Bloggers have been speculating about a Biden/Harris education secretary. During this critical time in American history, that individual should be a black or brown woman, who has been a teacher of young children, and who understands child development. She should hold an education degree and have an additional leadership degree and experience that will help her run the U.S. Department of Education.
Children deserve to see more teachers who look like they do, who will inspire them to go on and become teachers themselves. A woman of color as an education secretary will bring more diverse individuals to the field and set an example. This will benefit all students.
Many individuals, including accomplished black men, have brilliant minds, and understand what we need in the way of democratic public education. Leadership roles should await them in the U.S. Department of Education, in schools, universities, or states and local education departments.
But with the fight for Black Lives to Matter and for an end to gender inequality, a knowledgeable black or brown woman with a large heart to embrace these times should take this spot. The majority of teachers have always been women, and while men are critical to being role models for children and teens, it is time for a woman of color to lead.
We have had eleven education secretaries, and only three of them have been women, including Shirley Hufstedler, Margaret Spellings, and Betsy DeVos. None of these women were educators or had experience in the classroom. Only two African American men have been in this role, and neither of them could be considered authentic teachers and educators. Both had the goal to undermine public schools.
The time is now for a black or brown female education secretary who will set a positive example and be the face of the future for children from all gender and cultural backgrounds.
She will have a thorough understanding of public policy, school law, and be an activist for public schools. She will be able to handle financing for K-12 and college programs. She must command an understanding of the importance of human rights, social and racial justice, children with disabilities, the needs of LBGTQ students, the children of immigrants, helping students with higher education and careers, and more.
She will build trust in a department that will not overreach, but work together with state and local school agencies to create well-functioning schools in the community.
Because the classroom is where it’s at, she will support the professionalism of her fellow teachers and reach out to parents. Long-term experience teaching, administrative experience, and an actual degree in teaching children is a priority.
It is the moment to seek ways to bring children together in their schools, so that they grow into adults who will not have to fight for what should be rightfully theirs, who won’t only have tolerance for each other, but will learn from an early age to love and support each other as people, as friends. The country and the world badly need this, and public schooling is too often ignored as the place where positive change will take place on the human rights front.
Two concerns surround the selection of the next education secretary.
Teach for America
Mercedes Schneider noted in an “Open Letter to Joe Biden: Ed Sec ‘That Has Been in Public Schools’ is Not Enough” that Teach for America Corps members, who lobby for their privatization plans, should never be education leaders. TFA corps members have not studied the needs of children or obtained satisfactory degrees to be real teachers, let alone become leaders overseeing teachers.
They don’t have the necessary background. It has always been unfair for teachers who have spent the time and money to earn traditional degrees to have to follow someone with less time in the field and less experience and understanding of children.
At best, TFA should develop a program to send teacher aides into the field for two years to work with real teachers. Then if they decide that teaching is a career for them, they can return to school to get adequate degrees. They should never be in charge of a classroom, let alone in an education policy-making position. Nor should they teach in classrooms in underserved schools where qualified teachers are critical to student success.
The other concern is the corporatization of public schools. Laurene Powell Jobs recently came under criticism by President Trump for giving the Biden campaign $500K. It’s not against the law, but one report mentioned Jobs as a possible replacement for Betsy DeVos in a Biden administration. She has sought to transform public education, to privatize it. She is not a teacher and has not taught in a classroom. She has no education degree.
If the Biden administration puts Jobs in the role of education secretary or lets her make the education secretary placement, the Democratic party will be no better than the Republicans when it comes to education and their commitment to democratic public schools. It will be similar to Betsy DeVos buying her way into controlling how public schools run or end in America. If this or a similar scenario plays out in a Biden/Harris administration, we can kiss our public schools and the professional role of teacher good-bye.
We need a real educator and a female person of color in this role. The stakes are higher than ever before!
Here are a few of the issues the next education secretary will face:
- Help to heal children and families from the trauma of Covid-19.
- Work with schools on how to address the continuing fight for racial justice and gender equality in the classroom.
- Choose a diverse staff with matched qualifications to their jobs, to head the various departments at the agency.
- Define for America the meaning of public education, demanding accountability from current choice and charter programs.
- Address the fraudulent for-profit colleges that victimize and continue to bilk tax dollars from the government.
- Figure out a plan to fund poor schools found in communities with a low tax base.
- Assist in the improvement of the education of marginalized groups including indigenous peoples.
- Replace the negative image of American schooling with a positive face to showcase America’s schools around the world.
- Determine the best way to return a vital arts program to every underserved public school in the nation.
- Figure out the best way to fund programs under the U.S. Department of Education jurisdiction.
- Restore child-appropriate pedagogy to early childhood education.
- Provide underserved schools with the resources and materials they need, so teachers do not need to pay out-of-pocket.
- Create a national plan to fix the decades-old crumbling school buildings.
- Improve and more fully fund the instructional support of children with a variety of disabilities.
- Study the jobs of the future to help guide students towards their own goals and aspirations.
- Develop an evaluative system for teachers and students that does not compromise privacy.
- Facilitate the compassionate treatment of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities and end the school-to-prison pipeline.
- Support children who have second languages.
- Address the inclusive needs of LBGTQ students.
- Assist children and families who have immigrated here from other countries.
- Use technology to facilitate learning without replacing the nation’s teachers.
- Elevate and professionalize the role of teaching, through recruitment and better pay and improved role definition.
- Ensure the hiring of qualified support staff, counselors, school psychologists, nurses, paraprofessionals, and more.
- Support the critical role of periphery staff, bus drivers, custodians, school office workers, and others who keep public schools moving.
- Review the curriculum programs and help determine what works.
- Work with corporate leaders to steer philanthropy into funding initiatives that will help not hurt teachers and schools.
- Study the support for children in school, like hunger, health care, and mental health.
- Initiate a statistical research program incorporating peer review from university professors to determine how public schools function.
- Convince Americans to invest in a public school system.
- Address the problem of school privatization.
- Bring parents and teachers from both parties together to discuss the future of America’s public schools.
- Work closely with the teachers union.
- Reduce the harm still being done by NCLB and Common Core State Standards, including standardized testing.
The Biden/Harris campaign, perhaps with the help and direction of Dr. Jill Biden, will choose a real educator, a woman of color, to lead this post to forward the human rights initiative and save the nation’s most vital and critical institution, public schools.