On November 23, 2016, Donald Trump named Betsy DeVos as his pick for Education Secretary. On February 7, 2017, she was confirmed and entered his cabinet. And while qualifications for cabinet positions come in many forms, I think everyone can agree that DeVos isn’t exactly what you would call qualified.
Even Senate Republicans, who have the majority, were wary of her confirmation and she was only confirmed when Mike Pence used his power as President of the Senate, the only really interesting thing he gets to do while he waits for Trump to either die or get impeached so he can take office, to break the 50-50 tie.
DeVos herself did not attend public school and she did not send her children to public school. She also firmly believes in school voucher programs and charter schools, things that pretty much undermine any progress public schools might make. And now she is in charge of public education. Because that makes sense.
Now I’m not trying to say that public schools are perfect. I went to public school, a fairly large one with about two thousand students. I’ve lived through PE classes with sixty people or more, English classes where there aren’t enough school copies of the assigned reading for the whole class, and a lot of standardized testing that never told me or my teachers anything remotely important.
The public school system is flawed, that’s not a new concept. But how can it get better with someone like DeVos, whose solution is to just move all the kids to charter schools? What good does that do us?
When I started kindergarten at Julia Morgan Elementary in Stockton, CA, there were about twenty kids in my class. I had a teacher, Mrs. Womack, and there were countless parent volunteers and school aides to keep us all alive and entertained.
This year, at the same elementary school, my mom’s kindergarten class started with 22 kids and now has 24 kids because of overflow from other schools.Two more kids may not seem like a lot until you realize that she has a lot less help now too. She still has some parent volunteers and some high school kids in the ROP (Regional Occupational Program) class who help on most days but no school aides, not even for any autistic kids she might have. So on any given day, the ratio of her classroom is 24:1. This is a stark contrast to Mrs. Womack’s classroom, where the ratio was more like 12:2.
It’s no wonder the number of people deciding to be teachers is falling, no one in their right mind would become a teacher now, knowing that they could be put into a classroom with 24 kindergarteners and basically no help.
Fixing public schools isn’t going to be easy, national problems like these never are. If they were, no one would be living in poverty, everyone would go to college, and no one would be considering Trump’s wall. It’s going to take a lot of people to figure out how to fix what public education has become and, frankly, we could use as much help as we can get.
However, the public education system needs people that are invested in that system. That doesn’t mean that every person who went to a private school is evil or unqualified. But even if they did go to private school, they need to acknowledge the fact that not everyone can have the opportunity they had and the smarter option, the better option, is to make public schools so great that school vouchers won’t be necessary. Can they be a temporary fix? Sure. But you don’t put a band aid on a broken dam.
Like most of Trump’s cabinet, Betsy DeVos isn’t going to help anyone. The public school system hasn’t made a whole lot of progress since it took a bad hit in the recession, but as the Secretary of Education she now has the power to undo years of progress that educators have made. Over the years education has become less and less of a priority for everyone, and DeVos’ confirmation is only a symptom of the apathy that is hurting millions of students every day.