On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a speech to dozens of state superintendents that her office described as “tough love,” but can more accurately be characterized as an indictment of the bang-up job she and the president she serves are doing for America’s schools.
“Right now a student is being bullied somewhere for only wanting to read, pay attention to the teacher and learn,” said DeVos, who revoked former President Barack Obama’s guidance to schools that transgender students should be able to use the restroom of their affirmed gender identity. “Right now a student at school is stepping over rats, breathing in mold and dodging fists,” said DeVos, who serves under a president whose budget slashed education spending by $11 billion, which included money for school safety.
Some superintendents argued, incredibly, that they shouldn’t be expected to do less with more. “All of the cuts that are proposed do make it more difficult to do some of the things that people here want more of,” Illinois state schools superintendent Tony Smith told the AP after he and his colleagues met with DeVos. Agreed North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kristin Baesler, a Republican: “It certainly makes our job harder to keep our students safe when our resources are being cut back or eliminated.”
The focus of DeVos’s speech, however, was the Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement for No Child Left Behind passed in 2015 that substantially reduced federal oversight over public education. “Just because a plan complies with the law doesn’t mean it does what’s best for students. Whatever the reasons, I see too many plans that only meet the bare minimum required by the law,” she said. “Sure, they may pass muster around conference tables in Washington, but the bare minimum won’t pass muster around kitchen tables.”
It would seem to be that this is one of the problems with removing federal supervision over education, taking a hatchet to the budget and expecting states, some of whom have dismantled public education with the help of education reformers like Betsy DeVos, to pick up the slack. Still, you have to admit that thought-provoking ideas like “schools should be better” and “kids should be safe when they go to school” show that DeVos has the chops to fix America’s schools.
If only she were in a position of power where she could do something about it.