Is DeVos the Big Bad Wolf?

Denver's left-leaning education voters have a good reason to consider Betsy DeVos the Big Bad Wolf of Public Education.  It's true that her goals are destructive to this shining jewel of the public commons.  But even though we should stay outraged and act, is she really our only cause for concern?

I understand the outrage over Betsy DeVos' stated goals for public education, and I believe November's election will demonstrate that Denver wants good, equitable schools and is not fooled when policymakers are feigning left but tacking right.

Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos (official photo)

With Trump’s appointment of the billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, many teachers and supporters of public education were left flabbergasted. The stark reality that a person with no experience in public education, or any public office, would be appointed and impose reckless and hurtful free-market policies instilled a fear that went from zero to one hundred with a quickness, for constituents sitting on the left side of the aisle. Rightly so, it brought people out into the streets, many for the first time.

However, what participants of the #Resist movement may not realize is that neoliberal policymakers have been implementing destructive reforms on public education at least since Arne Duncan was the secretary of education. Everyone, from state departments of education to common folks, is being duped into accepting the values of neoliberalism and a free-market educational system. Consequently, Denver Public Schools has seven reform-oriented and supported board members that reflect the powerful effects of that agenda

Lamentably, our children, especially those from the working class, our children of color and refugee children and our English language learners have been hurt the most under reform.

As a fifteen-year veteran teacher of DPS, I believe it is more important than ever for us to see what reform really is, who supports it and what it looks like here in our school district. It’s important to hold DPS accountable in the tangible areas that they are failing our students, and how the issues that really matter to community continue to get lost in the artful deception of the media and district website and/or School Performance Frameworks, School Quality Reviews, etc. All too often, unless you are thoroughly involved in your child’s school in the Far Northeast, Southwest and Northwest parts of Denver, then you might be taken in by the artifice.

And yet, we already have a model for how to reach children and help them build success: the English learner consent decree. The Congress of Hispanic Educators (CHE) fought for, and continues to hold DPS accountable for addressing, the needs of our English learners.  The track record since implementation of the consent decree is so strong that even the newly-approved Montbello Children's Network is hinging its entire model around these requirements. If DPS and Denver citizens read this federal court ruling, they would realize that CHE has the best interests ALL children in mind. We have much to learn from these civil right activists, especially now in 2017. We need their tenacity and bravery to ensure that all DPS students benefit from a quality education. I am proud to walk in their footsteps, behind them.

We don't need free-market education reform, regardless of what side of the aisle it comes from. In a district like DPS, with such a preponderance of English learners, we need the sensible policy and best practices that the consent decree has provided. We have home-grown reform right here in Denver that works for all kids, regardless of what language is spoken at home.  

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