Steven Singer: The Ignorance and Arrogance of Betsy DeVos

Diane Ravitch's blog

Steven Singer watched the Betsy DeVos hearings and was taken aback by her ignorance of education policy and her arrogance in thinking she is qualified to be Secretary of Education.

He writes:

Betsy DeVos wouldn’t commit to protecting students with special needs.

She wouldn’t commit to keeping guns out of school campuses.

She wouldn’t commit to holding charter and voucher schools to the same standards as traditional public schools.

She didn’t know the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was a federal law.

And she couldn’t explain the difference between proficiency and growth.

That’s your nominee for Secretary of Education, America!

During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) tonight, DeVos showed herself to be hopelessly out of her depth.

She tried to cover her ignorance by being noncommittal. But it was obvious that she had no idea what she was talking about more…

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SubmitIn 2007, the Council of the District of Columbia, along with the mayor, the United States Congress and the president, amended the city’s home rule charter. The motivation for doing so was to eliminate the elected school board and give direct control of the District of Columbia Public Schools to the mayor. Features were written into the law to ensure a participatory role for stakeholders in the running of the schools. One such provision in the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) of 2007 was the process by which the DCPS chancellor was to be selected. The governing legislation states that“….(b)(1) Prior to the selection of a nominee for Chancellor, the Mayor shall: (A) Establish a review panel of teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teachers’ Union, parents, and students (“panel”) to aid the Mayor in his or her selection of Chancellor; (B) Provide the resumes and other pertinent information pertaining to the individuals under consideration, if any, to the panel; and (C) Convene a meeting of the panel to hear the opinions and recommendations of the panel. (2) The Mayor shall consider the opinions and recommendations of the panel in making his or her nomination and shall give great weight to any recommendation of the Washington Teachers Union…” Almost immediately after passage, features of PERAA have been treated by the executive as if they were optional, instead of mandatory, and the Council has approved the Mayor’s nominations, notwithstanding the Mayor’s violation of the legally required process. When former Mayor Adrian Fenty chose Michelle Rhee to be his school’s chancellor, he ignored every aspect of the process delineated in PERAA in making the selection. In 2011, former Mayor Vincent Gray, selected Kaya Henderson to be chancellor and, again, ignored the legally-mandated process for making the selection. And, again, the council placed its imprimatur on a choice that completely disregarded the law. As the city prepares to select the third chancellor since the passage of PERAA, another mayor, this time Muriel Bowser, is again treating the stakeholders’ role with disdain by announcing her choice of Oakland Public Schools Superintendent Antwan Wilson to lead DCPS. Mayor Bowser has not followed neither the letter nor spirit of the law in selecting Antwan Wilson. Prior to the selection of Mr. Wilson, Mayor Bowser did not provide resumes and other pertinent information about candidates being considered to the panel created to give opinions and recommendations about the selection. She did not meet with the advisory panel to hear opinions and recommendations about those under consideration for the position as chancellor. Nor did she give great weight to the recommendations of the Washington Teacher’s Union, as required under PERAA. In fact, she made it impossible for WTU to give any recommendations to her on the “individuals under consideration” because she refused to provide WTU representatives or other members of the advisory panel the resumes of any of the candidates under consideration. While Superintendent Wilson may have the qualifications and temperament to run DCPS, this is not the purpose of my letter. Should Mr. Wilson ultimately be approved by city council for the position as chancellor, the Washington Teacher’s Union will work with him enthusiastically and with a sense of partnership on behalf of all DC public school children. However, before that relationship can be initiated, Mayor Bowser should follow the legally-mandated process for choosing a chancellor. Although compliance at this stage of the process would be retroactive, the Washington Teachers’ Union recommends that prior to acting on Wilson’s nomination, city council should pass a Resolution finding that Mayor Bowser violated the PERAA and must in future adhere to all of its provisions, including distributing resumes of all candidates considered and personally meeting with the advisory panel to hear its recommendation for a candidate and those of the WTU prior to the Mayor’s selection of a nominee. This Resolution would be, in effect, a public censure of the Mayor and is a well-recognized form of legislative action for expressing a legislature’s strongly held position. It would preserve WTU’s objection and enable the Council to publicly assert the need for executive compliance with the selection law. During the nearly decade-long existence of PERRA the council has allowed the executive to ignore many of its requirements. It is time for such thin oversight to end. The Council has a responsibility to ensure the Mayor is accountable to its laws, especially as to such an important matter involving such a crucial executive-branch agency as DCPS. Our members and allies ask that you honor the letter and spirit of PERAA and protect the rights it gives stakeholders to comment on the individuals the Mayor was considering for crucial choice of chancellor before the Mayor has made his/her final selection. Elizabeth Davis is author and President of the Washington Teachers’ Union

