Prior to November 8, 2016, two people asked me about my opinion on the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates. I consider myself a growing, yet accomplished, teacher who is active in my community and initiates conversation about education. Again, two people amongst all of my social spheres wanted to discuss the state’s future leader in public education with me. To top it off, one of those people was my husband, whom may have been forced (I call it gently persuaded) into the conversation! I didn’t think anything of this lack of conversation. In fact, I’d say I didn’t even notice it. That is, until recently.
After the Election Day, I heard from three people that said they didn’t even vote for a candidate in that race because, as they shared, they didn’t know anything about them, didn’t know what the role of the elected person entailed, and/or didn’t care about that position. More people in my world shared with me that they didn’t vote for our next Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction than engaged with me in conversations about this position.
However, from November 23rd, 2016 when Betsy DeVos was announced as the then President-elect Trump’s choice for United States Secretary of Education to February 7, 2017, when Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the education secretary, I can’t think of anyone that I did not discuss her agenda, politics and education philosophies with.
I wasn’t seeking out conversations but everywhere I turned I was being asked, “You’re a teacher, what do you think about DeVos?” or “What’s going to happen to America’s public schools now?” The conversations went on for several months and are still regularly initiated by my 3rd graders, parents, colleagues, family, friends and even the grocery store clerk. From ages 8 to 88, the people I know have been so interested in asking questions about DeVos, the role of the U.S. Secretary of Education and public education in general. These conversations have been genuine, deep, thought-provoking and full of eye-opening stories. I have not experienced any sense of hysteria in these discussions and have felt like true discourse has taken place.
Adults in this country have a right and responsibility to vote in a variety of elections. We are entrusted with casting informed votes. Yet, when given the opportunity to vote on issues important to children in our state, I first-handedly know of adults that didn’t engage in this work. These same people have had greater engagement with a political decision that did not even require a vote of citizens. In fact, one person that I know did not vote in the Rekydal vs. Jones race, was writing her legislators asking for a vote against Betsy DeVos.
While some question the quality of the U.S. public school system, the Horace Mann League and National Superintendents Roundtable have recently released data to show that public schools are in fact NOT failing. NPR reports that the 2014-2015 school year had U.S. graduation rates at an all time high (83%). Public schools systems, like all systems, have room for improvement. However, public schools are doing great things for students. Every child deserves a quality education. A quality education is not one unless it’s a quality education for ALL students. While the current agenda of the U.S. Secretary of Education does not put me at ease, the increased conversation about schools and students can only deepen the public’s knowledge about what it is all students do need.
There is a lot of political uncertainty in our country right now. Amongst other issues, there are polarizing opinions about public education. However, if there’s one thing I can thank Ms. DeVos for, it is for widening the conversation about public education. There’s a lot that I don’t know about education. I’ve learned more about education policy in the last 3 months than I have in my entire career. I’m excited to have more discourse around this. The DeVos nomination has caused a conversation that I’m proud to be a part of.
So, Betsy DeVos, I’d like to, along with my very cautious eye, personally send my thanks.
Thank you for encouraging Americans to engage in research about school programs.
Thank you for empowering teachers to share their voice.
Thank you for motivating students to tell their stories.
Thank you for launching legislative work in looking at education funding.
Thank you for bringing the spotlight to public education.
Thank you for making the national conversation about kids greater. My students deserve that.
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.