Adios Betsy DeVos; Glimmers of Hope for the Equalizing Promise of Public Education
Very soon Betsy DeVos will slip away from her stint in government and escape back into the philanthropic networks that spawned her.
President-elect Joe Biden is making good on his promise as a candidate, vowing to replace DeVos with someone with experience teaching; someone who knows what it’s like to manage the expectations of parents, to stand before a room of eager and not-so-eager children day-after-day, and accept the responsibility that what happens in the classroom can chart the course of those young lives.
During the pandemic, America’s teachers have been accomplishing this with masks on and remotely.
Connecticut’s Miguel A. Cardona is Biden’s Secretary of Education nominee.
News coverage has synthesized him into snippets; Puerto Rican parents, a childhood in public housing, a former fourth grade teacher and a principal in the same public school system he attended.
Cardona, a state education commissioner, launched a meme in his first statements: “I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans.”
The quote signifies how Cardona’s lived experiences align with a reality of public education today and into the future.
The demographics are indisputable. A majority of public school-aged children, K-12, are not white. Many are lower income and of immigrant parents. And like Cardona did, many begin school with proficiency in a language other than English.
The fact that the nation’s top education official will be able to relate is no small matter.
Far too often, society tends to cherry pick and sanctify the relative few who manage to move beyond the social class they were born, while looking with dismay at the masses who don’t rise.
Public education’s greatest challenge is to establish itself as a steady path to success for all children, regardless of a parent’s social status.
As Cardona stresses, the zip code where a child is born and their skin color too often becomes the predictor of opportunities in life.
The Biden plan to provide quality universal pre-kindergarten, to greatly increase social and emotional support are first steps. Free community college, income-based tuition repayment programs, and attention to the nation’s increasing need for technical and trade skills are other strong components.
But plans these that draw applause at the podium must come to fruition.
And while empathy for less privileged children is necessary, having it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will be a good administrator of a government system as vast as the Department of Education.
The bureaucracy of the department became one of DeVos’ top complaints in her tenure.
Some of that might be due to her own entitlement. Billionaires are used to having their wishes fulfilled in ways that don’t occur for people who navigate life without deep pockets and vast social capital.
But it is a big job; even more so with the pandemic. Biden hopes to reopen schools safely within his first 100 days in office. And Cardona drew complaints from some Connecticut teachers for his efforts to restart in-person learning.
Undoing some of the handiwork of DeVos is also on the Cardona to-do list.
Earlier this year, DeVos rewrote Title IX regulations for how sexual assault complaints are handled on college campuses, undercutting awareness and gains.
She failed in the government’s role in addressing for-profit schools that defrauded thousands of students, leaving them with massive debt and no career path or marketable skill.
It’s not that DeVos didn’t believe in doing right by children and young adults. Her problem was that she often believed her way was the only way and shouldn’t be questioned.
In recent weeks, DeVos has testified to her continued disdain of “government-assigned schools,” while speaking glowingly of “education freedom.”
She means the neighborhood school’s that many parents desire. And her version of freedom is to come through increased use of charters and vouchers.
Cardona is not opposed to school choice. And it’s clear that such options should and do have a role. Some charter schools are stellar. But some are not. The last thing children need are failed schools replaced by failed schools.
DeVos’greatest achievement is that she’s remained unscarred by the vitriol President Donald Trump has launched on most of his cabinet.
She’s savvy. She knew how to stay out of Trump’s egomaniac path and how to do it gracefully, undetected. DeVos will be just fine post her short time as a government worker.
It’s America’s children; no matter where and to whom they are born that deserve the spotlight and our best efforts now.
©2020 Mary Sanchez. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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