It’s time to have a secretary of education who loves public schools as much as the educators literally sacrificing their lives to educate America’s children.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos discusses school choice, COVID-19
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Louisville on Monday to participate in a roundtable talk with Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition.
Alton Strupp, Louisville Courier Journal
The U.S. Department of Education is a smoldering dumpster fire thanks to outgoing secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. Miguel Cardona, the president-elect’s nominee, will need to be a mix of firefighter, cheerleader and advocate.
Instead of fighting to help public education survive and thrive, DeVos spent her days concocting schemes for using federal dollars to benefit private schools. Her most telling quote about public school: “The traditional education system is a dead end.” It’s not, but DeVos was a dead end for public schools.
Educators are patient, and resourceful. They know how to turn an empty classroom into four walls with miracles inside. But those miracles, amid a pandemic and a brutal season of racial and political strife, come at an emotional and economic price for both children and educators.
It’s time to have a secretary of education who loves public schools as much as the educators literally sacrificing their lives to educate America’s children. It’s time for urgent change.
By all media reports, Cardona is a measured, careful leader who takes a moderate approach toward change. Normally I’d cheer these qualities, but we don’t live in normal times. First, the department needs to be swept clean of DeVos hires. If she hired them, they don’t believe in public education.
After that fire is tamed, it’s time to take steps to have the backs of public-school students and educators. Here are some suggestions.
Cardona needs to surround himself with classroom educators. I’m not talking about administrators who once were teachers, I’m talking about practitioners directly from the classroom. They should serve as a “kitchen cabinet” for making decisions about both K-12 and higher education. I would suggest Jill Biden as the chair of this group. Cardona should listen, and he should let them help develop policy long-term.
There are also some immediate stroke-of-the-pen solutions. Two glaring examples of DeVos rule changes involve higher education. She changed the rules to make it easier for predatory lending institutions to take advantage of poor college students, and she also made it harder for students to report sexual assault on college and university campuses. hese are harmful and must be changed immediately.
By far the biggest part of Cardona’s job will be to offer specific guidance to the states on how to open schools safely. DeVos washed her hands of this responsibility saying it was a state decision.
The reason can be found simply in the first name of our country. We live in the United States of America, and every student deserves a safe place to learn no matter if they live in Alabama or Washington.
Opening schools and then keeping them open will require a couple of things. First, all school personnel need to be vaccinated as essential workers as soon as possible, and that includes substitute teachers.
Second, there needs to be a substantial increase in federal funding for every public school specifically earmarked for safety. That way school districts can afford rapid testing and take safety measures suggested by the new “kitchen cabinet of educators.”
Being a firefighter, cheerleader and advocate is a huge job. But if Cardona takes immediate action, he will ensure public education will remain the bedrock of our democracy.
Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for 11 years, and a regional director for the Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement.