Eight years ago, I wrote about getting a new boss. Not a new principal. That has happened quite a few times while I have been here. Not a new superintendent. That has happened with just about the same frequency. Happily they don't tend to coincide directly. Too much change can be a bad thing. Like when the country gets a new Secretary of Education. When Barack Obama was elected, he nominated Arne Duncan, former superintendent of Chicago's public schools. Back then, I listed the problems that Horace Mann, the founder of U.S. public education and the man for whom my school is named, felt that education faced. In 1837: (1) the public should no longer remain ignorant and free, (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public, (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children of all diversities, (4) that this education must be free of religious influence, (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society, and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. Eight years ago, I wondered if the problems of one hundred eighty years ago persisted today.
From where I'm sitting? Yes. What steps have been made over the past eight years to correct them? I find myself among a group of dedicated and well-trained professionals who take their mission seriously. I know that there are those who might and probably will argue this point. The weak links in our chain tend to dominate all discussion of that chain. It is the bane of those in public service. It is the challenge to which we all, or almost all, feel the need to rise. The same can be said for that "spirit, method, and discipline of a free society" too. It's not the paycheck. There aren't a lot of millionaires working in public education.
Betty Devos is the daughter of the founder of Amway. I will leave aside all talk of multi-level marketing schemes for now, and focus on the billions of dollars who until recently headed up American Federation For Children, an organization that promotes "school choice." You can also read that as "school vouchers." If you are unfamiliar with this concept, here is a snippet from the National Conference of State Legislatures: "School vouchers are one of three approaches to private school choice. Traditional vouchers are state-funded scholarships that pay for students to attend private school rather than public school. Private schools must meet minimum standards established by legislatures in order to accept voucher recipients." If you don't like your neighborhood school, you can trade up, and the state will pay for it. It sounds like a delicious idea, but there are some kinks in that hose. Time Magazine (you remember magazines, don't you?) reported on the five biggest myths about school vouchers six years ago. Way back then, the fifth one was that "Private, parochial, or even public charter schools are better than regular public schools." I have said, on a number of occasions, if there was an obvious reason or advantage to vouchers, I would be a big fan. I feel the same way about charter schools. If someone can show me how replacing The Affordable Care Act with something better will make my life easier, I would support that.
In the meantime, I have a hard time imagining how things in my world will get better when the new head of the Department of Education cannot speak knowingly about the debate between proficiency and growth. If you don't have an opinion, say that. Just as you might if your opinion is that teachers should be armed to protect them and their students from grizzly bears.
My opinion is more of a question: What or whom will protect us from Betty Devos?