Don’t Let DeVos Be the Boss!

Dear Members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions,

I am the mother of three young sons, Ryan (7 years), Zachary (4 years), and Connor (2 years) and I am writing to express my ardent opposition to the nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. On January 17, 2017 from 8:30 until after midnight I did something I’ve never done before. I sat and watched the entire confirmation hearing of Mrs. DeVos. (That’s right, Senator Alexander, despite your efforts to have the hearing at a time that would make it difficult for people to watch, I watched the entire recorded confirmation). Why did I spend over three hours of my time doing this? Because this woman will be in charge of regulating, budgeting, and controlling the education system in which my children will spend their most formative years. And I refuse to sit back and allow a totally unqualified candidate to move through the process without my ardent opposition.

Senator Alexander, I watched as you tried to extol Mrs. DeVos’ qualifications for this position. But really, do you think the American People are so naïve to believe you? If you were so confident in Mrs. DeVos’ qualifications for this role, then please, tell me, why did you insist on limiting the questions that committee members could ask? Never before has such an inexperienced candidate been before the HELP committee for this position. It is only logical that your fellow Senators would have a LOT of questions. Need I remind you?

Mrs. Devos…

· Has no education beyond a bachelor’s degree and her bachelor’s degree is not in the field of education.

· She has never worked in a school (at any level) as a teacher or administrator.

· She has never held an elected political office.

· She has never attended public school, nor have her children.

I went through the biographies of every Secretary of Education who has ever served and Mrs. DeVos is the only one who does not have any of the qualifications listed above. So, to expect that the members of your committee had a few more questions than normal seems more than appropriate. I would expect, Senator Alexander that you would be familiar with the caliber of the previous Secretaries, given that you were one of them. But, I digress…

While I was disgusted by the insistence by many members of your committee that Mrs. Devos is an acceptable nominee, I would like to personally thank some of you for your brave lines of questioning.

Senator Sanders,
 Thank you for asking what so many Americans are wondering and acknowledging that the only reason Mrs. DeVos has been nominated to this position is because of her hefty donations to the Republican Party.

Senator Franken, 
 Thank you for making it crystal clear that Mrs. DeVos is wholly uninformed about some of the most basic issues confronting education policy makers at this time. Thank you for bringing to light Mrs. DeVos ignorance on the important issue of proficiency vs. growth when measuring student progress.

Senator Warren, 
 Thank you for pointing out that Mrs. DeVos had not completed her ethics paperwork prior to the hearing. And thank you for showing the public that Mrs. DeVos has no experiencing managing a system and budget as complicated as that which is controlled by the Department of Education. Thank you for highlighting that Mrs. DeVos is not willing to commit to enforcing rules and regulations already in place to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

Senator Murphy, 
 Thank you for challenging Mrs. DeVos on the issue of guns in schools. Thank you for forcing her to show that she is unwilling to say that “guns should not be in schools.” The shocked and appalled look on your face when she refused to state this spoke for so many Americans. We appreciate your brave and bold advocacy on this issue that seeks to keep our children safe. An issue, I might add, that I can’t believe is even up for discussion.

Senator Hassan, 
 Thank you for showing so clearly that Mrs. DeVos is uninformed about basic Federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). That someone who will be responsible for enforcing these exact laws could “confuse” something so basic to ensuring that all children receive an appropriate education is appalling.

Senator Murray, 
 Thank you for your leadership on this committee and your commitment to strengthening public education for all. I appreciate your attempts to get Mrs. DeVos to state her opposition to privatizing public education. But sadly, the woman now charged with protecting public education very well may dismantle it.

I don’t mean to exclude any of the other brave Senators who challenged Mrs. DeVos and posed excellent questions about important issues, such as sexual assault on college campuses, but in the interest of time, I will move on.

At the end of Mrs. DeVos’ opening statement at her hearing she said, “I trust parents and I believe in our children.” First of all, where in her statement did she say, “I trust teachers and I believe in our public schools?” Whether she likes it or not, she will be representing the Nation’s dedicated, hard-working, under paid public school teachers. And the fact that she seems to have little understanding of (and little desire to gain understanding into) how hard they work for their students is a slap in the face to these amazing men and women who give so much to our children.

Furthermore, if she really “trusts parents and believes in our children,” then perhaps she should take the time to truly understand what it is that the majority of parents want for their children and the other children of this world.

My husband and I are lucky to live in an upper middle class neighborhood, but we believe in public education and we are sending our children to public school. Our oldest son, who is in 1st grade at Nantucket Elementary School in Crofton, Maryland is receiving a superb education at a diverse school. He is loved and inspired daily by the teachers and administrators at this school. I know we are privileged to be able to send our children to an amazing public school. I know not all public schools work as well for all students. But, please, committee members, do your research!! It is well documented that Mrs. DeVos’ own home state of Michigan, where she sought to “reform” the public school system has shown a decline in student achievement since these “reforms” went into place.

If Mrs. DeVos truly trusts parents, and believes in children then she will take the time to listen to all parents and not just the wealthy ones who most benefit from vouchers. Studies show that vouchers rarely enable children in low income, failing schools to attend successful private schools. If the voucher is enough to allow a low-income parent to enroll their child in a private school, it is only the failing private schools they can afford.

Vouchers are most beneficial in helping wealthy families, who can already afford private school to supplement the cost of very expensive schools. So, when Mrs. DeVos says she “trusts parents” what she really means is she “trusts wealthy parents who are already sending their kids to private schools.” She does not appear to value or trust the opinions of parents like me and my husband who believe in and choose public schools, or parents of children who are struggling, but who don’t have enough money, even with a voucher, to attend a high quality private school.

And if Mrs. DeVos doesn’t trust teachers, and she doesn’t trust the majority of parents, then there is no part of me that comprehends how that translates into “believing in our children.”

To close I would like to share the words of two teachers with decades of experience between them:

Tom Carco, Kindergarten Special Ed, Boston Public Schools, 11 years of public education experience:
 
“At a time when our nation’s schools are finally taking steps to maintain high standards in all regions, regardless of income or background, we are also moving toward an important understanding that success is not exclusively measured by proficiency in testing — especially for students with special needs.
 
 Mrs. DeVos has no experience reconciling this duality. Instead, she endeavors to ignore and shame those caught in the middle. She favors private and charter schools without holding them accountable to any standards, academic or socially just, as she blames public schools for failing to meet the needs of our kids. Her advocacy is unjust and serves a disproportionately small number of children — many of whom already benefit from an array of socioeconomic advantages.”

Peggy DeBoy, Speech and Language for the hearing impaired, History, at elementary, middle, and high levels, in MA, RI, VA and MD, 35 years of experience:
 
“In my 35 years of teaching I have worked with a wide range of students representative of our society. Throughout my career, I have collaborated with outstanding administrators and other educators dedicated to their profession and committed to cultivating age appropriate environments to guarantee and enable quality instruction to take place in their schools and classrooms.
 
 It baffles me that the president would consider a person whose education, background and experience not only does not qualify her for the position of Secretary of Education but whose education experiment in her home state of MI was a dismal failure.
 
 I am not only discouraged, but saddened and deeply concerned that competent educators, with a strong commitment to our children will be discouraged by inept decisions at the top and not receive the insightful, encouraging support to provide effective instruction. Already, statistics show that very bright, capable educators are withdrawing from the field, frustrated and stymied by unrealistic, ineffective demands, and inadequate compensation.
 
 We cannot afford to waste our children’s education in laboratories created by people with little or no qualifications as educators.”

Senators, I beg you. Look to the research, look at Mrs. DeVos’ record (or lack thereof) and truly understand what it is the Nation’s teachers and parents want and our children need. I promise you, we do not need Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.

Most Sincerely,

Kristen Caminiti
 Mom to Ryan, Zachary, & Connor
 Social Worker
 
Gambrills, Maryland

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