In 2016, the Cleveland Browns had the worst record in the NFL. Earlier this month, the team’s owners wrote season ticketholders with an apology that in part read: “You deserve the best, and you certainly deserve better than a 1-15 team.”
A record of performance should matter. However, next week a confirmation hearing is scheduled for the architect of the worst example of school “reform” in the country to become the U.S. Secretary of Education. Americans, especially students, parents and teachers, deserve better.
President Donald Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos, an unqualified billionaire heiress from Michigan, to be the nation’s top school administrator. DeVos is not a teacher and has no formal training in education. She has never served as a superintendent, on a school board or as a college president. It’s unclear what qualifications she would bring to Trump’s cabinet.
With DeVos as chief lobbyist and cheerleader, Michigan legislators adopted a Wild West approach to school governance, allowing private charter schools to expand with public funds, but without adequate oversight or public accountability.
The result has been an epic failure. Students in Detroit routinely finish last — dead last – in reading and math scores among big city U.S. school districts. Detroit schools hit bottom neither once nor twice but four times in a row – in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
In the 2015 biannual National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 27 percent of Detroit’s fourth-graders achieved proficiency in reading, and just 36 percent were proficient in math.
By comparison, 74 percent of students in Miami Dade achieved fourth-grade reading proficiency and 86 percent were proficient in math.
A year-long investigation by the Detroit Free Press found that after years of expensive lobbying by DeVos-funded advocacy groups, Michigan’s charter schools are characterized by “wasteful spending and double-dipping.” Insiders, the newspaper reported, are “steering lucrative deals to themselves” while lightly regulated charter schools “ operate for years despite poor academic records.”
“We’ve had a total and complete collapse of education in this city,” Michigan attorney Scott Romney (Mitt’s brother) told The New York Times last summer. Romney is a board member of New Detroit, a civic advocacy group.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, in a speech at the National Press Club prior to the first DeVos congressional hearing, summed it up this way: “The president-elect, in his selection of Betsy DeVos, has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.”
Is this what our schools and students need — an inexperienced partisan ideologue with a track record of failure and a disdain for public education?
Miami-Dade schools face a host of challenges. We’re over-testing our students and losing millions of dollars because of an antiquated property tax collection system. We don’t get the financial support and resources from Tallahassee that we should. We’ve got one of the largest populations of immigrant students in the entire nation. We could use some assistance from the U.S. Department of Education.
We need a team leader with experience who supports teachers, parents and students.
We need someone who finds the right balance between charters and traditional public schools and who fights for school reform based on solid evidence.
DeVos fails in all of these areas.
For that reason, public school educators in South Florida, including the members of the United Teachers of Dade, are joining with teachers all across the nation in opposing her confirmation. The U.S. Senate should reject DeVos’ nomination and insist on a team approach with a coach who knows how to win when it comes to improving student performance. We deserve better.
Karla Hernandez-Mats is a Florida special education teacher and president of United Teachers of Dade. This op-ed appeared in the Miami Herald.