational issues. NO NO SOME OF THEM
Knows difference between proficiency and growth for students NO DON’T KNOW MOST OF THEM
Meet With ALL Parents Who Request Conference NO NO YES
Keeps Open Channels of Communication with students, parents, administration, and community NO NO YES
Does Not Require an Entourage to Explain Concepts of Job NO NO YES


Results United States Secretary of Education North Carolina State Superintendent Becoming an Endangered Species




Betsy DeVos and Mark Johnson – Social Vegans in a Job For Omnivores


I came across this picture of a restaurant’s sign located in Texas, and while I am not in any way trying to criticize people’s dietary choices, I did have to chuckle.

social vegan

God knows anyone who knows me knows the dietary adventures that I have had in my life. But what this sign is saying really has more to do with how we are part of a bigger community that has some communal tables from which we eat and socialize.

Think of a food chain, yet not consuming, but rather adding and enhancing.

It is a little humorous as well that it would seem that instead of “vegan,” the sign would say “vegetarian.”

In America, we have the right to choose our friends. We have the right to not associate with certain groups. We have the right to not be a “part of” as long as we obey the law. We have the right to eat meat products. We have the right to not eat meat products. And this post is not to debate about whether or not we should judge people on that.

But if you are an elected official who claims to work for the public, you cannot be a “social vegetarian.”

Why? Because you must not eschew “meet.” You must want to devour “meet.” You need to be a social omnivore and be willing to digest whatever as given to you and must be willing to go to all of the buffets that are offered.

Especially if you are the leader of a public school system.

This past week, Betsy DeVos was invited to speak at the Office of Special Education Programs Conference.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been invited to address the audience of an annual conference in Washington sponsored by the federal office of special education programs.

The three-day OSEP Leadership Conference starts on July 17 and draws special education experts from around the country to discuss policy issues affecting students with disabilities. Her appearance would mark the first time the secretary has met with a special-education focused audience, after a bumpy introduction to the topic (http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25920011&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Fblog%2F58%2F%3Fuuid%3D72988&cmp=soc-fb-shr).

Think she showed up or even acknowledged the invite? Nope.

She was elsewhere.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is scheduled to speak in Denver next week (July 17 – ) at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative group that has successfully advocated for free-market principles at statehouses across the country (https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2017/07/13/betsy-devos-is-coming-to-denver-for-a-meeting-of-the-conservative-group-alec-and-protesters-are-ready/).

If you are a public school advocate, you may need no introduction to ALEC, but if you are unfamiliar with them, then research them and you might see why DeVos goes to get her “meet” there.

In essence, DeVos is an avowed social vegetarian. She refuses to come to the table unless she gets to choose the people who are sitting there and what they get to consume and digest. She willingly forgets that she is the one hosting the meal for all of the tables and that she doesn’t get to choose her guests. She has to serve all people.

In North Carolina, we have another social vegetarian running our public schools: Mark Johnson.

For someone who is responsible for the biggest portion of the state budget as far as education is concerned, he has successfully made sure not to show up for “dinner invitations” and makes reservations at private clubs where he cannot be disturbed by the very people he should be “dining” with.

In fact, Johnson, while being a social vegetarian, is actually allowing food to be taken away from other tables when he should be advocating for bigger portions and more nutrition.

Support for needy districts and key positions within North Carolina’s top public school agency may be in jeopardy this week as the State Board of Education mulls ways to pass down millions in legislative cuts.

Officials confirmed that the State Board of Education could vote as early as Wednesday on how to dish out $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered funding reductions for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican, turned over multiple options for distributing the cuts to the state board, which has provided feedback behind closed doors, Policy Watch has learned. Neither the board nor Johnson’s office would turn over specific details given the cuts broach confidential personnel matters.

Yet programs likely on the chopping block this week include offices that provide services and support for local school districts, including intervention efforts in low-performing regions, state board Chair Bill Cobey confirmed (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/18/general-assembly-ordered-cuts-likely-hamper-services-poor-rural-schools/).

This report gets better.

Superintendent Johnson did not agree to an interview with Policy Watch for this report.

The state budget also bars school board members from making up the lost cash with transfers from various GOP-backed education initiatives, including the controversial Innovation School District—which provides for charter takeovers of low-performing schools—and other programs such as Teach for America, Read to Achieve, and positions in the superintendent’s office.

