SPOILER ALERT: DEVOS IS IGNORANT
Andy Borowitz reminds us, in his own entertaining way, that Betsy DeVos hates public schools and knows nothing about education.
While Borowitz’s article is satire, it sadly describes more than one of the nation’s Secretaries of Education (and Bill Bennett probably hated public schools just as much as Betsy…and he was only barely better at keeping it hidden). In fact, knowing nothing about education seems to have been a prerequisite for most of the eleven secretaries. Only three of eleven Secretaries of Education have any experience in K-12 education. And, as far as I know, only one of those three, Terrel Bell, ever actually taught in a public K-12 classroom. John King Jr., who was President Obama’s Secretary of Education for one year, taught in charter schools for three years.
We’ve had lawyers, scientists, political science majors, and athletes as Secretary of Education. Some of them, but certainly not all, attended public schools. Some of them, but certainly not all, sent their children to public schools. DeVos might have been the worst, but she was not the first who knew nothing about education nor the first who didn’t care a hoot about public schools.
When was the last time we had someone without a law degree as Attorney General? When was the last time we had someone without a medical degree as Surgeon General?
Fifty-six million children attend schools in the United States. Ninety percent of those children attend public schools. It’s time for someone who knows something about education, and public education specifically, to be Secretary of Education.
Calling the prospect a “nightmare scenario,” Betsy DeVos warned that President-elect Joe Biden will pick an Education Secretary with a background in education.
The outgoing Education Secretary warned that putting someone with a “pro-education bias” in her job would be like “naming a fox to be Secretary of Hens.”
“For the past four years, I have worked tirelessly to keep our schools free from education,” she said. “It deeply saddens me to think that all of my hard work will go to waste.”
TODAY’S STUDENTS ARE STILL LEARNING
Imagine a time when education policy is developed and implemented by people who actually know something about child development and education.
The key is providing people with the opportunities and the circumstances that maximize the likelihood of learning. Not pedantically checking off skills and benchmarks.
None of this is new.
I am not putting forward a radical theory of cognitive development.
Every teacher with an education degree is taught this in their developmental psychology courses. That’s why so many educational leaders don’t know anything about it.
Policymakers rarely have actual education degrees. In fact, many of them have never taught a day in their lives – especially at the K-12 level.
For example, Teach for America takes graduates from other fields of study (often business), gives them a couple weeks crash course in basic schoolology before throwing them in the classroom for a few years. Then they leave pretending to know everything there is about education, ready to advise lawmakers, work at think tanks, or otherwise set policy.
Imagine how things would change if we expected our educational leaders to actually comprehend the field of study they’re pretending to steer.
END WASTEFUL TESTING
Dr. Shepard has spent more than fifty years working and researching education topics. She’s much more qualified in the field of education than the “reformers” who insist on yearly national testing. She’s more qualified than the politicians and policy-makers who lobby for high stakes “accountability” in public education. She knows that there’s no reason to give wasteful and unreliable tests to students who have been traumatized by a pandemic for the better part of two school years.
Even under normal circumstances, high-stakes testing has negative consequences. State assessment programs co-opt valuable instructional time, both for weeklong test administration and for test preparation. Accountability pressures often distort curriculum, emphasizing testlike worksheets and focusing only on tested subjects.
Recent studies of data-driven decisionmaking warn us that test-score interpretations can lead to deficit narratives—blaming children and their families—instead of prompting instructional improvements. High-stakes tests can also lead to stigmatizing labels and ineffective remedial interventions, as documented by decades of research.
Most significantly, teachers report that they and their students experience high degrees of anxiety, even shame, when test scores are publicly reported. These stressors would undoubtedly be heightened when many students will not yet have had the opportunity to learn all of what is covered on state tests. A high proportion of teachers are already feeling burnt-out.
CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE
Children will become adults. In future years they will be the leaders and policy-makers of our society. It’s our job to teach them now, and raise them now, so that they grow and develop into compassionate, rational, competent human beings.
In the meantime, we need to treat them like people.
Plenty of adults act as if children are a mystery, as if nobody can know how to talk to this alien species. There is no mystery. Children are people. People who haven’t yet developed some physiological and psychological aspects, people without limited experience in the world, but people all the same. Not future people. People right now, today.
This “children are the future” talk makes it easy to justify the kinds of bad policy we’ve seen in the last few decades. Sure, let’s start sitting them down to study academic subjects earlier and earlier because there’s nothing about what’s going on in a four-year-old’s life right now that could possibly be as important as getting her packed full of employer-desired skills for the future. It’s easy to deny childhood when you think that all of a child’s Real Life is in the future.
“Children are the future” is often used as a motivational nudge for funding and/or supporting education and can feel like part of a larger conversation that started with “We don’t need to spend money on that–they’re just children.” It’s a conversation one would expect from people who measure a person’s worth in their utility (in particular, their utility to employers). It’s a hard conversation, because if you don’t know that you should care about, look after, cherish and hold close our children, I don’t know how to explain it to you. They are bundles of raw humanity, undiluted and unvarnished. That ought to be good enough.
THE DOCTOR IS IN
Anti-intellectualism continues to rear its ugly head in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal article and other articles denouncing Jill Biden as somehow fraudulent for using the title “Doctor” (see here, here, and here) are just the most recent indications that ignorance is “in” — knowledge, experience, and competency is “out.”
Last month Marco Rubio denigrated President-elect Biden’s choice of “Ivy League” graduates for his cabinet because they were “normal.” I assume he, like the leader of his party, prefers the “poorly educated.“
That trend against education and competency has been clear in the current federal administration. Take a look at the Secretary of Education (a political science major) and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (a neurosurgeon), for example. Neither has any experience or training in the field that their government department oversees. They might be intelligent in their own way (and you have no idea how hard it was for me to type that!), but that doesn’t mean that they are competent at what they have been charged to do over the last four years.
My hunch is, however, that the uproar about Dr. Biden’s degree has more to do with the low opinion the academically snobbish have for teachers than whether non-medical doctors deserve the title “Doctor.” It has more to do with her field of study than with insulting people who are educated. Why is there a lower opinion of the field of education in academia? In the US, at least in the last one-hundred years, teaching has been a job for women. Two-thirds of America’s teachers are women, and the male-dominated culture can’t imagine that a “woman’s job” takes any skill.
I know people with Ed.D degrees. I know people with Ph.D. degrees. They have all earned the title “Doctor.”
Biden is headed for the White House, and given her newly-heightened profile, I am not surprised that someone rose to the ugly occasion of trying to cheapen her educational achievement, not because Biden herself was using her title to market herself or some ed-reform product, nor because she was using the title to leverage some other personal gain, but just because an opportunity to show oneself to be a horse’s posterior presented itself.
Jill Biden is widely known as an educator; therefore, her use of the title, “Dr.,” is reasonably associated with that well-known context, even on Twitter. There is no “MD” confusion, and therefore, no problem.
As for her dissertation, I read it. Given the criticism levied against Biden for her Ed.D., I wanted to gauge the effort she had to expend in writing her dissertation and whether her work might be considered a useful contribution to her field (i.e., whether someone might use the findings to inform either practice or future research). After examining her work, I see her effort on its pages, and I believe what she has to offer does indeed contribute to the knowledge base of student experience at the community college level.