Why parents are concerned about Trump’s appointment for USED

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/12/13/37884/

Many of the parents who have been active in combating Common Core and its many tentacles in the past six years are expressing amazement at the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. One such parent, Jenni White, Education Director of Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment (ROPE), posted a long blog on Thursday, November 24, 2016, in which she listed several major concerns. They can be summarized as follows:

DeVos has no direct public education experience.  DeVos has not worked in public education and has no public education experience, other than through philanthropy.  Moreover, she attended private schools and sent her children to private schools. As White noted, “There’s EVERYTHING wrong with rich people pushing policy to which neither the philanthropist nor their kids are subject.” Anti-Common Core activists have expressed similar concerns about Jeb Bush (who created the pro-Common Core Foundation for Excellence in Education), Bill and Melinda Gates, Rex Tillerson of ExxonMobil, and others who seek to reshape public education to fit their view of the workforce, but exclude from decision-making conversations the parents of the kids whose education they want to “transform.”  

“School choice” means little to most parents.  School choice does nothing for the vast majority of school children. As White points out:  ‘School choice’ means something different to everyone but usually encompasses the idea that a benevolent federal agency ‘allows’ low-income parents to move from one education facility to another (charter schools), with public money (vouchers), “in order to provide their children with what the bureaucrats or philanthropists think will be a better education for them.”                                                                                            

Moreover, it is irrelevant so long as U.S. Department of Education (USED) policy-makers can dictate policy to local communities via state departments of education. As White explains, part of the reason many parents fought so hard against Common Core was the slithering of its tentacles “into every nook and cranny of the education world.”                                                            

Betsy DeVos is quoted in the Detroit News as saying: “The status quo in education is not acceptable. Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”

But White speaks for many anti-Common Core parents around the country when she notes: “We’ve already been through eight years of “transformational change” in public education and we don’t need any more…I want a[n] Education] Secretary to hand off responsibility over education to the parents where it belongs…Yet, here is DeVos ‘ensuring’ me of ‘opportunities’ for my children – whom she doesn’t know – in order to make sure she can benevolently ‘give’ my kids what they need to fulfill their ‘highest potential’ – which is MY job.”

Federal data collection and accountability are anathema to responsible parents.  DeVos says on her own recently developed website:  “I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control.” But, as White explains, it is not possible to “have strong accountability at the federal level and LOCAL CONTROL.”  White expresses the well-grounded fears of the many parents who have contacted their legislators about the federal government’s intrusive data collection activities.

In a paper published by the Pioneer Institute in May 2014, Emmett McGroarty, Joy Pullmann, and Jane Robbins set forth the issues with federal data collection initiatives. In 2013, FERPA (Family Education Rights and Primacy Act of 1974) was essentially gutted by the Obama administration.  Despite the fact that federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from maintaining a national student database, schools can now release a child’s information without the consent of parents and, in some cases, without even informing parents. Parents have no legal recourse against schools that disclose their children’s personal information in violation of FERPA because “under the new interpretation of the regulations, an ‘authorized representative’ designated to receive students’ personal information without consent can be literally anyone – another government… a foundation or other private nonprofit organization, a research group, an individual, or a for-profit company… As long as the data was released in connection with an audit or evaluation of a federal or state-sponsored ‘education program,’ parental consent would not be required before the release,” McGroarty, Pullmann, and Robbins point out.  

Before his election, Donald Trump said that, if elected, he would close the loopholes in the federal privacy law to ensure that students’ personal information remained private.  Many parents are eager to hear when DeVos plans to restore Congress’s original intention to FERPA.

Betsy DeVos has no record of opposition to Common Core. Despite Trump’s vow to get rid of Common Core, which he called a “disaster” before his election, he nevertheless appointed someone praised by Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, for being a “supporter of Common Core.” White wonders: What kind of guidance will Trump give DeVos if he intends to keep his promises to the many parents who supported him because of what they thought he stood for and what they see DeVos has supported over the years?

Jenni White’s concerns seem to be shared by many parents, on her organization’s website and on others.  In confirmation hearings, senators should to try to find out exactly how DeVos will broaden her vision of school choice to include middle-income families and ask for evidence to support her claim that she opposes Common Core-aligned standards and tests.

Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here