The budget reduction, which slashes operational funds for the department by 6 percent this year and another 13.9 percent (about $7.3 million) next year, comes amid years of criticisms and similar budget reductions led by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Notice which programs are not getting “less food” on the table.

It seems that when you are in public office, you need to be more than willing to “meet” with the public.

DeVos and Johnson’s choices to avoid the “meet” are not for health reasons, but rather for political motives and to hide the fact that they do not have the teeth, the stomach, and the ability to digest all that encompasses leading public schools.

Dear Secretary DeVos, From Malcolm, A Special Normal Public School Kid

Dear Secretary DeVos,

My name is Malcolm and I just finished third-grade in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system. I have vibrant red-hair and blue eyes like my mom, wear cool glasses, have a wicked follow through on my jump shot, and am quite the dancer. My dad also wears glasses, but he does not dance very well nor has much hair. My sister is in high school. She is very smart and she helps me with my homework.

I also have an extra chromosome because of a condition called Trisomy 21. You may know it as Down Syndrome. It does not define me. It just is, but I do need a little extra help in school and in learning other skills on how to be independent.

I am having my daddy write this letter for me. He is a teacher in a public high school. In fact, I spend a lot of time at his school going to games and functions. A lot of people know me there like they do at my own school. My having an extra chromosome doesn’t seem to scare them so much because in the end we are all more alike than different anyway.

But I am worried about some of the things that have happened in public schools since I have started going. I am also worried about how students like me are being treated since you and President Trump have been in office.

My daddy has noticed you like this thing called “school choice” and that the budget that you and Mr. Trump like puts more money into this. Yet it really seems to have done a lot to weaken public schools like not fully give money to them or give them resources so that all kids in public schools can be successful. It seems that some money went to this thing called “vouchers” and some has been used to help make other types of schools – schools that will not accept me.

When I got ready to go to school a few years ago, one of my grandparents offered to pay tuition at any school that could help me the most, but none around here would take me because I have a certain type of developmental delay. Doesn’t seem like I had much choice.

But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning because of the good teachers and the teacher assistants. Imagine what could happen if my school could have every resource to accommodate my needs.

When people in power have taken away resources, teacher assistants and forced local school systems to make due with less money, then all students, especially students like me, are not being helped as much. And it’s not our teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of those who control what we get.

You and Mr. Trump control a lot of what we get.

My family is very aware of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It says that I am entitled by law to a sound and quality public education that will work to overcome my obstacles like any other student. We were surprised that you were not aware of IDEA when you were asked earlier this year. That law is my lifeline. And there are many students who do not have the advantages that I have. Some have more obstacles and more physical hurdles to overcome. They really need for you to step up for them. Part of your job is to protect that law.

But this budget that you seem to like does not really help to strengthen that.

The Individual Education Plan that I have that my school and parents put together is backed by federal law. That means that you are supposed to protect it.

But this budget and your actions do not seem to want to honor that.

I think you should stand up more for students like me. I think you should fight more for public schools. I think that you should be loud about it. Make everyone know your commitment to public school children and their teachers and the staffs at each school as many times as you can.

I can be loud. It’s easy. I let my presence be known all of the time. It’s how others know I am there. But I have to be there.

It seems that if you are the leader of the public schools in the nation, then you would be more of a champion for public schools. You would show up at places when asked to talk about what is going on in schools.

Like accepting invitations to places and conferences.

I know that you were invited to speak at the Office of Special Education Programs Leadership Conference this next week. My daddy says that you have never met with a special-education advocacy group before. Why?

Why have you not accepted the chance to talk to the very people who need to hear you talk? These are the people who help make sure that I have what I need because I depend on the public schools.

In fact, my daddy says that you do not really talk to those who really need you to explain your views on education and why you seem to like some types of schools more than others.


Shouldn’t you be willing to talk?

My daddy goes to work every school day and teaches the students who show up for school. He does not get to choose his students. But that does not matter to him.

I go to school and my teacher did not get to choose what students she got to have. But she teaches me anyway.

If you are the secretary of education for the whole country, then shouldn’t you be willing to go anywhere to talk about school?


Special Normal Public School Kid


The UnFAIR VANITY of Betsy DeVos

I have never read the William Makepeace Thackery Victorian novel Vanity Fair.

Never will. But I would like to meet someone whose middle name is Makepeace.

