It has been one of those days. Not bad, but about sixteen hours long, and so I have followed the DeVos hearing via occasional peeks at Twitter, and I'll catch up over the hours ahead in short burst so that my blood pressure does not shoot the nails off the ends of my fingers.
But I will confess that as strongly as I believe we should tell our senators repeatedly and loudly about Betsy's severe, extreme, total lack of qualifications for the post, and as strongly as I believe that we should fight her appointment to the office, I also believe that at some point, maybe after the political theater is over or maybe after her ethics paperwork has finally cleared or maybe once the senate thinks we're not paying such close attention-- at some point, Betsy DeVos will become our new Secretary of Education. And we will fight and stomp and kick about her policies and choices and attempts to trash US public education as we did with her predecessors.
Meanwhile, there are other issues to pay attention to, other tables at which education debates are still raging, other threats to the future of this bedrock democratic institution.
There are places in this country where no federal intervention is needed to help charter schools make a hash out of the education system. Michigan has the DeVos family, but Ohio and Florida are also a miserable wild west mess of charterdom, and North Carolina aspires to be just as ineffective and wasteful. Jeanne Allen of the charter-loving Center for Education Reform says that over thirty states have charter-friendly folks in charge. And even if you aren't one of those states, I'll bet you dollars to donuts that your legislature contains at least one lawmaker who is chomping at the bit to liberate some tax dollars for the betterment of charter operations.
As always, I'll note that charters can be a useful and valuable part of an educational ecosphere. But the modern charter operator too often dreams of a system of no oversight, little accountability, and easy access to those sweet, sweet tax dollars.
Life in Trumpistan may well include increased support for charter-style privatization, but it's already going on, and you don't have to cast your eyes all the way to DC to see it happening. Pay attention, and contact your state elected leaders. Often.
High Stakes Testing
A lot of folks just kind of stood down on this one once ESSA was passed, but test-driven accountability and the test-centered schools that it fosters are still with us. In fact, ESSA empowers states to double down on their commitment to this brutal and destructive practice, and many states are led by people who belong to the Cult of the Test.
It's foolish and a little insane because there is nothing in education reform so transparently foolish than the Big Standardized Tests. Parents and taxpayers see them, experience them, and immediately recognize that this instrument could not possibly measure all the things it purports to measure. Kepp spreading the word.
Big Brother's Personalized Data Grab
For many reformsters, everything we're used to railing against in the ed debates is old, old news. The next exciting thing for them is Personalized Competency Based Education Learning-- let's dispense education via computer, and use the process to collect data about each students, to both measure and mold the student into the kind of person the corporation wants them to be, while creating a data backpack for the student that will allow future employers and the government to determine what place the student should take in society.
This policy takes a variety of approaches, some of them rather stealthy, some of them masquerading as anti-reform positions (let's get rid of the Big Standardized Test by replacing it with software that will gather standardized data every day). Watching out for this requires a great deal of attention and alertness.
Threats to the Profession
The teacher pipeline is drying up, and much of what is coming through has been trained to believe their main job is test prep. The growing teacher shortage is being used as one more excuse to let anyone with a pulse become certified to stand in a classroom and teach. This suits some folks because if you deprofessionalize teaching, you can burn and churn cheap content delivery specialists whose main job is to unpack and present the texts or programs or software that has been lovingly sold to the district. At the same time school managers can cut costs. And for some, there's a bonus because the death of teaching as a profession would also be one more way to kill the teachers union, ending them as any sort of political force as well as removing one more management obstacle.
If we spend too much time looking just at education, we will miss the larger picture-- that the attempt to gut public education is part of a larger effort to replace democratic processes and institutions across the board. The DeVos family hasn't just tried to kill public education in Michigan-- they've tried to turn Michigan into a one-party state with themselves at the head of that party. The same process has been unfolding in North Carolina. We are swimming in plutocrats and oligarchs and bettercrats who believe that the country should be run by the Better Sort of People and democracy just gives to much power to the rabble who, really, ought to just be happy knowing their collective places.
As large as the DeVos nomination looms, and as infuriating as it is to see in videos That Face that Betsy makes, like she knows if she just sits through one more boring story from the maid, she will get everything she wants (and fire the maid later for boring her), and as scary as it is to contemplate the USED in the hands of someone who openly and actively roots for public education to fail-- as big as all that seems, it is just one piece of the larger picture, of a multi-front debate that continues to rage around us even during the few hours of Betsy smugly being granted safe passage through a political dumb show.
Don't give her a free pass, but save your strength for the bigger struggles ahead.