DeVos is wrong about our D.C. schools
Last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Jefferson Middle School Academy in the District. Prior to her visit, I sent a letter to teachers at Jefferson letting them know that I, along with other Washington Teachers Union representatives, parents and other education advocates, would be outside Jefferson when DeVos arrived — not to protest her visit but to make it clear that we support strong, walkable public schools in every Zip code of our city.
Although the Washington Teachers Union opposed DeVos’s nomination, we want her to be successful now that she has been confirmed.
The union was hopeful that, once DeVos spent time with the children and teachers at Jefferson, she might understand why public education is very important to our city, our nation and our democracy. We saw the secretary’s visit as an opportunity for her to stand behind public schools — and the teachers, parents and students at Jefferson Academy.
Instead, DeVos chose to disparage Jefferson’s teachers and, in so doing, show her contempt for the hard work that these dedicated educators do every day to help our children succeed — in and outside of the classroom.
This is what happens when someone who has never spent a day in a public school as a classroom teacher or student believes she is capable of passing judgment on the work that teachers do on a daily basis.
DeVos told the conservative online publication Townhall that teachers at Jefferson Academy seemed to be in “receive mode.”
“They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child,” DeVos said.
As you might expect, DeVos’s opinion of teachers at Jefferson did not sit well with the teachers union or with Jefferson’s staff. The brave teachers at Jefferson immediately took to Twitter to “school” the secretary and educate her on some of Jefferson’s outstanding teachers and programs.
“JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode,’ ” one tweet said. “Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”
Jefferson is one of the 11 community schools in the District that provide additional support to underserved students. Community schools recognize and address the detrimental effects of poverty on teaching and learning by establishing community partnerships that help to coordinate educational, developmental, family, health and after-school-care programs — available during school and non-school hours for students, families and communities. These schools boost academic achievement; reduce absenteeism; build stronger relationships involving the school, students, parents, the community and community partners; and enhance the well-being of residents of the community.
If DeVos is serious about empowering teachers at Jefferson and other public schools, as she suggests she is, then she should support and fund community schools and not, as she has done in Michigan, push privatization schemes that lead to separate and unequal educational opportunities for our children and undermine local control and accountability for all of our publicly funded schools.
DeVos should also stand up for teachers unions, which are the leading advocates for ensuring that classroom teachers have a voice in the workplace and quality professional development and that great teaching is at the heart of great public schools.
The 4,800 members of the Washington Teachers Union, along with parents and our allies, believe that public education is the cornerstone of our American democracy. Public schools prepare the nation’s young people — rich, poor, native- and foreign-born, and of all abilities — to contribute to our nation’s society, economy and civic life.
We urge DeVos and the Trump administration to speak up on behalf of public schools at every opportunity — and not scapegoat our schools and our educators or use them as photo ops. Our children deserve better.
Protesters confront Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she arrives at Jefferson Middle School Academy in the District on Feb. 10.