My understanding is that it is a somewhat satirical look at English society, but when I look at the title, I immediately think of the iconic magazine Vanity Fair which comes out monthly and has some of the best covers a magazine rack can hold.

And it has a good reputation for journalistic integrity.

Image result for vanity fair cover

This month’s issue has a small feature in it’s “Hive” section which is a nice little title for what is “buzzing” in the country.

On Betsy DeVos. It is entitled “IN SEARCH OF THE ELUSIVE BETSY DEVOS – The Education Secretary seems be ducking the press.”

In keeping with holding public figures accountable to the public (i.e. Mark Johnson – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/07/13/when-the-leader-of-the-public-schools-refuses-to-be-part-of-the-public/) , this offers a very good look into the purposeful reluctance to be seen with members of the press by DeVos.

It’s worth the read.








A Thank You to Attorney General Josh Stein and Alfred E. Neuman

This past week attorneys generals from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed suit against Betsy DeVos over the freezing of an Obama-era law that protected students from predatory for-profit colleges (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/07/06/attorneys-general-sue-devos-over-delay-of-rule-to-protect-students-from-predatory-colleges/?utm_term=.655b1c73bf41).

One of those attorneys general was North Carolina’s Josh Stein.

And he should be commended.

With a recent budget proposal by a vindictive General Assembly seeking revenge becasue he won his election against Buck Newton, Stein is faced with a %40 reduction on his budget. Yet, he still did the right thing in protecting vulnerable students from being taken advantage of (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article159916209.html).

He’s doing something that Betsy DeVos is supposed to do – work for students.

And he’s in an office that he was elected to do by the people, not appointed because he “bought” his way into office.

And speaking of being “qualified.” DeVos was honored this year with something that no other secretary of education has ever been honored with before: a MAD Magazine expose.


Not kidding. Here’s the link – http://www.madmagazine.com/blog/2017/02/07/a-betsy-devos-poster-wed-like-to-see.

The Interrogatophobia of Betsy DeVos – Or, The Secretary’s Kryptonite

Interrogatophobia – (noun)

  1. The fear of being asked a straightforward question

This post is not to dissect the various times that Betsy DeVos has appeared before a congressional committee to comment on her impending confirmation or her policies for protecting all students under the umbrella of civil rights. As the leader of the nation’s public school system, she has clearly shown an ineptitude worthy of remediation when it comes to answering questions about policy and law.

But she has to go to those meetings.

It’s where she chooses to go and not go that really answers a lot of questions, figuratively speaking. Why? Because Betsy DeVos chooses to go places where she does not have to answer questions.

Straightforward questions are her kryptonite. She’s deathly afraid of them.


She avoids them like the plague which is why she declined an invitation to the recent Education Writers Association convention in the very town where she works, Washington D.C.

Mind you that every other secretary of education has addressed the convention (albeit not every year). It would have been an opportune time for DeVos to clarify some of her policies and positions.

But alas.

As reported on The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss,

Every U.S. education secretary has found time to address the Education Writers Association convention, and the organization was hoping that Betsy DeVos would agree to do the same thing at its 2017 convention in Washington. It’s not happening.

Caroline Hendrie, EWA executive editor, said the association invited DeVos to speak at the convention right after she was confirmed by the Senate as education secretary on Feb. 7 (which, you may remember, happened only after Mike Pence broke a tie in the Senate, becoming the first vice president in history to do so for a Cabinet nominee).

When no response was forthcoming, Hendrie said the invitation was renewed several times, but it was not until late April that a staff member at the Education Department called to decline. Why? According to Hendrie, “They couldn’t make it work for her schedule.”

The Education Department did not respond to a query about why they couldn’t make it work (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/05/12/betsy-devos-was-asked-to-address-education-reporters-at-their-annual-convention-she-said-no/?utm_term=.78cb4cf55585).

It does not take a mental stretch to know why she did not show; it is filled with reporters. Reporters ask questions.

Damn questions.

And those questions demand answers.

Strauss continues,

DeVos has not made herself easily available — or available at all — to reporters who are covering her, and the Education Department does not always respond to questions posed by education journalists. Now she is declining an opportunity to address the journalists who cover her.  Some would call that a missed opportunity.

Think of DeVos as a teacher and reporters as students. We like to think that students should be inquisitive. If DeVos is the leader of the public school system of the nation, should she not be the first to be willing to answer a question or two?

If not, then she opens herself to scrutiny. JUST LIKE A TEACHER. Imagine if the teacher refuses to answer the questions posed by a parent or guardian? An administrator? A school board member? A legislator?

But DeVos is totally ready to present herself as a speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Denver summer conference this July.

According to a press release,

ALEC is pleased to announce that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be joining us for our 44th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

“Secretary DeVos has been a stalwart champion of educational choice in the states, elevating the outcry over the status quo to the highest levels of government,” said Inez Stepman, Education and Workforce Development Task Force Director.

DeVos is serving as the 11th United States Secretary of Education. She was confirmed by the Senate on February 7, 2017. Secretary DeVos has been involved in education policy for nearly three decades as an advocate for children and a voice for parents.

DeVos served as an in-school mentor for at-risk children in the Grand Rapids, Michigan Public Schools for 15 years.

Don’t miss your chance to hear Secretary DeVos speak and all of our great speakers at our annual meeting July 19-21 in Denver, Colorado.

If you don’t know what ALEC is then do some research, especially if you are in North Carolina because here in North Carolina, your General Assembly is literally enacting every policy in public education that ALEC has conceived. Think:

  • Vouchers
  • Charters
  • School choice
  • Education Savings Accounts
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.

Mercedes Schneider, a leading voice in public school activism and a wicked researcher, published a book in 2014 called A Chronicle of Echoes in which she explains the various forces that are working in the education “reform”ing movement. One chapter deals with ALEC.

It opens,

If the education reform movement were reduced to a single organization, that organization would be the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has existed for decades and is omnipresent in reformer circles, yet this colossal engine for privatization has managed to elude exposure until 2012. Though it might seem incredulous, through its membership, ALEC is present in every chapter in this book. Make no mistake: Privatization belongs to ALEC.

ALEC was formally organized in September 1973 in Chicago, Illinois, and received its 501(c)3, “nonprofit” designation in 1977. ALEC describes itself as, “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty” Chapter 24).

ALEC won’t ask DeVos questions. ALEC gives DeVos direction on how to privatize a public institution.

ALEC fills DeVos’s coffers with money and resources. ALEC validates DeVos and in return she validates them.

This is akin to the teacher who refuses to answer questions pertaining to the curriculum for inquiring, intellectually thirsty students during class, but incoherently rushes straight to the bell so she does not have to interact with students beyond a cursory level.

That’s not just fear.

That’s abominable.

Dodgeball – Another Thing Betsy DeVos Is Really Bad At

In defending Donald Trump’s horrific budget proposal today for education on Capitol Hill, Betsy DeVos proved that she had not really learned anything about giving straightforward answers to deservedly pointed questions since her historic confirmation hearing.

The video below is from an exchange with Rep. Katherine Clark of Mass.

It is eye-opening.

Judge for yourself.



Betsy DeVos at Bethune-Cookman University – Free Speech at Its Best

Before you judge how the students at the commencement exercises at Bethune-Cookman University behaved while Betsy DeVos delivered her address, please remember there is a history that the students there are very aware of that extends well beyond just DeVos’s background.

Consider this.


And then consider this.


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday withdrew a series of policy memos issued by the Obama administration to strengthen consumer protections for student loan borrowers.

The Education Department is in the middle of issuing new contracts to student loan servicing companies that collect payments on behalf of the agency. These middlemen are responsible for placing borrowers in affordable repayment plans and keeping them from defaulting on their loans. But in the face of mounting consumer complaints over poor communication, mismanaged paperwork and delays in processing payments, the previous administration included contract requirements to shore up the quality of servicing. Companies complained that the demands would be expensive and unnecessarily time consuming” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/04/11/devos-dials-back-consumer-protections-for-student-loan-borrowers/?utm_term=.63707bb6887a).

Here is a link to the video of the actual commencement speech. Go to about 1 hour and four minutes into it.

Just watch.



Interestingly enough, DeVos talked about Mary McLeod Bethune being a hero of hers. And then I read this quote from Awesomely Luvvie’s Blog Post (http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2017/05/bethune-cookman-2017-grads-betsy-devos.html).

“If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves. We should, therefore, protest openly everything … that smacks of discrimination or slander.” – Mary McLeod Bethune

Did DeVos remember that quote?

Those students sure did.

Betsy DeVos – Pleasant Platitudes and The “Status Quo Fallacy”

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.”

devos oped

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.