As noted in an earlier post this morning, one of the dilemmas many Democrats face is that they bought into the “reform” narrative that made it acceptable to replace “failing public schools” with deregulated privatized for-profit charter schools… and now that those deregulated privatized for-profit charter schools are also “failing” it opens the door for “reasonable dialogue” on the kinds of radical solutions Ms. DeVos is proposing— like vouchers. As exhibit A I offer the talking points Ms. DeVos released prior to her hearing yesterday, which are full of assertions that Arne Duncan could have made. I’ve highlighted and underlined only those portions of her testimony that would be contrary to the kinds of “motherhood” statements Mr. Duncan would have offered:
- “My greatest educational influence in life was a public school teacher named Elsa Prince (her mother).”
- “We recognized that other parents were not able to make similar decisions about their children’s education, based on their income or the zip code in which they lived.”
- “I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve.”
- “Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child, and they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, religious, or any combination thereof.”
- “I will be a strong advocate for great public schools.”
- “Every child in America deserves to be in a safe environment that is free from discrimination.”
- “Our nation’s schools are filled with talented, devoted professionals, who successfully meet the needs of many, many children.”
- “We need to embrace new pathways of learning…Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post high school and have access to high quality options.”
- “President-elect Trump and I know it won’t be Washington, D.C. that unlocks our nation’s potential, nor a bigger bureaucracy, tougher mandates or a federal agency.”
- “For me, it’s simple: I trust parents, and I believe in our children.”
With the exception of Ms. DeVos insertion of “religious” schools on her list of alternatives to “one-size-fits-all” schooling, these words could have been spoken by Arne Duncan or any Democrat appointee for Secretary of Education and would have received approving nods from the gallery. And her prepared remarks also included a series of statements that could have been ripped from the Democrat “reform” playbook:
Every student in America dreams of developing his or her unique talents and gifts.
Every parent in America dreams of a future when their children have access to schools with the rigor, challenges, and safe environments that successfully prepare them for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.
And every teacher in America dreams of breaking free from standardization, so that they can deploy their unique creativity and innovate with their students.
Our nation’s schools are filled with talented, devoted professionals, who successfully meet the needs of many, many children. But even our best schools don’t work for all. This isn’t the fault of teachers, but a reality that all students are unique, learn differently, and excel at their own pace.
Students also face new challenges today. In particular, our high school graduates are having increasing difficulty accessing affordable higher education. Escalating tuition is pricing aspiring and talented students out of college. Others are burdened with debts that will take years – or even decades — to pay off. There is no magic wand to make the debt go away, but we do need to take action. It would be a mistake to shift that burden to struggling taxpayers without first addressing why tuition has gotten so high.
For starters, we need to embrace new pathways of learning. For too long a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. The old and expensive brick-mortar-and-ivy model is not the only one that will lead to a prosperous future. Craftsmanship is not a fallback – but a noble pursuit.
Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post high school and have access to high quality options. President-elect Trump and I agree we need to support all post-secondary avenues, including trade and vocational schools, and community colleges.
Of course, on every one of these issues, Congress will play a vital role.
If confirmed, I look forward to working with you to enact solutions that empower parents and students, provide high quality options and spend tax dollars wisely.
We will work together to ensure the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented as Congress intended — with local communities freed from burdensome regulations from Washington. And I look forward to working with Congress and all stakeholders to reauthorize the Higher Education Act to meet the needs of today’s college students…
For me, it’s simple: I trust parents, and I believe in our children.
These are excerpts from her opening statement, many of which are derived from her talking points… and had Mr. Trump selected a public school superintendent or university president who shares these views— and there are some out there— the nominee would have glided through, But Ms. DeVos has other flaws beyond her willingness to spend federal dollars on religiously affiliated schools. Her multi-million dollar donations to state and US legislators, her robust support for anti-public education “think tanks”, her investments in for-profit schools, her donations to charities that advocate “conversation therapy” for gay students, her unwillingness to support an expansion of spending on child care or post-secondary education… each these is a show-stopper for public education advocates.
I think the Democrat party should be grateful that Mr. Trump’s nominee lacks any record of overseeing a large bureaucracy, has spent money in ways that raise ethical questions, and has views on LGBT students and vouchers that are well outside the mainstream. Because if President-elet Trump had nominated a candidate who advocated an expansion of privatization accompanied by more regulatory oversight the Democrat party would be hard pressed to push back given their most recent appointees to that position. MAYBE before the next election cycle the Democrat party will devise a game plan that can differentiate itself from the “reform” narrative. For example, they might adopt a narrative that emphasizes the devastating impact of poverty and racism on the opportunities of hundreds of thousands of children. If the Democrats do not develop a counter-narrative to the “reform” narrative now in place, public education as we knew it before NCLB— with locally elected board oversight and local control over policies regarding schools— will disappear…. and in it’s place we’ll have corporate boards who manage charter chains with an eye on shareholder value.
