Dear Secretary Devos:
Teachers in the US are facing unprecedented challenges this fall, trying to make the best out of whatever bad solution their local districts have chosen. It's a tough time, the kind of time in which we look for help and leadership from folks at the top.
You have not been helpful.
Last Wednesday, you took a conference call with the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, a collection of your very conservative friends (You and I are old enough to when she was a big name in politics, opposing the ERA, homosexuality, arms control agreements, and guys like Nelson Rockefeller). You told those folks that many public school districts "have not really taken their customers--you know, their students and their families--into consideration." You specifically criticized the Fairfax schools for changing at the last minute their previous plans for the fall into all remote learning. You accused them of "pretending" to offer options over the summer, as if they were up to some sort of sneaky trip and not, say, trying to figure out how to navigate an unprecedented health crisis. A crisis that people in leadership roles, like you, have offered no leadership or guidance on dealing with.
Thursday you were in Waukesha, WI, speaking to a select group of private school parents about how families have been unhappy with education during the pandemic, which is a remarkably obtuse comment because, well, duh. Everybody is unhappy with education during the pandemic. There are no good educational options during the pandemic, and nobody--whether they are worrying about exposure in face-to-face school or struggling to overcome the many limitations of distance learning--is all that happy.
What's the smartest choice? Hard to say. Some of the early data suggests that schools might not be super-spreaders, but then, schools that are just regular old Covid spreaders are enough to worry--and kill--folks.
While you've been out slamming public schools at events like the two above, you've made it clear what your interest is--promoting school vouchers. You keep plugging your scholarship tax credit plan, and keep insisting that the pandemic underlines how badly families need choice, as if one of the available choices were a school that is completely immune from the covid spread.
It's seems hard to believe that you could make people more angry at you than they already were (I understand that you don't care--I'm just saying). But here we are with the school house on fire, and the head of education is using it as an opportunity to sell her personal brand of asbestos gloves.
I suppose it should be clear after all these years that we can't expect any help from you for public education. And it's a sign of the times that it makes sense to type a sentence like "the United States secretary of education cannot be expected to support public education in the United States." So sure-- no guidance, no assistance, not even a sympathetic pat on the shoulder or a half-hearted attaboy. Certainly not a "These are really difficult times-- what can we on the federal level do to help you?"
But if you're not going to elp, can you at least hush? If you are not going to be part of any sort of movement to help public schools, can you at least not be out in the front lines of people trying to attack it? Is that really so much to ask? Just, you know, hush. Just let the people who are actually doing the work of public education in this country have one fewer voices bussing in their ear declaring that they stink and they're failing and we should be giving them less support and instead buying everyone a pair of these asbestos gloves.
Either pitch in and help us get through this, or, if you can't bring yourself to so that, just sit down and hush.