5 Ways to Take Action After the Confirmation of Betsy DeVos

Photo: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS

Like many educators and parents today, I watched in horror as Betsy DeVos was confirmed as our Secretary of Education. I spent my afternoon rapidly cycling through the 5 stages of grief:

  • Denial: Nah, it won’t happen. There’s no way so many Republicans would vote for her.
  • Anger: What the f***. Seriously? Do people just hate our nation’s children?
  • Bargaining: I (irrationally) contemplated never having children as my own way to sacrifice for the public school system. Huh? I don’t know what I was thinking here.
  • Depression: This one hit me the hardest. On my way home, I may or may not have eaten a whole Belgian chocolate bar, while crying in my car and listening to a Tara Brach podcast on suffering…
  • Acceptance: Well, if that’s how it is going to be, then I might as well get in on the action. I can start my own for-profit education venture and rake in the dough.

But, let’s get real — none of these stages are going to help my students. We need real, concrete steps to protect our public schools. Here is what I suggest:

  1. It’s all about state education systems. With the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a lot of education policies have shifted from the federal government to the states. In my opinion, this is a great silver lining that we can use to our advantage. Currently, states are hard at work to create their plans on how they will meet ESSA requirements. This is a great place for us to use our voice to make sure that our states are supporting public schools appropriately.
  2. Parents have real power. We would not have special education laws without the advocacy groups that parents of children with disabilities created in the 1960s and 1970s. We will need parents to again come together to put pressure on legislators at both the state and federal levels. We also need parents to run for local school boards, so that they can help shape and maintain quality teaching.
  3. Use the courts and litigation. We may be able to get bad policies nullified or rejected through the court systems as we are seeing with the Muslim Ban. The courts have long been champions of public education, especially for children with disabilities, and we should be open to using these as a way to create change.
  4. Educators need to become political actors. It is time to put down Pinterest and TeacherPayTeacher for a moment and to start becoming political advocates. Yes, it is super scary to step outside of our schools and to lobby our political systems, but we need to make our voices heard, so that special interest groups don’t fill our silence with their garbage. Start by calling your representatives or inviting them into your classroom to discuss the needs of your students. Think about how you can help your students to also actively engage in the political system.
  5. On a more tactical level, we can also fight back against the implementation of education policies that will hurt our children. Malen (2006) recommends using “various combinations of simple neglect, subtle adaptation, overt resistance and creative defiance” to undermine new initiatives (p. 96). This may mean things like opting out of state testing, refusing to implement certain curriculum, or active resistance against the inevitable widening of voucher programs and for-profit charter schools.

What actions are you going to take to support our public schools?

How can we all step up to collectively make sure every child is able to receive a high-quality, public education in the United States?

Malen, B. (2006). Revisiting policy implementation as a political phenomenon: The case of reconstitution policies. In M. Honig (Ed.), New directions in education policy implementation: Confronting complexity (pp. 83–104). Albany, NY: State University of New York.