DeVos is wrong about our D.C. schools

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - EL­IZ­A­BETH A. DAVIS WASH­ING­TON The writer is pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton Teach­ers Union.

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.

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