The hope is that public education will not be short-changed by Trump administration

Published 10:13 am Monday, January 30, 2017


There are some concerns about Betsy DeVos’ nomination to be the new Secretary of Education. DeVos, of Michigan, is a billionaire who has donated bunches of money to elected officials to further her cause. Among those elected officials is Tennessee’s Senator Lamar Alexander, who heads up the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees DeVos’ confirmation hearing for the education post. Alexander has wholeheartedly endorsed DeVos’ nomination despite her lack of knowledge about the job and any experience with public education or any other job for that matter.
On Friday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, announced that the vote will now take place on Jan. 31 at 10 a.m.
Democrats have questioned DeVos’ credentials to be the education secretary, attacking her for having little experience with public schooling and financial aid. The billionaire businesswoman said she, or her children, did not attend public schools, did not have to take out loans for education and did not receive federal financial aid.
DeVos’ confirmation hearing, held on Tuesday, got rocky at several points. She appeared confused that there was a federal law covering students with disabilities, and baffled Democratic senators — and many teachers on social media — when she said that a remote rural school might need guns to keep out grizzly bears.
The nominee has been an advocate for charter schools and school vouchers, arguing that they offer low-income families the choice in education that wealthy families have. But Democrats argued that voucher programs have not helped poor students.
DeVos, a lifelong Michigan resident, has donated, along with her family, more than $125 million to conservative political causes, often related to education reform. She twice served as the chair of the Michigan Republican Party, and has been a primary leader of revamping schools in Detroit for two decades.
The DeVos nomination signals increased support for school privatization, more vouchers and charter schools. This shift brings with it considerable controversy, and both sides of the debate are mobilizing forces for a public and protracted struggle.
DeVos, like her boss, President Donald Trump, is a Washington outsider. A long-time advocate of children and families, she has expressed her belief that the poorest of children should have the same chance at a good education as children of well-to-do families. No child should be stuck in a chronically failing school, because, in DeVos’ own words, every child deserves access to a quality education.
There are stark divisions about DeVos’ qualifications for the post and about how to improve education in this country. They include the complex issues of charter schools, national standards, teacher evaluations and testing. The differences on these issues exist between and among educators, policymakers, students and their families.
Admittedly, there is frustration about the quality of American education. Our nation’s education system needs changes. Despite decades of reform, there is much concern that our nation is not preparing students to meet the challenges of the 21st-century workplace. However, schools alone cannot be held responsible for educating our students. Most factors related to academic outcomes lie not within but outside our traditional institutions of educations. Among these factors are family income, lack of access to health care, employment, mental health services, and transiency.
When it comes to education and schools, one size does not fit all. Public schools should be accountable to the families they serve, not to politicians. Parents and teachers deserve a greater voice in education. Instead of laundering local tax dollars through Washington only to return them with strings and conditions attached, states and local schools need to raise expectations for students and to hold all schools accountable to attaining those goals.
We do need a shake-up at every level of our government when it comes to educating our children. More than likely Betsy DeVos will be confirmed as the nation’s top educator when the Senate votes Tuesday.
We can only hope that the reforms that DeVos advocates, and which our own state senator endorses, do not short-change public education.

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