I was asked to write about the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing and special education. So here is a quick rundown.
I was pleasantly surprised at some of the questioning by Democrats. I know education reform is often bi-partisan, but the Dems hit some high notes tonight. I came away with much respect for Sen. Patty Murray.
And Sen. Sanders just has a way doesn’t he? That question, and the ease of which he asked it, about whether Betsy DeVos would be there if she wasn’t a billionaire was priceless. No pun intended.
A great question was about whether the years of underfunding of special education would be addressed. I thought it refreshing. I mean, who asks that anymore?
Actually, I have a cold and don’t remember the Senator who did ask it! I’m sorry. Someone tell me.
I loved that Sen. Murray gave Sen. Hassan her time at the end to drive home the fact that DeVos didn’t know much about students with disabilities.
It was shocking that she didn’t know that IDEA was federal law! That seems like something she could have studied ahead of time. It certainly should give parents pause. She doesn’t seem to see this area as a priority.
Also, in light of her support of vouchers, it was troubling that she didn’t seem to understand the question by Sen. Kaine about accountability of all schools which would be serving students with disabilities and addressing the IDEA’s requirements consistently.
I think that was my favorite question and a truly relevant one that taxpayers should care deeply about.
If you are going to spend government funds on any private, parochial or charter school, as Mrs. DeVos believes should be an option, they all should be held to the same standards!
One big problem with choice is that many good private school administrators don’t want it. They don’t want to have outside regulations.
That leaves substandard private schools, or church schools, or any kind of school started by anyone who wants to run one. It we had real accountability measures in place, these schools wouldn’t last long or they wouldn’t be started in the first place.
Another problem is that private schools and charters don’t work at a level playing field.
Charters push out students with disabilities and second language students. They usually have rules for parents and students. If those rules are broken students are dismissed.
Traditional public schools are not permitted to weed out challenging students. Why should choice schools get to do that?
And private schools—everyone assumes they do well—but they push out students too, and they don’t give tests like traditional public schools. We don’t know how they do.
When DeVos quoted a high number of parent satisfaction in Florida with McKay Scholarships, many parents use the money for parochial schools. The school may or may not provide special education services. This should not be allowed. It is, of course, not the purpose of the voucher.
Most private and parochial schools do not provide special education services, unless they are a special education school meant for students with disabilities. Even in those schools there should be accountability measures in place so we know they aren’t failing students.
Which is strange, since most vouchers go to students with disabilities. So yes. Make IDEA mandatory for any student with a voucher. It makes sense. And I think you will see vouchers fall apart.
So while Betsy DeVos will probably still be confirmed, at least great questions were raised and special education was not ignored.
Here is my other post about Betsy DeVos and Special Ed. Vouchers.
Sheila Resseger says
I agree that some pointed questions were asked by Dems, but on the whole I was disturbed and demoralized by the hearing. The Dems spent so much time complaining that they wouldn’t get a second round of questioning, and Alexander just kept ridiculously saying that DeVos shouldn’t have to answer more questions than Duncan and King had to answer. Her cluelessness about IDEA should have been damning, but it probably won’t matter to the committee. After all the effort I put in to provide info to my Senator, Whitehouse, I was not happy when he stated how proud we are of our RI charter schools, and that they are held accountable. Really? We’re in the middle of a serious fight against the expansion of Achievement First in Providence! DeVos usually prefaced her answers by thanking the Senator for the question and saying how much she enjoyed meeting with him/her, wasting time while she thought of the answer that would appeal to them. If she knew she disagreed, she would say she’d review that and would be happy to work with them on it. I really had some glimmer of hope she would be the one not to be confirmed, but that hope is now gone. She is even more of a disaster than I expected.
Nancy Bailey says
I wondered about your senator. I agree that there was still charter love, but I thought there at least was some push for accountability. I had a lot of things I didn’t like too. Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders skirted over K-12 to higher ed. What else is new?
But I thought there were some good questions about vouchers and in general I didn’t think the Dems. wanted to confirm her. It probably doesn’t matter anyway.
I also wondered if the Dems. would have been more welcoming with a Rhee or Moskowitz. I am not kidding myself that they are no longer on board for school reform with technology.