I just finished watching the NYTimes video and reading the NYTimes article on Betsy DeVos Senate confirmation hearing held yesterday and find myself bemoaning the Republicans double standard in reviewing appointed and begrudgingly praising Lamar Alexander for his artful framing of the debate as committee chair.
It is appalling to see the Republican party’s dramatic shift in the process used to review of cabinet appointments. When they were in the minority in 2008 and Mr. Obama was the President elect then Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the Senators on the hearing committee receive a full report from the Ethics office and an FBI clearance for each nominee before a hearing was convened. From my perspective as a “good governance” advocate, this was eminently reasonable and given Mr. Obama’s choices for each cabinet position and the full staffing in the Ethics office it was possible to do so. Furthermore, as the Times article notes, Committee Chair decided to limit each Senator to a single round of five minutes of questioning of Ms. DeVos, a break from the typical method of providing two rounds of questioning. As Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut noted, “It suggests that this committee is trying to protect this nominee from scrutiny.” Given Ms. DeVos glaring lack of qualifications and advocacy for funneling public funds to religiously affiliated schools and her advocacy for deregulated charter schools, Mr. Alexander’s structure for the hearings was artful.
But Mr. Alexander’s framing of Ms. DeVos’ qualifications was even more artful. He said opposition to her appointment was based on three elements: her support for public charter schools; her advocacy that poor children be given more choices for where their children attend public schools; and the use of her “considerable wealth” to advance those ideas. Mr. Alexander is no fool. He must know that the opposition to her is rooted in her advocacy for deregulated and privatized charters and her openness to using public funds for religiously affiliated schools. He must know that the value of the vouchers he is advocating for each child are far below the amount any child raised in poverty can use— that is unless they want to attend a cut-rate for-profit charter school or a religiously affiliated school that underpays their staff and can exclude children based on their religious beliefs. He also must know that Ms. DeVos has used her “considerable wealth” to effectively bully State legislators to endorse some of the ideas she advocates, ideas that have not resulted in an improved education for her state.
Mr. Alexander is also an adroit politician… which is why he was able to point out that the Democrat party has also supported “public charter schools”, tacitly inserting the words “deregulated for-profit” in front of that phrase. Moreover, he noted that this is now a popular public sentiment.
And this is where the Democrat party’s record comes into play. Under President Obama the party supported Race to the Top which effectively advocated for the privatization of “failing schools” and thereby facilitated the expansion of privatization. Indeed, the Democrat’s track record on public charters only varies from Mr. DeVos in two significant respects: she wants to strip all regulatory oversight away and she wants to allow public funds to follow children into religiously affiliated schools. And while the public may support public charters, I doubt that they would support the funding of institutions like Trump University that bilk students into paying large sums for a worthless degree or madrases that teach the Koran.
I just scanned a report from HarvardX and MITx, the joint venture of those two renowned institutions into the world of MOOCs and it brought to mind a conundrum public education faces in dealing with on-line courses. Here’s an overview of the dilemma:
- Teachers organizations and state school board regulations are generally opposed to awarding credits to students who earn credits through on-line courses or through any means other than “seat time” …. BUT
- Teachers need to complete coursework for re-certification.
- Teacher pay scales are typically designed to offer an advancement in compensation by accumulating graduate courses at an accredited college and, in some cases through the accumulation of “course equivalency units” set by the school district.
- Teachers are ALL pressed for time and teachers in rural areas are often a great distance away from a site where courses are offered…. SO
- Colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to complete necessary course work to remain certified AND on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits AND courses that students in small rural schools can complete on line… AND
- Those same colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” developed on-line methods for other professionals (e.g. lawyers, medical professionals, any profession requiring a license) to complete necessary course work to remain certified
During my last years as Superintendent this confluence of events posed some difficult questions for us.
- If other professions grant re-certification through on-line courses why shouldn’t teachers earn their re-certification courses the same way?
- If colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits why should we require them to drive 100 miles round trip to complete graduate courses at the closest State college offering courses— especially when those same institutions were offering courses on-line?
- If we are willing to offer teachers the opportunity to earn graduate credits for on-line courses, credits that would advance their pay, why should we offer students the same opportunity to earn credit for high school courses that would enable them to graduate earlier? or enable them to expand their part-time work hours? or to devote more time to athletics? or to devote more time to playing on-line games?
As you can see, the advent of MOOCs posed some perplexing questions about the potential for technology to disrupt the usual and customary methods for schooling. The answers to these questions will define the direction of public schooling in the future… as well as the role of school boards, government regulations, and teachers in the future.