Why Betsy DeVos Doesn’t Make Sense for Kids in America

If you are reading this, you have likely read plenty about the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  I will share my views that are void of political bias.  They have nothing to do with who Betsy DeVos is as a person.  My views also have nothing to do with the union, pensions, salaries, or if educators are fairly compensated for what they do. You won’t find the words “common core” listed anywhere below.  These beliefs are rooted in the last 50 years of public education that my family has been part of on a daily basis. They are based on what I’ve observed and lived while working in three school districts over the past twenty years.imgres.jpg

My views are based on kids.  Kids in public schools, which makes up about 90% of kids in America.  While I am talking about all kids, there will be an emphasis on those who are come from average to low-income households.  After all, if our system is going to improve, those are the students we need to better service and support.  

This isn’t meant to be a dissertation.  It’s meant to be a practical breakdown of 3 simple reasons why this selection is a very bad one for education in our country.  

1. Her experienceShe did not attend public school in K-12 or college.  Neither did her children.  She has no teaching experience.  She has never worked in a school environment.  4 of the last 5 people to hold this position over the last 25 years have experience working in school systems.  I’m not going to make the countless analogies of experience such as having a general lead an army who had never been a soldier…but I could.  But this is similar to choosing a man who has been a zookeeper for 30 years to all of a sudden be the head football coach at Ohio State because he played in high school and watches games each Saturday.  

Teaching experience is not necessary, but it would’ve been nice.  Maybe spend some time as a district office administrator?  How about time on a local school board?  A role as a parent where you could experience the different academic and socioeconomic levels within the classroom of your child?  Nope.  None.  Spare me the talk of her being an “educational activist.”  For someone to truly have an understanding of how a school system runs or what a school system may need, experience working in that system is vital.  Spending a solitary minute working in a school system, over her past 38 years, should have been a prerequisite.   The children of this country deserve someone with the necessary background, experience, and resume to hold this position. 

2. The poverty learning gap – The question Betsy DeVos needs to answer has nothing to do with common core, school choice, or vouchers.  It has nothing to do with teacher evaluation or unions.  

The question is, “how are you going to close the poverty learning gap?”  

Search long and hard for anything that comes close to answering that question in Betsy’s “policies.”  You see, you’ve been sold a bill of goods when it comes to this alleged “learning gap” in America.  That is a complete farce and oversimplified.  What is the greatest common factor among low-achieving children?  Answer = poverty.  As John Draper tells us, “we have a poverty learning gap.”  This gap was not created by public schools.  It has nothing to do with schools.  Draper asks, “how do we negate the ill effects of poverty, dysfunctional families, and unsafe communities?”  Look long and hard for Betsy’s answer to that one.  We need someone in this job who understands that, has lived that and has ideas for addressing that.  That should have been another prerequisite.  

We are in a better position to support these students than ever before.  In a future post, I’ll share some myths and truths about public education today, test scores, where USA students rank in the world and why, as well as data that shows we are producing more college and career ready kids than ever before.  Our teachers are regularly evaluated, coached, and supported.  Changes to the tenure law have opened the option for districts to dismiss educators who are ineffective.  Professional development, the internet, and professional learning networks have deepened the instructional toolbox of strategies our teachers now have.  Schools are putting in place interventions, both emotionally and academically, for targeted students.  But those things depend on funding.  The very funding that Betsy DeVos would cut (specifically Title 1).imgres.png

3. Vouchers and school of choice don’t address the real problem – This is where my friends in the business world don’t get it.  They think of free enterprise and choice and how those models should pertain to schools.  Sorry, but it’s not a direct correlation.  Why? Because we are talking about people.  We are talking about teaching and learning.  We are helping to grow humans.  Listen to what Jamey Vollmer, businessman, learned about differences in schools and business:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9TUrHMZMno

You can read a lot about the pros and cons of vouchers.  However, I can break it down for you very simply.  Vouchers will allow parents who are already focused on their child’s education to divert funds from one school to another.  Their kids, who are already likely to be college and career ready, will receive further resources than they currently have.  The kids who don’t have parents to advocate for them, will be left in schools with less resources than ever before.  I won’t even get into the issues with these funds going to private or charter schools.  That is another topic for another day.

