Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' Guidance Is All Over the Place

Apr 10, 2020 12:00:00 AM


Color her fickle. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can’t seem to steer a steady course as she leads 55 million K-12 public school students and their parents, as well as America’s four million teachers, through school closures due to COVID-19. 

Here’s the latest: as Education Week reports, on a conference call with reporters yesterday Devos said, "We have an expectation that learning will continue for all students. And we would hope that it would be an aspirational goal...that the students would not only maintain their current level of learning, but continue to expand it.”

Color America confused. Less than two weeks ago DeVos announced that states could apply for a waiver from annual standardized testing. Every state, plus the District of Columbia, has done so. All schools listed as “in need of improvement” can get waivers on reporting student progress towards achievement goals, high school graduation rates and academic growth for traditionally-marginalized students. 

What does this mean? [pullquote position="right"]DeVos—and no shade here, this is a crazy time—has waived accountability[/pullquote], which is often the primary driver of state school systems. In response, multiple districts have conceded defeat in teaching new material. For example, EdWeek notes, Delaware has told schools they should “focus on reinforcing skills already taught this year.” Massachusetts “strongly recommends” doing the same. In Illinois, the State Board of Education announced that students "cannot be required to master and cannot be penalized for failure to master the new content."

Meanwhile, the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress on March 27 includes $3 billion that is supposed to be quickly allocated to state governors for essential emergency support grants for schools and other education-related entities. 

The governors are still waiting, resorting to this epistolary plea

States need time to establish both structures to evaluate student needs and processes to rapidly deploy these funds. That work cannot begin until the Department provides guidance about how and when it will send funding to the states. We urge the Department to act quickly to distribute these funds.

Times are tough. Is it too much to ask for a little consistency? Then again, this is the Trump cabinet member—I believe the only holdover from inauguration—who recommended the rescission of Obama-era guidance on protecting the civil rights of students of color, transgender students and students with disabilities.

Okay. We’re asking too much.

Laura Waters

Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years on her local school board in Lawrence, New Jersey, where she was president for nine of those years. Early in her career, she taught writing to low-income students of color at SUNY Binghamton through an Educational Opportunity Program.

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