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Betsy DeVos Wants School Safety on Her Terms (Which Might Include Utilizing Vacant Museums)

June 6, 2018

US ed sec Betsy DeVos garners much press for her inability/unwillingness to forego her plastic smile and school choice infomercialistic speech and instead actually engage in true conversation with those who approach her with real-life situations affecting public education in America.

However, DeVos has no real interest in assisting traditional public education, quite the opposite; she works toward its undoing, including her mannequin-like responsiveness in discussions of the US education budget with members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, June 05, 2018.

Of course, the biggest news is that DeVos declared that the federal school safety commission created following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting does not have as its commission “per se” looking into the role of firearms. DeVos’ response was quickly followed by a “clarification” from US dept of ed spokesperson Liz Hill, as captured in Salon:

“That’s not part of the commission’s charge, per se,” the education secretary said in response to a question from Senator Patrick J. Leahy, D-VT, about whether the commission would study the impact of firearms in school shootings.

“So we’ll look at gun violence in schools, but not look at guns?” Leahy shot back in response. “An interesting concept.”

“We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school,” DeVos responded.

Leahy followed up with a question at the core of the commission’s stated mission, asking whether an 18-year-old high school student should be able to walk into a store and “moments later come out with an AR-15-style gun and hundreds of rounds in ammunition.”

DeVos dodged the question, telling Leahy that the topic was “very much a matter for debate.”

DeVos’ comments contradict the mission statement of the commission. The Education Department’s website says the commission was “charged with quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school,” including a “discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases.” …

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, clarified after the hearing that “the secretary and the commission continue to look at all issues the president asked the committee to study and are focused on making recommendations that the agencies, states and local communities can implement,” the New York Times reports.
“It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress’s job,” Hill added.

No one is asking DeVos’ commission to “create or amend gun laws.”

There’s so much that DeVos could do with this commission– which could have led to a competent response to Senator Leahy’s question.

DeVos could have chosen to convene school administrators, teachers, and students from across the US in order to discuss school safety concerns, including issues of gun violence in schools. She could use such an opportunity as a forum to discuss what works and what does not work in schools and districts across the nation.

Then she could simply compose a report for Congress in order to offer any number of suggestions. Of course, some suggestions might well step on her far-right Republican, “guns for grizzlies” sensibilities.

DeVos could have told Senator Leahy (and the nation), “The Department plans to convene an advisory group comprised of school administrators, teachers, and students from across the nation. Given the unfortunate rash of gun violence in schools, I expect that this advisory group would certainly discuss the issue and seek to offer potential solutions for making our schools safer.”

Had she responded thus, DeVos would have sounded competent, connected, and concerned.

Instead, her “per se” response leaves her (as usual) disconnected and protective of a political agenda– one unwilling to upset a gun lobby.

But she was more than willing to pitch school choice options, including online education, to West Virginia– and once again feature in neon lights her ignorance of state-level concerns. From the Washington Post:

[West Virginia Senator, Joe] Manchin said the federal Education Department was cutting money for basic education programs and boosting money for school choice options that rural areas of West Virginia could not pursue.

MANCHIN: In small rural states, the only choice we have is either improving the education we have or doing without. There’s not an option in some of the rural areas, so I’m concerned about the $3.6 billion that are being cut while at the same time they’re shifting $1.5 billion from critical education programs to school choice. That’s going to be very, very hard. So wouldn’t your choice program simply leave holes in our West Virginia — I mean, the way it is right now, our West Virginia school budget created by these proposed cuts is just going to leave a hole we can’t fill.

DEVOS: Well, sir, the proposal around choice really does offer rural districts opportunities to think differently and to meet students’ needs differently as well, and that’s really sort of the big picture.

MANCHIN: In West Virginia, we’re not trying to — we just can’t afford to start another education system. We don’t have the market where the private market is moving into that. All we’re doing is taking funds away from hopefully enhancing a system, making it better than what we have right now.

DEVOS: But sometimes you can think of choice differently. And I think we often think in terms of infrastructure and buildings, and in rural areas I understand that maybe the biggest challenge is maybe a school not able to offer some AP courses because they simply don’t have enough students. So offering course choice via a virtual classroom is an opportunity to . . .

