Let's trust each other. Let's both do our jobs.
I'm a career educator with 23 years experience. I've pursued three degrees, working full time in education through two of them. I've taught autistic students in public and private settings and have been working in higher education for 15 years as a teacher educator, preparing teachers for their professional careers through the lens of social justice. I am fortunate to work with colleagues who are also deeply committed to teacher quality, and I write with a group of colleagues on teacher education and education reform. I actively volunteer for education organizations and hold positions on non-profit boards, but I can't call it philanthropy on a teacher's salary.
My job is complex. There's a lot at stake for educators today. Your job is also complex. As an elected official you're tasked with balancing and prioritizing issues to represent the constituents that elected you. You have the ultimate responsibility of representing the views of/maintaining the trust of voters and respecting partisan principles. But it's this quote, from your website, regarding the powers and procedures of the Senate prompts my letter to you today: "[T]he Constitution grants unique powers to the Senate, allowing it to serve as the more deliberative legislative body and as a check on the executive and judicial branches by providing advice and consent on nominations and treaties." I am writing, like the 315 education organizations you heard from, the 300 state lawmakers, and millions of people who have signed on or called and written, to ask you to honor your oath. Respectfully, this requires you to vote 'no' on DeVos.
DeVos' critics have said quite a bit about her complete lack of qualifications, her complex financial entanglements, and her uninformed priorities for education. Supporters have cited her philanthropy and offered praise for spending millions of dollars on school-choice and privatization efforts.
But let's look across partisan lines to a shared experience. You were collectively witness to her absolutely abysmal confirmation hearing. All of you heard wth your own ears as she told Senator Murphy of Connecticut, the state bearing the emotional burden of one of the most tragic school shootings in U.S. history, that guns should be in schools "to protect from grizzly bears." Every one of you heard her admit to being "confused" about the most recognizable special education legislation in history. Every ear heard and every eye watched as she evaded Senator Kaine's question about accountability for schools receiving federal funds.
So let's not mince words. You all know she is not qualified. Your constituents have told you she is not qualified. Droves of education leaders and educational organizations have told you she is not qualified. Because most importantly, she failed the tests of basic knowledge. She was unable to answer simple questions on common education issues. It's not enough to be nice, or kind, generous, sharp, or be a volunteer - this is deprofessionalization at its peak. Our profession is entitled to a candidate that is deeply immersed in and part of the profession in a visible way. Betsy DeVos is not this person - she is rather the epitome of what some of you refer to as the "unpreparedness" of US students, the products of "failing US schools" (a rhetoric worth debating in a future post). Betsy DeVos cannot speak confidently about the issues related to these debates -- because she doesn't know them. She can't pass the tests - why is she getting through the gate?
Please don't rationalize your support for DeVos based on flimsy facts or statements about her commitment to public education and her volunteerism. If you are voting for Ms. DeVos because you hope she will advance one of your personal political agendas, or because you owe her a debt of gratitude, then be transparent about those reasons. But please don't say teachers don't wish to change or improve. Please don't try to turn appropriate questions from concerned Senators into "character assassinations." Please don't try and convince me after 23 years in education that Besty DeVos is a visionary reformer.
Educators are not opposed to educational reforms if they make sense. Many disagree with testing requirements. Many urge reform that unlinks student test scores from teacher/teacher educator effectiveness in pursuit of a better way to measure teacher quality. Most do not wish to guard the status quo in public/private/charter/higher education. We seek change and continuous improvement in preparing tomorrow's teachers. But importantly, educators trust each other when we disagree. For example, I agreed with very little Dr. John King said, but I respected his experience and training, and this respect creates the space for trust, listening and dialogue. We need leadership that we trust -built from confidence that our leader understands the issues and has context for them.
This letter was my job. Please do yours. Listen to the voters and do not confirm Betsy DeVos. Let's move on to a nominee we can agree to disagree on --but all trust.