[I sent this letter to my Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. While I am doubtful it will have any impact, public education will be in serious jeopardy if Ms. DeVos is confirmed]
It is my sincere hope that you decline to confirm Ms. Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Her history of lobbying in favor of funneling public funding toward charter and private schools is disturbing in itself. But some of her responses in her confirmation hearing were flat out ridiculous.
First and foremost, it is unacceptable that Ms. DeVos failed to recognize that IDEA was a federal law that must be followed by any school receiving federal funds. When she said “I may have confused [IDEA]”, she is showed a stunning lack of preparation that should have been expected for one wishing to be the head of the Department of Education. Public school teachers across the United States work daily to discourage that kind of poor attention to detail. But she didn’t attend public school, so perhaps she wasn’t pushed in that same way.
That lack of understanding of what classroom teachers do was also on display when Ms. DeVos was seemingly unaware of the difference in assessing a student’s growth versus a student’s proficiency. While that is a poor example to set as the would-be leader of our Education Department, it is particularly egregious when one considers how students with special needs or learning disabilities are assessed. A few years ago, I had a 9th grade student in a Special Education Algebra I class. This young man, I’ll call him C, was exceptionally well mannered, polite and would work very hard to understand the material. But C would also misspell his last name a couple times a week, and his functional grade level was somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade. (The debate over why a student like this young man would be forced into taking Algebra I is a debate for another day.) Did he show growth during that year? Absolutely, and C will make a fine employee for a company willing to invest in training him for a task. Did he show real proficiency in Algebra I? No. While it is convenient for politicians to arm-chair quarterback assessment policies, to be ignorant of the difference between proficiency and growth is simply a disqualifying for the person tasked with leading the education policy of the United States.
I have other major concerns with regards to Ms. DeVos, such has her opinion that schools should not be gun-free zones and her refusal to commit that any school – public, charter or private – that receives public funding be held equally accountable. But the failure to recognize IDEA as a federal mandate and the ignorance of the difference between proficiency and growth are not qualities we should expect for our Education Secretary.
I strongly urge you to vote ‘no’ on the confirmation of Ms. Betsy DeVos.