This morning, the morning of the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, I heard Steve Schmidt, an experienced Republican strategist, say that 48 Republican Senators know that Betsy DeVos is incompetent but do not want to spend their political capital by opposing her with a “No” vote. They would wait, he said, for a more important issue. How sad that at least one of those Senators who knows that she is unfit could not say to himself or herself: This is the place where I put my stake in the ground. This is where I begin to oppose what is ethically and legally and politically wrong with Donald Trump and his administration. Here I stand. And it is only the beginning for me.
But not one of those 48 Republican Senator had the character to vote for what he or she knew was best for the children of this country. We will not forget what they did. We will vote them out.
In the meantime, what shall we do?
The good news is that no one doubts that Betsy DeVos is incompetent so there is room for those of us with real competence about education to speak out, to advocate, to resist, and to educate the country about how children learn, about what good teaching is, about what good curriculum is, about how to best assess students, and about how public education is necessary to keep our democracy.
We must admit that Betsy DeVos is not the first person on the national scene who knew nothing or very little about teaching and learning. Bill Gates paid for the Common Core Standards and knows nothing about teaching and learning. David Coleman wrote the Common Core Standards and knows nothing about teaching and learning. Arne Duncan, who had been a director of an elementary school mentoring program and the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools but had no experience with the teaching and learning of K-12 students, knew little. He privileged charter schools and high stakes standardized testing. John King, who taught only one year in a traditional public school, also knew little about teaching and learning. He continued the anti-public school policies of Arnie Duncan and favored publicly funded, privately managed charter schools. So we have been going down the wrong road since 2001 due to the enactment of No Child Left Behind with its focus on standardized testing and its refusal to look at the root issues that produce differences in student achievement.
Betsy DeVos is just the end result of an almost 16 year journey. I choose to believe that most of the forerunners of Betsy De Vos were well intentioned but unknowing and misguided. Betsy DeVos, however, is a caricature of a public school educator. Her intention has long been to end public education as an institution of this democracy. She has given her time and her money for that goal, and she now has the power to accomplish it.
We must step in.
I suggest that every educator in Connecticut and every parent in Connecticut pick one of the following issues to give time and energy:
- Oppose charter schools which are funded by public taxes but which have no transparency about what they do with taxpayer money and no accountability for the education that they provide with that taxpayer money and no record of being more successful than traditional public schools. Address the General Assembly and local boards of education. Demand transparency and accountability.
- Write in print and for online publications and speak to the media about what the data clearly shows are the inadequacies of standardized testing to assess student achievement, teaching expertise, or quality of schools.
- Write in print and online publications and speak to the media about the tawdriness of the Common Core Standards and how focusing school curriculum on the Common Core Standards denies students the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.
- Be a watchdog regarding the Connecticut State Budget to make sure that there are adequate funds allocated to education and that the distribution of those funds is equitable. Testify to the General Assembly. Contact your elected representatives.
- Oversee full and accurate reporting about graduation rates, K-12 student performance, and college retention rates for graduates of all Connecticut schools funded with taxpayer money.
How will you do this? Where will you get the resources?
We have the force of our passion and our solidarity with one another, and we have two excellent resources:
- The Network for Public Education is leading the charge nationally and will provide you with research and all the resources that you need.
- Here in Connecticut, a new group, Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools, is comprised of educators in K-12 schools as well as in colleges and universities, lawyers, and concerned citizens who are knowledgeable about Connecticut legislation, Connecticut schools, and the research about teaching and learning. Members of that group will provide you with information and help you to strategize.
A friend of mine at the Women’s March in Washington DC carried a sign that said:
THESE ARE THE TIMES FOR WHICH WE WERE MADE.
Indeed. Let’s get busy.