Dear Just-Confirmed Secretary of Education DeVos,
Not only are the voters and parents of America watching you. History will judge you.
In seeking and accepting the position of Secretary of Education, you hold in your hand the future of America, for our children are our future. It is an awesome, and a fearsome responsibility.
Some 50.4 million American students go to public elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That is more than the entire population of Canada, and slightly less than the population of Italy.
And that statistic does not even include the hundreds of thousands of college students at our great public universities, or the majority of the nation’s twenty some million college kids who will be impacted by your policies on such things as student loans. See Elizabeth Warren inquires about DeVos’ experience with college loan program.
Your charges, our children, are diverse. On average, some three in ten, likely well over ten million do not share your Christian faith, in the way that you see fit to practice and advocate for it. Among them are Muslims and Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, atheists and agnostics, and children of mixed faiths, and the unaffiliated. (See NY Times story, Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools.)
The educational establishment, including researchers with PhDs, statisticians, educational experts and other highly qualified and credible authorities, who teach at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, will be evaluating the impact of your policies, the veracity of your statements, and the wisdom of your judgements. Their analyses will be published in highly regarded educational journals, often peer-reviewed, discussing empirical, theoretical, and methodological issues related to education and learning.
Parents of all kinds will not only rely on your leadership, but will complain vociferously if you diminish standards of education, or leave their children unprepared for a world evolving at a ferocious pace of change. That includes ensuring that they are taught rigorous science, and not creationism.
The parents and advocates of special needs kinds, and of children with learning disabilities are tireless, powerful media advocates for their kids.
Activists will be watching your every action regarding students who fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, with which you seemed shockingly unfamiliar in your confirmation hearings. (See the Washington Post article, Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing.)
The teachers unions, who advocate on behalf of the over 3 million full time public school teachers in the United States, are watching you.
Your decisions regarding DACA students will be the stuff of history, too. And it would be hard to imagine a story line that looks kindly on an heiress who makes life harder for an entire generation of aspiring, hopeful, talented and hard working immigrant children. California alone in 2016 had seven times more DACA eligible students than the entire population of your home town of Holland, Michigan.
Your resume as a lobbyist and philanthropist has generated profound skepticism. You are the first US Secretary of Education in decades who brings no experience to the job as a government official, educational administrator or even teacher. You never went to a public school, nor did your children. Reality check as to qualifications: you are following in the footsteps of Arne Duncan, about whose policies many disagreed but who at least brought credentials to the job; he was a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard who served as superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Federation of Teachers, organizations committed to the separation of church and state, advocates for GBLTQ/A rights, anti-voucher and anti-privatization groups, and many others will be watching you.
Please go look in the mirror. You should look different. Why? Because you’ve changed, having just taken on an immense responsibility in your new job. You are stepping out of the cozy, clubby world where money buys access and onto the high-wire of national, and historical, public scrutiny.
All Americans wish only success to our public education system and to the millions of students it serves. That’s why, for weeks, tens of thousands, perhaps more, sent postcards, marched in protests against you, and called their members of Congress to protest your nomination to this position. With the unprecedented intervention of a Vice President, Mike Pence, to secure your appointment, you how have the job.
And with it, a new episode of public accountability begins. Welcome to the fishbowl.