(This article was published February 1, 2017 in the Hot Springs (AR) Sentinel Record and is reprinted here with permission of the author.) (emphasis added).
I’m writing in response to Brock Rigsby’s well-written letter to senators (The Sentinel-Record, Jan. 29, 2017) urging them not to hire Ms. DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. I write as an educator of 41 years — 18 years as a classroom teacher at all levels from grade two through doctoral level, and 20 years in educational administration — with a Master of Arts in Teaching and a doctorate in educational administration. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Rigsby’s opinions for the following reasons:
Experience. If this is a criterion for the position Ms. DeVos would occupy, why are U.S. schools doing so poorly? Experienced educators have been in this top position for years, but in 2015/2016, the U.S. educational system ranked 14th among the top 20 countries in the world (MBC Times, Feb. 9, 2016). According to a recent survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, only 16 percent rank U.S. STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education above average (Pew Research Center, Feb. 2, 2015). So experienced educators haven’t been doing all that well. In fact, experienced educators have largely been in control of the two main teachers’ unions, and their control of public education has been a major factor in the mediocre education we find in many areas of the country, especially in the inner cities.
Experience is considered to be a liability in some positions, such as in the Department of Defense, where we insist on civilian control of the military. Historically, this has been true also of the U.S. school system where local school boards are largely comprised of lay persons, rather than experienced educators. Ms. DeVos has had experience where it counts in promoting school improvement.
School choice. The only real hope of improving America’s schools is in fostering greater competition, both through charter and private schools and a voucher system that allows parents to choose the best schools for their children. As long as experienced educators have a stranglehold on our public school system, there is little incentive for them to improve it. Competition for public funds would force them to improve or close. Historically, private education has usually proven to be superior to public education at the elementary and secondary levels. Betsy DeVos is a strong advocate for charter schools and a voucher system.
Local control of the school system. Increasing central control of public education has been a bane rather than a blessing. A one-size-fits-all approach has largely failed, even though the U.S. spends more per student than most other countries. Educational control needs to be returned to the states and local school districts in order for the best interests of students to be served. Ms. DeVos supports greater local control of our school systems.
In closing, I would urge Mr. Rigsby to reconsider his opposition to the appointment of Betsy DeVos. The experience she has had in improving education in Michigan is precisely what is needed to improve public education in our country.
LeVerne Bissell, MAT, EdD