IEA President, Cinda Klickna

Despite loud opposition in the form of more than one million emails and phone calls made to senators from teachers, parents and business people, the U.S. Senate approved Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. It took a tie breaking vote cast by Vice President Pence to confirm the appointment, the first time a vice president’s vote has been needed to confirm a cabinet member.

DeVos needed extraordinary help to be confirmed because of her record as a zealous advocate for charter and voucher programs that divert money from traditional public schools, even calling public education “a dead end.” Her shocking lack of knowledge displayed during her Senate hearing about federal education laws and policies outraged many in the education community.

For example, she appeared ignorant of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975, to ensure special needs students receive a free public education.

Clearly, Betsy DeVos has a lot to learn about public education and a long way to go before convincing education employees, public school parents, students and community members that she believes in their local public schools and that every student should have access to a high-quality education.

DeVos attended and sent her children to private schools, so her knowledge of public schools is in question. The  Illinois Education Association calls upon DeVos to expand her own education and visit the many outstanding programs in our Illinois schools.

We received many more suggestions from members than we can print, but here are some of the places DeVos should visit:

  • Oak Park, where students learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in a robotics class.
  • Huntley, where students are doing internships with the local hospital or Springfield Southeast High School where students partner with local medical facilities to learn about careers in medicine.
  • Mundelein High School’s science class that is designing and constructing a photovoltaic solar system for a community center.
  • Freeport’s urban agriculture program or career tech class that operates a local business.
  • Olympia’s class that is learning physics through raising tilapia.

Truthfully, though, she could visit ANY school to:

  • Watch how IEPs (Individual Education Plans) are developed for special ed students.
  • Witness student crises that the counselors and nurses, social workers and psychologists deal with daily – that is IF the school has resources to hire these key people.
  • Help a teacher develop lesson plans geared to each student’s needs.
  • Assist cafeteria workers in preparing and serving lunches.
  • Monitor a bus filled with 30 elementary students.
  • Help the custodian clean up after a student gets sick.
  • Accompany teachers and support staff to after-school meetings, to the store to buy needed supplies that the district can’t afford to buy, or to evening chaperoning duties.

I know some people  think Secretary DeVos has no interest in learning about public schools, and some would prefer she stay away from our classrooms. But, most of the members of IEA say, “Madame Secretary, your confirmation hearing showed you have a knowledge gap. Please let the outstanding educators, the members of IEA, offer you the same thing we do every day for students  – a superior education.

“Quite honestly, it is something you desperately need if you plan to lead the U. S. Department of Education with the knowledge needed to support our public schools.”