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DC’s Fastest Growing Achievement Gap

The Washington Teachers’ Union Shared Vision conference last month, provided a banner opportunity not only for the (WTU), but also the significance of teachers’ voice in the debate around how we as a district must move forward to improve teaching and learning for all of our students. What was made clear, at WTU’s third annual Shared Vision Conference, was the commitment teachers truly share for strengthening professional development and community partnerships toward our goal of eradicating the persistent achievement gaps that have plagued the District – stunting the opportunities for too many of our children.

The numbers are indeed sobering as the failures become clear, the plan devised by the district to institute much needed reforms has not worked to improve outcomes for our students most “at-risk.” The gulf between what our city’s poorest and wealthiest families can expect from their school system has increased on average by over 30 scale points.

In the face of years of massive teacher terminations, unprecedented yearly teacher churn, and an aggressive teacher evaluation system predicated on the use of controversial and largely panned value-added measure (VAM) data – all of which assist in ensuring that district teachers have met the standards set out by the administration, our district’s low income students (many of whom have been in this system since the inception of the reforms) fair increasingly worse relative to fellow students who happen to go to schools with families that are wealthier on average.

 

 

Looking at the system as a whole, the district has maintained a modest improvement for all students, but when we disaggregate this data, a more compelling story emerges: students and teachers throughout the district are not receiving the needed resources that would aid in mitigating the scourge of multi-generational poverty.

DCPS must face some critical decisions moving forward with regard to the improvement strategies it employs. The teachers of this district have endured for over eight years, the prevailing doctrine that advantages the will of administration with little regard for the experience of those in the classroom. The result has been twofold: the often touted title of “fastest improving urban district in the nation” as measured by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data; and the often overlooked reality that the district has sustained the largest and fastest increasing achievement gap based on socio-economic status in the nation from that same data.

 

This data can be of little shock to district leadership when their own reporting indicates that in FY2015, DCPS awarded schools with decidedly low “at-risk” populations the lion-share of “at-risk” funds. The 5 best achieving schools in the district received 90% more funding than the 5 lowest performing schools – an untenable imbalance. Attached is the PowerPoint presentation that was shared with members who attended our special legislative session.

As our teachers, families, and students move toward the close of another school year, beleaguered by one more round of the districts random acts of reform (this iteration includes LEAP, ASPEN, and extended year initiatives) one constant remains – almost certain failure given the absence of DCPS’ systemic appetite for authentic collaborative cooperation.

Over a year ago, the WTU negotiations team of classroom teachers offered to the district a collection of research-supported strategies that could be collectively bargained in an effort to ensure the districts sustained commitment for at least the life of the contract. Key among them was the increased investment in community schools and instructional support materials, and an improved at-risk funding formula – it would appear from DCPS’ resistance that the district would prefer the WTU only care about the adults in the system.

As education professionals, the needs of teachers are only a reflection of the needs of our students. A record number of dissatisfied teachers have fled the district under this administration. DCPS’ own data reflects a massive 126% turnover rate over 6 years with only 11% of that due to what might be deemed poor performance. This district is by any reasonable measure a product of what the district endeavored eight years ago, and in so much time why hasn’t there been the results we were promised?

All of this data, and more were made available during the Shared Vision Conference at a special legislative session provided to enlighten and enliven the education leadership of our city. City council members and representatives of council members, State Board of Education members, State Superintendent(OSSE), labor and community organization leaders were in attendance, and pressed to investigate the data on their own. I pray that soon we all, with DCPS, might become allies in finally doing what’s best for students.

It is with urgency and determination that I, along with the rest of DC educators and parents assert that a change must come. And while I may be assailed by some for centering my focus on assuring that equity in education is a reality for all of our teachers and students in this district regardless of zip code, together we will not be moved. Please contact the WTU at dialogue@wtulocal6.net to find out how you can work with the Washington Teachers’ Union in helping to address this pernicious and growing achievement gap. Our teachers deserve better and our students cannot afford to wait another nine years.

Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers’ Union