When my son started his education, he went to a private Catholic school. This was not my choice—it was my ex-wife’s choice. I wanted to send him to the public school down the street from me. That being said, it was the school that she and her brother and sisters went to. My ex-wife paid his tuition out of her own pocket and did not expect tax dollars to go toward our son’s tuition. I have no complaints about the education he received at that school. The teachers were exemplary and the curriculum, other than religion classes, was stringent. There were no special needs children in the school, and diversity? There was none.
After eighth grade, we sent him to a public high school. Again, I have no complaints about the education he is receiving in school, and his teachers have been and continue to be commendable. One of his teachers is also a wrestling coach. When my son arrives at school at 6:00 AM to go lift weights for wrestling, that teacher is there taking my son and his fellow wrestlers through their workout routine. He teaches all day and does not go home until 6:30 at night when practice is over. If there is a dual meet, he is at school until 8:30 PM. If it is an away meet, he may not get home until 9:00 PM—and he still has to grade papers.
While not all teachers are this dedicated, many of them are. They not only have to teach, they also have to resolve conflicts, play social worker, and in some cases play mom or dad. They know how to do their job, and most do it well.
Which leads me to secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos’ testimony—specifically a line of questioning that Sen. Al Franken pursued.
Sen. Franken: When I first got in the senate in 2009, i had a roundtable of principals in Minnesota. He said, we think of the MSLB test as autopsies. I know exactly what he meant. The students take the test in April, they get the results in late June. The teachers cannot use the test results to inform their instruction. I saw that in Minnesota, the majority of the schools were taking a computer adaptive test, a computer test where you get the results right away, and adaptive so you can measure outside the grade level. This brings me to the issue of proficiency, which the senator cited, versus growth. I would like your views on the relative advantage of assessments and using them to measure proficiency or growth.
Ms. DeVos: I think if I am understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student is measured according to the advancements they are making in each subject area.
Sen. Franken: that's growth. That's not proficiency. In other words, the growth they are making is not growth. The proficiency is an arbitrary standard.
Ms. DeVos: proficiency is if they have reached a third grade level for reading, etc.
Sen. Franken: I'm talking about the debate between proficiency and growth, what your thoughts are on that.
Ms. DeVos: I was just asking the clarify, then --
Sen. Franken: this is a subject that has been debated in the education community for years. I have advocated growth as the chairman, and every member of this committee knows, because with proficiency teachers ignore the kids at the top who are not going to fall below proficiency, and they ignore the kid at the bottom who they know will never get to proficiency. I have been an advocate for growth. But it surprises me that you don't know this issue.
Now, if you asked me the difference between growth and proficiency in regard to education, I would not know the answer. I am not an educator, so there is no reason for me to know the difference. I do know several teachers, and I asked them their opinions of DeVos’ testimony. Once we all moved on from the grizzly bears running wild in our schools, we got to Sen. Franken’s line of questioning. The response that struck me the most was from an educator who has been in the classroom for more than 20 years.
Any teacher with 5+ years and minimal preparation could have performed better than Mrs. DeVos during her testimony. She showed a complete lack of an educational foundation. This was most apparent when she could not differentiate between growth, and proficiency.
Ms. DeVos is smart—and ignorant at the same time. It’s not clear if she is willfully or purposely ignorant. Her responses to Sen. Franken about proficiency and growth were most telling.
She has an agenda and she is knowledgeable about her agenda, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of education, she appears to be ignorant. But she passes herself off as an expert in education in pursuit of her agenda. This is the Trump administration in a nutshell: incompetent, ignorant, and in pursuit of agendas that will harm the majority of Americans. In the case of DeVos, she wants to take your tax dollars and give that money to for profit corporations to educate our children.
Those corporate schools (let’s call them what they really are, as they are not "charter schools") are often held to a lower standard than public schools. They do not have to take special needs children as they cost too much to educate—and that takes away from profits.
This is all under the guise of school choice. But really it’s the theft of our tax dollars to enrich corporate education companies. If so-called fiscal conservatives really cared about where our tax dollars go, then alarm bells should be going off their heads. School choice is nothing more than corporate welfare, with no accountability. If you want to send your child to a private school, feel free to do so, but do not expect the taxpayers to pay for it.
Public schools have been a part of this nation from the beginning. As western lands opened up after the Revolutionary War, Congress, then under the Articles of Confederation, passed the Land Ordinance of 1785 which specifically called out public schools for every township in the new western territories.
There shall be reserved for the United States out of every township the four lots, being numbered 8,11,26,29, and out of every fractional part of a township, so many lots of the same numbers as shall be found thereon, for future sale. There shall be reserved the lot No. 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools within the said township…
It does not say lot No. 16 will be reserved for a charter school or a for-profit school. The specifically says that every township should have one reserved lot for a public school. There was no school choice: education was seen as within the purview of government.
If we allow DeVos and her allies to rip apart our public education system in the name of school choice, we could lose our public schools. And once they are gone, there will be no getting them back.