But tonight I thought they sounded somewhat tough. Glimmer of hope for a few minutes.
And I was happy they discussed special education at the length that they did.
C Barker says
I would like to mention one specific thing as a mother of a child on the autism spectrum. The Mckay Scholarship was LITERALLY a life safer for my son. He on several occasions expressed he wanted to die and never wanted to go back to school again after he was relentlessly bullied by children and 2 teachers at our local public school. Increasingly as he matured, the public school system couldn’t meet his educational needs anymore as well. I was made aware by my mother about a local school that teaches to the individual child’s learning style and not by a mass of standards to which he could never compromise himself to fit. So after much prayer and consideration we took him out of the public school system and got the McKay scholarship for him to attend that private school in 6th grade. This was a very hard choice because I come from a LONG line of educators. My mother is a retired ESE teacher, both my grand parents on my mother’s side were teachers and then principals at different schools and my great grandfather was a teacher-principal-head of schools in the panhandle for many many years (plus many uncle and aunt educators.) So bucking “the system” was incredibly challenging and hard to admit that my son’s needs were not being met by a system I had revered my entire life. He is 17 now and in the 11th grade and continues to attend the same private school with the blessing the Mckay Scholarship has been for us. He’s an honor’s student. This school has taught him it’s okay to be himself. It’s okay that he may need a few charts or extra notes to be able to process facts. And that being different is normal. I still have 3 other children in the public school system one of which is special needs and they are doing terrific, but our public school system isn’t always a fit for some kids. I have been very fortunate to be asked to help new parents to the ESE program navigate through their rights and the arduous MRT/IEP process to which has been an absolute honor. Over and over again most if not all of the parents who have opted for the McKay Scholarship have been satisfied with that choice. In our county there is a lengthy list of schools that provide special education services and actually specialize in them. To be honest the overwhelming complaint I have heard is that they wish their local public school would think about true individual learning and the learning styles of their kids so they didn’t have to move them elsewhere. ESE kids are given an IEP but, they are still required to fit a mold that the federal and local governments have decided every child must fit, which isn’t at all individual. Maybe more focus on true individual learning could be a start and something we can all agree on.
Nancy Bailey says
There might be some decent private schools for students in Florida. And no offense, I am sure you are happy with your child’s placement, but the trouble is how to prove it. We need something more than parent testimonials. We cannot go by parental hearsay. Tax dollars flow to these schools and in Florida some are religious only and do nothing for disabilities.
Make them prove their worth just like traditional public schools must! Make them also stick with the law. Give students the protection of IDEA!
And why are public schools failing with special education? They shouldn’t be. But public schools and especially special ed. have been sorely defunded the last 20 years or more.
Children with disabilities need well-prepared special education teachers and a continuum of services to help them succeed.
I am happy your child is doing well, but not all schools in Florida have the same outcomes.
Thank you for your comment.
I’m not sure I fully understand the McKay Voucher System. My understanding of the biggest problem with McKay was signing over your child’s rights to the money. What if you had moved your son and it didn’t work out? ,What, if any, options would be available for you at that point? My take on the question about the McKay system was more about signing over their rights to the money than the voucher in this case. Did I miss something? Could you help me better understand what the discussion about McKay was about if I did not follow the discussion correctly? I’m so happy for you to have found someplace that takes the necessary steps to help your child be successful. We used 2 private schools starting when my child was 3. Neither of them made us happy but we stayed since our only choice that was left was going back to public schools. My son ended up graduating from one that I question how good is education he really received. But the public high school’s concern about bullying was catchingbthe person doing it and not taking steps to prevent it and keep my son safe. Instead of vouchers, why not, put that money into fixing the public school system where it works for everyone?
Nancy Bailey says
If you choose a McKay voucher you lose the special ed. rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for your child.
Here is an explanation of the McKay Scholarship Program.
Here are the procedural safeguards under IDEA. I hope this helps.
Here is the thing about choice. You choose the best place for your child. It is your child and you are responsible for their learning. If you need special education, you don’t go to a school that doesn’t have it! Stop letting the Federal gov. tell you where your money is going.(ie NEA -hope she gets rid of it) You have a better chance in your state to tell your reps where you want the money to go.