Although controversial, not having experience in public education is not uncommon for the Secretary of Education. Betsy DeVos, unlike her predecessor John King Jr., does not have this experience. Just three out of the eleven former secretaries have been full-time teachers at K-12 schools. However, two have taught at Universities. King’s predecessor served as the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. The other four held careers in government before their appointment.
In early February, about 100 students at Ridgeview High School in Redmond staged a walkout in protest of the confirmation of DeVos. The Redmond School District released a message to families of students before the walkout, stating “Redmond School District recognizes the right of students to demonstrate their beliefs and concerns.” They also advised parents to remind their children to behave safely, responsibly, and respectfully at the walkout.
Central Oregon Community College professors have also expressed opinions.
“Having experience in education means you’re better prepared to advocate for educators,” said Angie Cole, an instructor in the Early Childhood Education department.
“I think students and educators are concerned about her prior experiences, her knowledge of public education laws, including IDEA, and how she will meet the needs of all students, including those from diverse, rural, or historically underserved populations,” Cole continued.
Although DeVos does not have experience in public education, she was the chairman of the American Federation for Children for seven years. This organization promotes school choice and vouchers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, vouchers are state-funded scholarships that pay for students to attend private schools.
“Choice can be a good thing, but we also need to have assurance that our policy makers are committed to equity and access for all children. It will be interesting to see how DeVos’s agenda aligns with the acts and policies already in place,” said Amy Howell, Associate Professor and Program Director of the Early Childhood Education program.
“Regardless of her policies, we do have laws to protect students’ rights, and it is imperative that educators, students, and families know how to advocate for free and appropriate education.” said Howell.
“[DeVos] will have to work hard to earn the trust of many public educators, administrators, and struggling families who may not have equitable options with school voucher policies,” said Cole.
Both Cole and Howell are hopeful for the new secretary’s efforts toward community colleges.
Hannah Welbourn | The Broadside