Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Open Letter on Secretary DeVos' Nomination

This morning I called Indiana Senator Todd Young. I was kicked to voicemail, presumably with the staff overburdened with calls related to things that came up over the weekend. Young is on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions, so I wanted to speak with him regarding the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Not able to get through, I left a quick message expressing that I'd like to be contacted to give my concerns.

Since I wasn't able to speak with anyone, I jotted down my thoughts here:

Today President-elect Trump's Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos, is having a confirmation hearing. I have worked in the educational field for nearly twenty years, first in Detroit with a non-profit math enrichment program and then in the educational publishing industry, working with the testing company CTB for a decade. I have an undergraduate degree in physics and a Master's in Mathematics Education, and I have worked with more than a half-dozen states on developing, designing, and writing their mathematics assessments, including two national assessments: the TASC high school equivalency test and the Smarter Balanced Coalition test. For the last two years, I have been working self-employed as a freelancer in educational publishing, with the majority of work that supports me and my family being with testing companies and textbook companies. 
I have two concerns regarding Mrs. DeVos as a potential Secretary of Education.  
First, she seems to be singularly unqualified. She has made statements that make it clear she does not understand educational policy, specifically the Common Core. And when I say she "does not understand," I don't mean that I disagree with her stance on the issue or her conclusion ... I mean that her rhetoric has made it clear that she is fundamentally confused about some of the basic facts related to the defining educational policy of the last 6 years. She appears to think that "local control" means "eliminating the Common Core," but any state that is utilizing the Common Core is doing so because it has chosen to. An educational policy of "eliminating the Common Core" means coming in and imposing federal educational restrictions on the states. It is not clear that she understands this crucial distinction. I would hope that questioning during the confirmation hearing can help clarify her thinking on whether her objective is "returning local control" or "eliminating the Common Core," because you can't do both.  
Nor, for that matter, is it necessarily good policy to do so. Indiana, for example, voted to get rid of the Common Core for partisan political reasons, and had to go through the expense of developing a new set of state standards ... which, not surprisingly, are really just superficial cosmetic changes to the Common Core. The vast majority of the Common Core was retained in the new Indiana standards. I don't complain about this too much, as part of my work over the last year has been working on a math textbook that is designed for the Indiana standards, but as a citizen and taxpayer in Indiana I wish they had just stuck with the Common Core. 
My second concern is that Mrs. DeVos was the head of the All Children Matter PAC, as I understand it. That being the case, I feel that anyone in the committee, or in the Senate, who has received money from that PAC (or from DeVos personally) should recuse themselves from voting on this nomination. Or, at the very least, she should be asked about which Senators she has given money to in the past. 
I'll admit, I have not been particularly political in the past, prior to seeing what happened in this election. Maybe it is normal in Washington for active lobbyists to be appointed to Cabinet-level positions, but mixed with her bizarre lack of educational qualifications and my extensive experience in the field, I find this really a problematic nomination. 
I am not opposed to school choice. I've taught in charter schools in Detroit. I have sent my son to both private and charter schools in the Anderson area, though ultimately we found that the public schools have been a much better fit. I do not oppose school choice, but anyone who is going to support school choice in the role of Secretary of Education has to be committed, first and foremost, to maintaining a quality educational standard in our public education system. Mrs. DeVos does not appear to have demonstrated that commitment.

NOTE: Due to morning brain, I accidentally called Mrs. DeVos "Senator DeVos" in the original title. I've fixed the title, but it's obviously still incorrect in the link. And, of course, since she isn't yet confirmed, calling her even "Secretary DeVos" is a bit premature, but seemed appropriate anyway. So I know all of that ... the e-mails can stop now.

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