Dear Ms. DeVos, Please Handle Education with Care

I come from the perspective of a student, teacher, former union member, parent, and home educator asking you consider all sides of our educational system.

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Please handle education with care!

Dear Ms. DeVos,

I’m sure you noticed your appointment as the Secretary of Education was hotly contested. Pundits, parents, public school teachers, and politicians all had opinions about why you are not qualified for your new position.

I have my doubts as well. Some of your understanding of educational issues worries me, but we will have to wait and see. I’m willing to give you a chance, but . . .

Before you start this important work, I wanted to ask you to please consider all sides to this educational equation our country is trying to solve.

Educating our children is a multi-faceted problem.

I am a product of our public school system. I taught at public high schools in a union state and in a right-to-work state, and now, I homeschool my most precious student.

So, I come to you from the perspective of a student, teacher, former union member, parent, and home educator.




I understand you plan to reduce the power of the teachers’ unions.

I get it!

I’ve seen some awful teachers with lifelong job security thanks to the union. In some states, the process to remove a terrible teacher is so onerous that hundreds of teachers sit, collecting salary and benefits, until hearings can be held or they’re eligible for retirement. Obviously, change is necessary.

Dear Ms. DeVos, please handle our educational system with care. #BetsyDevos #education Click To Tweet

But I’ve also seen our union stand up for teachers’ rights to a set schedule, equitable salaries, reasonable class sizes, overtime for additional duties, affordable healthcare, etc. I’ve also seen them protect good teachers from from a public that doesn’t always understand the complexity or challenges of a job whose scope seems to grow every year.

Dear Ms. DeVos, You were appointed as the Secretary of Education, but your understanding of education worries me. I'm willing to give you a chance, but . . .

My first request is to treat teachers like the professionals they are. I know your focus is the children, but hear me out.

Teaching isn’t a job. It’s an art.

Something happens inside me when I envision the perfect way to teach an idea or make literature come to life. I bring that light and life to my classroom. Protect our art. Protect your artists.

I’ve seen teachers like me leaving the profession in droves. We aren’t paid or valued enough. Teachers aren’t respected as professionals. We aren’t allowed to teach. Having quality educational artists (teachers) will benefit every child, every school.

I don’t care if my students can pass a Scantron test. I want my students to be productive members of our society, able to write a persuasive letter to their representatives, functionally read books and articles to comprehend the world in which they live, to be curious and question and never stop learning.

Let us do that. Trust us to do that.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable educators that have been in the classroom recently. Always hear our thoughts. We literally are the experts.

Make sure you consider how your initiatives will filter down to the educators, without whom you cannot save education.

Secondly, if your goal is improving education for every child, you have to understand all the parts that go into “school choice.”

More than tuition will determine school choice for many families. Transportation and distance to school are real problems for many parents.

My child would ride a bus for an hour a day to get to our closest public school, you’d have to add at least an hour to get to any private or charter school. I don’t want transportation to steal two hours of my child’s day.

If I had to provide transportation to get her to the school of our choice, most of my day would be just driving her to school and home. I would have to choose between working and getting her to school. The public school at least offers affordable before and after school program and free transportation.

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Will your plan for school choice consider those very real concerns for families in such situations that need free/low cost transportation and before/after school care?

Choice isn’t a choice if it’s still out of reach for anyone.

Transportation and before/after school care are only the beginning of issues that many parents of children with special needs would have in “school choice.”

Most private and charter schools won’t even take students with special needs, of any kind. They don’t have the funds to pay a nurse to disburse medications. They don’t have special education teachers or aides to educate special needs students in the least restrictive environment (or at all). Often private schools do not have the licensing requirements of public school teachers, which includes being versed in educating special needs students.

How will you make all choices attainable for students with special needs?

Will you mandate that private schools MUST open doors to special needs children? How? They are private schools so they don’t have to follow public school guidelines.

How will you truly make this choice accessible for every child? If you don’t consider every child, the public school system will contain only the poorest, most needy, potentially the least engaged students while everyone who can flees to the closest “miracle” school.

I only taught for 17 years, and I can’t count the hours we spent aligning our lessons with the “brand new, miracle” solution that was going to save education. We’d grumble and fuss and do it anyway, knowing all our hard work would be obsolete in a year or two.

Quit throwing away the baby with the bath water!

What we know is that kids need creative, engaged teachers. To be creative, teachers need more planning time: time to study the results of lesson plans and craft objectives based on that data, time to be artists.

The University of California at Berkeley included a discussion of actual preparation hours for class.
The newsletter contained the guidelines that distinguish between a class a teacher has taught before and a new class. For a class taught before, the teacher should plan to spend 2 hours out-of-class for each hour of class for preparation and grading. For a new class, the teacher should plan to spend 4 hours out-of-class for each hour of class.

What I could have done with 2 hours per class?! I got one hour to plan per day (5-7 hours of instructional time) in my school day, the rest came outside of my paid work week.

Which is a joke. Teachers are already working 50, 60, even 80 hours a week. We can’t take any more of the weight of this “failed” education system on our shoulders. Sociological studies show a child’s neighborhood and home environment are more indicative of success than anything else.

How do you plan to change the culture?

Real educational change has to start in our culture. We have to change our ideas of education and intelligence.

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We have to return to vocational education and tie our core subjects to conceptual and functional learning. Not everyone needs calculus, but we all need to learn to do our taxes.

With the current push for every student to reach proficiency, students at the top are also ignored. We need the freedom to enrich the education for those already proficient. America soared both on the shoulders of geniuses and the backs of those who built their dreams.

Lastly, you may be the first Secretary of Edcuation to truly consider homeschool as an option for parents. I love that! I think homeschool is a great option. My daughter is getting a rich education that includes character building and strong family relationships. It’s beautiful.

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Yet, how do you plan to attach funds to a child in a way that protects parents’ rights to homeschool as we see fit? Homeschool parents don’t want government interference in our educational choices. And unfortunately, some children might need protecting from parents (or schools) that would might misappropriate those funds.

How will you balance freedom and protection?

Your statements have been that you intend to turn more control back to the states and communities, but unless you drastically change the property tax method of funding education, nothing will change. Rich neighborhoods will have good schools and poor neighborhoods will have less.

Coming from outside the system, you might just be the voice of reason. You might just shake things up enough to make a difference. But if you don’t surround yourself with seasoned educational experts, veteran public school teachers, you won’t know how your policies will shake out in real life.

Ms. Devos, be the best kind of leader. Find the best of the best educators and educational law experts and educational financiers and listen to them. Put them in a room and let them brainstorm. Throw in parents from all different backgrounds.

And please take them seriously.

Because we all have skin in this game. And we, parents and teachers, are playing for keeps.

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