(This blog is dedicated to David Twombley who was always encouraged my writing)
Imagine going to work for the United States Department of Education. I know a couple people who have worked there and a couple who still work there. They went there with hopes of connecting students to resources that would help them grow. They went there with the hopes of insuring that our most vulnerable students had access to the same quality of learning as our most affluent. Like almost all of us go into education, they got into it to make schools better.
In what is probably the least shocking news in recent memory, a study shows that morale at the U.S. Department of Education is down 12.4% (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2018/12/13/betsy-devos-gets-bad-reviews-employees-morale-education-department-plummets-survey-finds/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.040e675f3c8e) over the last two years. Now, imagine going to work for the Department of Education after the President appoints a person who has never taught in a public school, who has never attended a public school, who has never sent her children to a public school, and who has made it her life’s mission to divert resources away from public schools to be your boss. It doesn’t take much imagination to assume that working at the U.S. Department of Education has to be pretty miserable these days.
While working for a Billionaire who doesn’t know anything about public education has to be part of what makes jobs at the Department of Education depressing, it seems to me that the really horrible part has to be that the job has to be going from working to help students and teachers to actively enabling grifters (https://www.brookings.edu/research/betsy-devos-for-profit-colleges-education-america/), taking away protections for our most vulnerable students (https://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/articles/2018-03-07/betsy-devos-education-dept-to-roll-back-help-for-students-with-disabilities), and making colleges less safe (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/betsy-devos-set-to-bolster-rights-of-accused-in-rewrite-of-sexual-assault-rules/2018/11/14/828ebd9c-e7d1-11e8-a939-9469f1166f9d_story.html?utm_term=.870c69d42d02), . That’s the work of your Department of Education these days.
It should be shocking that Betsy DeVos devotes no notable time or energy from her bully pulpit to support public school students or teachers, and yet it really isn’t that shocking. She sees her role as a protector of the privileged. For those who went to work in the Department of Education to make schools better, going to work each day in service of wealthy grifters hoping to put some tax dollars in their own pockets has be demoralizing.
I promise that educators often don’t have a great deal of love for the Department of Education. Our interactions with them are often in the form of red tape to be filled out or “report cards” of our schools based on narrow slices of standardized test results and other random statistics. And yet, I never doubted that they were trying to do something to make public schools better (even if I disagreed with how they were going about it). It’s a whole new world now. We have a Secretary of Education who is openly hostile to our public schools and who has shown no interest in looking out for the students who need public schools the most.
What Betsy DeVos is doing to Department of Education is shameful. Two years ago I begged Senator Chuck Grassley to vote no at her confirmation hearings (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/a-letter-to-my-senator-regarding-betsy-devos_us_5840b07ae4b04587de5de88b). At the time my biggest concern was her role in the failure of education policy in her home state of Michigan. She was clearly unqualified for this job and she had used her considerable fortune to influence years of bad education policy. It turns out that she is much worse at this job than I had imagined. What has happened at the Department of Education for the last two years should be an embarrassment for Senator Grassley and the other 49 senators who voted to approve her nomination.
President Trump and the 50 senators who voted to confirm Ms. DeVos have done a disservice to taxpayers and most importantly to the students who trust the Department of Education to have their backs. My heart goes out to the hard working men and women at the Department of Education who really want to have their backs, but are stuck working for someone who doesn’t. Working in the field of education is a privilege and a pretty sacred trust. It is beyond sad that the person in Ms. Devos’s seat is abusing that privilege and trust day after day.