Here are some observations of Betsy DeVos and her Rethink Schools tour.
Autism in Douglas County
One of the schools she visited was the Firefly Autism House the private school which received attention in the landmark Supreme Court case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Parents received funding to place their child at Firefly due to declining special education services in Douglas County Schools.
Many children with autism still attend public schools in Douglas County. Are they improving special education services in those schools?
Why were special education services allowed to get so bad that parents had to go to the Supreme Court to get a private school to address their child’s needs? As education secretary that’s the question DeVos should be asking.
Betsy DeVos pretends to be concerned, but she has no answers. Her goal is school vouchers, so she thinks about other things.
When Betsy visited schools in Wyoming she said:
For far too many kids, this year’s first day back to school looks and feels a lot like last year’s first day back to school. And the year before that. And the generation before that. And the generation before that.
However, children affected by Harvey and Irma, who have damaged schools, if a school at all, probably wish they had their old schools back.
Most public schools, supported by adults who care, are a source of pride for students and parents. Children thrive with consistency in their lives. They like to visit their old teachers and appreciate routine. It provides them security in a troubled world.
Even parents love their old schools and are often thrilled when their children get to attend the same schools. They especially like it if their child gets the same teacher they had in school!
Children Sit at Desks
Consider Betsy’s seating arrangement criticism. She said Most students are starting a new school year that is all too familiar – desks lined up in rows, their teacher standing in front of the room framed by a blackboard.
But private and parochial schools are set up like public schools. Students sit in rows of desks in those schools too!
Children more often sit at tables in public schools. They often sit with the teachers who work with them.
Rows of Carrels
Betsy would like to get rid of public schools altogether! She’d like students to stay home and sit at computers for all of their schooling. Or they could work at museums or libraries, or anywhere–without real teachers!
She thinks parents would prefer a charter warehouse with rows of bright colored carrels like the picture below. Facilitators will help children stay on task.
Or sitting at computers in rows of desks.
The Same Dull Curriculum Corporations Foisted on Schools
Betsy continues to lament, They [students] dive into a curriculum written for the average student. They follow the same schedule, the same routine – just waiting to be saved by the bell.
But Betsy forgets it’s her friends in high places who pushed a one-size-fits-all curriculum into public schools in the first place.
For the record, most public school teachers still manage to create lovely classrooms and teach the way they know best.
One School She Visited
DeVos visited the Woods Learning Center. It’s a public school, but there is no principal. It’s “teacher-powered,” which means teachers supposedly do their own thing.
The teachers at the Woods School apparently don’t like having a principal. But principals can be great to organize the school and keep things running smoothly. When they aren’t pressured to push awful reforms onto the backs of teachers—they’re good people.
I’m not sure how getting rid of a principal can be seen as innovative.
Multi-age Classrooms are Nothing New
At the Woods School teachers move around with their schedule and have multi-age classrooms. If DeVos did her research, she’d find that public schools have done this in the past too. Multi-age classrooms aren’t anything new.
The school has an eerie connection to personalized and project-based learning–technology. The primary teachers believe that students learn best when they construct their own learning and they work hard to create well-rounded learners by teaching to the whole child.
It doesn’t sound like they are talking about play here.
Betsy DeVos also visited the St. Stephen’s Indian school. She had a photo op there. They gave her a pretty quilt. And she visited the Air Force Academy.
Rethinking–But Not Innovatively
The sad fact is public schools should always improve and be on the cutting edge of innovation. But schools are moving backwards.
Betsy DeVos is doing nothing for public schools other than pushing privatization for her “stakeholder” friends, especially those in the tech industry.
Getting rid of public schools altogether by squeezing resources from them and running teachers out, pushing students into religious schools, and replacing teachers with technology–those are her goals.
We really don’t need her to go on a tour to understand that.
Karen Bracken says
Here is an innovative suggestion. Given she was so impressed with a school that had no principle how about the American education system run without any Secretary of Education or ANY federal involvement whatsoever. That includes college loans. Do away with college loans and you will see college tuition plummet. All they need to do is close down some of the wasteful buildings, cut out the bulk of their courses which are a complete waste of time and get rid of 6 figure Professors that work just a few hours per week. Return K-12 (no Pre-K) to pre 1965 classical education and testing. NOW THIS IS INNOVATION.
Nancy Bailey says
Amen! First time I’ve smiled all day! Thank you, Karen! Nailed it!
Carol Allen says
Thomas Ultican says
I think there is a lot of possibility in the teacher powered school movement. Having a central figure in command might not be the best way to organize schools. The idea of senior teachers running the school in a committee format with input for all stakeholders including students is probably superior to the factory model.
It is encouraging that the school board members in Douglas county that were pushing a privatization agenda have been losing their offices. Democracy is not perfect but it does seem better than other methods.
Nancy Bailey says
I guess what bothered me about the teacher powered school is that so many teachers work in schools today that have no say over the curriculum. I wondered why they were given authority.
Also, I think this is actually a tech school or on its way to that. IMHO.
Good about Douglas county. I hope it means there will be positive changes.
Thank you, Thomas!
Jim Katakowski says
Betsy DeVos knows nothing about education. She, does know about profiteering off education. The sooner she is out the, better for education. Make all public schools great. Charter schools are about one thing….. profit.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Jim. I agree.
Carol Allen says
Viv Barker says
This is a piece that was begging to be written. Thanks for doing it, & nailing it.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for commenting, Viv!