Betsy DeVos, A Defender Of Some

Unfortunately for the majority of students in struggling schools, they will not be given a lifeboat by Betsy DeVos.
02/03/2017 05:53 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2017
Yuri Gripas / Reuters

For a few lucky students, there is some good news for you— Betsy DeVos will fight for you. Yes for some children, Betsy DeVos will look to send you to what she considers to be a better school and she will share your success story out with the world to claim as her victory. Betsy DeVos is determined to create more voucher programs and more charter schools in the next four years. And as her plan wreaks havoc on the educational system, there will be some students that will benefit from her programs but this will come at the expense of millions of other children. Unfortunately for the majority of students in struggling schools, they will not be given a lifeboat by Betsy DeVos. Actually, most students will receive quite the opposite. In order to pay for her programs, she will be taking money that is currently used to fund public schools. And she will not be making commercials about these sad stories.

I do not see education and children in the same way as Betsy DeVos. I attended public schools. I actually believe that the idea of public education in our country is a very American ideal. At its core, the goal of public education is to not just provide lifeboats for the few but instead to provide an opportunity for all children to have a chance to achieve the American Dream.

I have been lucky enough to work in public education for much of the last twenty years. And I do realize that public schools, charter schools, and private school vary in their level of quality. There are great ones and there are struggling ones for each group. Unlike Betsy DeVos, I believe that now is a time that we should dig in and dedicate our resources towards building great public schools for all students to compete in a global economy and become thoughtful citizens. My plan is much harder to achieve, but it is much closer aligned to the ideals of what most people think makes this country great.

We must build a wall around our public schools and declare that this system will not be dismantled.

I can see why my plan to build from within the public schools appears so daunting for Betsy DeVos. She was not a product of the public schools and worked to ensure that her children avoided them. She doesn’t understand special education or educational law. She knows the negative stories about public schools splashed in the press and the happy anecdotes of success for some families that benefited from vouchers or charter schools. It’s easy to see how she has formed her plan to divert money from public education to send some students to privately funded schools.

But at this point, we need to make a hard decision. Do we as a society still believe in the American Dream as something that should be within reach for all kids? Do we believe that it is our responsibility to create schools for all children? Betsy DeVos is ready to abandon the premise of public education and head down a road towards privatization and disguise it as “choice”. But for those of us who have been entrenched in the work and have seen that our public education system would be better served if we work to build a system that looks out for all children, then we must draw a line to protect the many who will be harmed by this abdication of responsibility.

It is true that there are failing public schools as well as innovative ones­ — and the same could be said for charter schools and private schools. But it is not a time to abandon a system that is American in its ideal. At this point, we are at a crossroads as a society. Betsy DeVos will work to provide some choices for some families— she will be the defender of some families that attend failing public schools. But there will be many, many more that are not given more choices— what happens to them? The money for vouchers and other privately financed alternatives will come at the expense of funding of our public schools and Betsy DeVos has no plan to defend the children left behind and left out.

I can see how someone with no experience in the public schools could be so misguided. I’m sorry that she’s not coming to our school or others that serve as great models to replicate aspects of curriculum or supports for students. She’s been sold the false narrative that the teachers’ unions prevent public schools from achieving greatness and she is ready to implement a business model of dog eat dog that will leave more children with fewer resources. But the truth is that replication trumps abandonment.

For the next four years, the students most in need will have more funding diverted from their schools. During this time, she will trot out anecdotes of success for the press and capitalize on sad stories of some public schools struggling with less funding. Unless we decide as a society to say that a defender of the few is not good enough to guide our educational system, our children will lose.

We must build a wall around our public schools and declare that this system will not be dismantled. We have to speak up for the families that would never be able to use a voucher or students that would be excluded from privatized schools. Public education is a part of a vision of the American Dream and this dream should not be deferred by Betsy DeVos. We need to work to ensure that public education is sustainable for generations to come for all children.

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