“We need an outsider to come in and change things up for the better.”
“Our education system needs some radical changes if it’s going to improve.”
I’ve heard both of these things, and their derivatives, in the days since Donald Trump announced that Betsy DeVos was his choice for Secretary of Education. I agree that we need radical change in how we approach education in America. I vehemently disagree that appointing yet another outsider with no understanding of education is the way to achieve that change.
In America, we tend to equate wealth with knowledge. I don’t mean to imply that Betsy DeVos is unintelligent, but I do mean that her large bank accounts do not qualify her to make decisions on education policy. We’ve also listened to the education ideas of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and it turns out that they might not be education experts either.
We’ve got a long, rich history of letting people from outside the field of education determine education policy, and Betsy DeVos is a continuation of that tradition. Below is a list of previous Secretaries of Education, and their jobs prior to their cabinet appointments:
Shirley Hufstedler – Lawyer and judge
Terrel Bell – HS teacher, bus driver, public school superintendent
Bill Bennett – Executive director, National Humanities Center
Lauro Cavazos – College professor
Lamar Alexander – Court clerk, legislative assistant, Governor of Tennessee
Richard Riley – South Carolina state legislator, Governor of South Carolina
Rod Paige – HS teacher, college professor, public school superintendent
Margaret Spellings – Political director, senior adviser to George W. Bush
Arne Duncan – CEO of Chicago Public Schools
John King – Charter school teacher, NY commissioner of education
Betsy DeVos (nominee) – Chairman, Windquest Group, private/charter school activist
Since the position of Secretary of Education was established in 1979, 10 people have held the position. Only three of those people had experience in K-12 education prior to their appointment. Only two of those people have had extensive experience in traditional public schools. Perhaps the “radical change” we need to improve our nation’s schools should involve the appointment of a candidate who has dedicated their lives to public education. Who would better understand the challenges facing American schools and teachers than somebody who has spent an extensive amount of time both attending and working in public schools?
A public educator would understand that our kids can not be tested out of poverty. They would understand the value of a strong public school system. They would understand that mass privatization and school choice do not work. They would understand that putting students first does not mean actively fighting teachers and working to destroy unions. They would understand that empowering and trusting teachers would create far more positive changes than any amount of testing or accountability measures ever could.
So no, DeVos is not going to bring some radical, positive change to education in America. She’s essentially more of the same, another “outsider” with no understanding of what works or what is best for students. We already know her ideas won’t fix anything (but they will make a few people a lot richer!) This appointment is not draining the swamp, it’s yet another baffling refusal to listen to the experts in the field.
I’ll be calling my representatives in the coming weeks and urging them to vote no on DeVos’ appointment. I urge you to do the same.