MANCHIN: That would be great, except I don’t even have Internet connection in most of the rural areas and even cell service.

DeVos then said that some of the school choice funding could be used for connectivity issues. At that point, Manchin invited her to visit some rural areas in West Virginia so she could better understand the issues.

DeVos doesn’t get what it would take to bring online classes to areas that in 2018 still lack cellular service. But she is willing to offer single-sentence solutions.

She certainly has no use for Manchin’s statement, “We just can’t afford to start another education system.” Not to worry, Senator Manchin. Betsy DeVos would just as soon shut down West Virginia’s traditional public schools in favor of school choice that theoretically works– “and that’s really sort of the big picture.”

One more:

In discussing issues of school infrastructure in Rhode Island, DeVos has a novel suggestion to bypass the state’s need for an estimated $30B in facilities repairs, as also captured in the Washington Post:

[Rhode Island Senator, Jack] REED: The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our school facilities a D-plus rating, about a $30 billion gap between necessary repairs to bring them up to standard. And that’s certainly a level that can’t be supported by states and localities alone. … The kids are not being well educated not because they don’t have good teachers. It’s just when the windows are broken and the computers are damaged by rain and all those things. So just what are you doing to address this issue and improving school facilities? …

DEVOS: … As you know, the specifics around school infrastructure were not part of the [president’s] infrastructure proposal, and that really does not fall under the purview of the federal Department of Education. These issues are left to the state and local communities to deal with, and that’s where those are best addressed.

REED: The issue of addressing them goes to, just like highways, roads and bridges, yes, but without federal support they won’t be effectively addressed. We’re spending a lot of time here talking about educational reform, programmatic reform, enhancing teacher skills, etc., when kids are sitting in rooms where the ceilings are falling in, the windows are broken. And shouldn’t you be advocating that the president incorporate this in his infrastructure plan? That this is absolutely critical to education success?

DEVOS: Well, I absolutely think learning environments are important to students. But I also think that we can have an opportunity to think a little more broadly as well. I visited a school last week that is a public middle school located in a public museum. And the whole city is their classroom. And these are the kinds of approaches that I think more schools can be thinking about and utilizing, and I would encourage that because the world has changed.

REED: Madame secretary, that is a novel and  unique experience. … Too many schools are just without basic maintenance and funds for rehabilitation, and it’s an issue that is an educational issue. You do not see the connection between a suitable school facility with adequate heat and windows and an education? That’s disconnected?

DEVOS: I do think that’s part of the educational experience.

Reed then asked her if she would advocate that the president include schools in federal infrastructure spending.

She replied: “Infrastructure is a state and local issue, and it’s a matter for those entities to address and deal with.”

“Not my problem,” says billionaire ed sec.

But Rhode Island’s situation might still be useful to DeVos:

She might shift the focus of her school safety commission away from the g-word by *rethinking* school safety in terms of saving students from dilapidated facilities by housing them in museums– museums with internet connectivity, of course.

Betsy DeVos 3  Betsy DeVos


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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One Comment
  1. Jack permalink

    This insanity — investigating gun violence, but refusing to explore guns themselves as a cause, or access to guns as a cause — is reminiscent of Michelle Rhee’s “investigation” into cheating in D.C. schools.

    She hired a group Caveon, but in writing, specifically forbad them from asking any questions such as:

    “Did you or anyone you know cheat by changing answers on answer sheets?”

    “Did you hear of anyone — teacher or administrator — who cheated by changing answers, or who pressured others to do so?”

    … and on and on …

    Instead, the investigators asked inane question like, “Other than cheating by changing answers, could you come up with alternate theories on why there were such a statistically high number of wrong-to-right erasures?”

    Teachers said stuff like, “Well, the students may have caught their mistakes while checking?”

    Big surprise! No evidence of cheating was found.

    It’s like a homicide investigator being banned from asking:

    “Did you shot so-and-so to death?”

    “Do you know who shot so-and-so to death?”

    “Do you have any information, or evidence, or leads as to who shot so-and-so to death?”

    … and on and on…

    But instead, the homicide investigators can only ask, “What are the alternate theories about how those bullets ended up in so-and-so’s body? Is there another explanation as to what caused those bullet holes?”

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