What matters is that these to be created high-end schools, with the best teachers and most resources, will exist, but only for the few.  So the underserved will be more underserved than ever.  We have schools who achieve at or above state averages despite having many more at risk students.  Why is that?  A big part is resources.  Those are the very resources that will be ciphened away because of vouchers and these personal accounts parnets would have.

The average income and proficiency student, who wants to stay at his public school because his parents went there, will see a dip in the overall level of the school they attend.  That will be because top educators will leave and so will part of the resources.  Don’t tell me about choice.  Those parents already have the choice to send their child to another school.   Those schools exist.  What is so wrong with that system right now?  But to take the funding away from public schools to further separate the have’s and have not’s goes against the intent and history of public education in our country. 

I could really go on and on.  But I’m going to leave it at that.  No experience.  No answer for supporting students  who have not been successful.  In fact, she doesn’t even address that as a topic in her ideas.  Her primary “policies” will increase the opportunities of very few while diverting funds away from those who need it the most.  This appointment was a bad one for kids and those who spend their lives supporting them.  I would argue Betsy DeVos in this position is not only a nightmare for educators in our country, but also for anyone who happens to possess a heart and a brain.

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Don’t Just Evaluate Teachers, Coach Them!

I was sitting in the middle of a post-observation conference this week with a teacher and what was said really impacted me.  I knew right away that I had to write this post.

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Teacher evaluation has been a hot topic in our profession over the last 5 years.  There have been debates, lobbying, and public acts coming out of Lansing.  New models have been introduced, discussed, and agreed upon.  Administrators have been trained.  Teachers have been observed, evaluated, and scored.  While all of that has taken place and grabbed a majority of the headlines, I believe that all the wrong types of things have been discussed.

The discussion should not be about how we evaluate, rank, or score teachers.  That was too much of my focus in my first couple of years as a principal.  It should be about how we support and grow teachers.  Rick DuFour thinks,”We have the greatest generation of educators we’ve ever seen in our schools right now” and I 100% agree.  Yet, so many have spent time talking about what to do with that 1 out of 50 teacher who is minimally effective, instead of what is the formula to grow each and every teacher.  Too many discussions are about non-renewals, individual development plans,  or tracks of improvement.  Those are such rare instances yet they take up so much of the air time.  Some models certainly emphasize the growth process better than others, but regardless of model, the mindset of growth can prevail.

Change the word “evaluator” into “coach” and a lot of things change.

Change the words “teacher evaluation” into “collaborative feedback for educator growth” and a lot of things change.

Sure, I’m sure those statements are bound to get the”everyone gets a trophy”crowd angry and up in arms about the softening of America.  Spare me.  Save your rhetoric.  Growing and supporting someone doesn’t mean something is easier or softer.  It can mean more targeted, intentional, and focused.  It simply means you are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with that teacher, together, in an effort to improve their practice.

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A “coach,” whether it is athletic, life, instructional, or cognitive, knows how to get the most out of his “player.”  The coach knows that unless the player knows how much they care, they’ll never care how much they know.  A big part of coaching is understanding what that individual needs and adjusting your style to fit those needs.  A coach knows when to inspire, listen, suggest, or demand.

If I had to list some big picture components for an administrator to support growth of a teacher through an observation cycle or process, here would be my 5:

  1. Build relational trust with the individual.  They need to know your intentions are 100% in supporting and growing their practice
  2. Begin an instructional dialogue by getting to know them as an instructor.  Go slow to go fast
  3. Be vulnerable.  There may be parts of their practice that are superior to anything you did as a teacher.  That is a good thing!  You don’t have to know everything.  There will be opportunities to learn WITH the teacher
  4. Possess a deep skill set and knowledge base of instructional practices.  Find the areas that you need to grow in and address them through reading, PD, peer conversations
  5. Individualize and differentiate the plan based on the current status of the teacher

That mindset, the one of growth and support, can make a big difference.  The word choice, of growth model vs. teacher evaluation, can make a big difference.  These laws are not going away.  But we have the freedom and opportunity to control the mindset and grow each teacher, lesson by lesson, day by day, month by month, and year by year.  Together.

COACH…don’t just evaluate