Please tell Betsy DeVos that when Americans fail to invest in public school buildings, it affects how students learn. Betsy DeVos has never worked in poor building conditions. She doesn’t understand how difficult it is for students and teachers.
On September 20, DeVos stated in her Education Freedom speech to a parochial school audience, that taxpayers should invest in “students not buildings.” This is a strange disconnect. Of course, Americans should invest in students and in their public school buildings. School buildings need to be safe, clean, and provide an environment that is conducive to learning.
To illustrate, two days after DeVos’s speech, we learned that a student with autism had been placed in a bathroom to do his work. How could something so outrageous occur?
The principal apologized. The school was overcrowded and short of space. He said, This current situation is an example of staff trying to seek a solution to temporarily repurpose a room. To our knowledge, the room had been used as storage, not as an active restroom.
Parents and disability advocates claim the teacher could have sent the student to the library. Would the teacher have been able to supervise the student there? The parent should have been informed about school overcrowding. The parent, teacher, and principal might have come up with another solution.
Certainly, placing a student with autism or any student in a bathroom to learn is wrong. But when a school is overcrowded, administrators and teachers really do struggle to find space.
When I was teaching in the 80s, my school went through reconstruction while students and teachers were in attendance. It was a nightmare! My principal tried his best to accommodate teachers, but the school had serious space problems. The interruptions were ongoing.
At one point I found myself teaching in a large utility closet! The class didn’t fit. Student desks were partly out the door and into the hallway.
My students struggled with mild to moderate learning disabilities. Can you imagine the embarrassment of sitting where brooms and mops were once stored, and where other students could walk by and see you doing your school work?
I also floated. Floating is when a teacher pushes a cart loaded with materials to a classroom where another teacher has a planning period. That teacher must put aside whatever they planned to accommodate your class. Floaters move around the school all day, often struggling to get to class on time.
Parents came to my rescue. They petitioned the school district. Power in numbers helped in this situation. It also helped that the remodeling came to an end alleviating some of the space difficulties.
In overcrowded schools, classrooms have been found:
- on stage,
- in cafeterias,
- in portables behind the school,
- in the school library,
- in classrooms next to the chorus or band room,
- in the school office,
- in the teachers’ lounge or staff workroom,
- next to P.E. fields,
- in rooms facing basketball courts, or
- in gyms.
Now we can add a bathroom to the list.
The research is clear how important school facilities are for students to be successful learners. Numerous studies indicate that everything from lighting, sound, and temperature can affect how students learn.
Air quality is another concern. Students suffer from asthma and other airborne illnesses. The student in the bathroom situation had pediatric autoimmune difficulties.
When teachers work in overcrowded schools, they spend much time trying to address their surroundings. They fail at providing the quality instruction students need. Teachers also suffer burnout, are absent more, and experience high levels of stress. They are more likely to leave.
Betsy DeVos and her cohorts are looking to get rid of brick-and-mortar schools. School buildings are not their priority.
DeVos also mentioned in her speech that students could learn anyplace, anytime. This means that she’s hoping students will learn online at home, in the city library, or wherever.
She’s not encouraging states and local communities to invest in school buildings, and she shows little interest in the overcrowded conditions that currently plague many of America’s schools.
The goal of corporate school reformers is to have charter warehouses for the poor where students face screens all day. Charter schools like Rocketship, Summit, and others are about this.
Wealthier school districts will have nicer facilities decked out with the latest expensive technology, but they will rely more on facilitators, not teachers. There’s little proof this will create well-rounded instruction that will better prepare students for the future.
All students and teachers need public schools buildings where they are comfortable, and where they feel ownership and pride in their school. This is especially important for students with disabilities who need to be able to feel good about themselves and what and how they learn and socialize with other students.
Students should not be housed in facilities that are overcrowded, or where serious disruptions take place. It goes without saying, no student should be placed in a bathroom or a utility closet to learn.
Betsy DeVos needs to better address school buildings in America. Her choice agenda is not going to solve the schooling problems in this country. She needs to encourage states and local school districts to do what’s right when it comes to making schools safe and welcoming places for all students to learn.