I don’t care about her political opinions or political affiliations. I don’t care about what she has done in her past. I don’t care about her family. I don’t care where she’s from or where she went to school. I don’t care where her kids went to school.
What I care about is what she is going to do to America’s next generation of scholars. Our students. In this post I give a 98% political opinion free break down of what Betsy DeVos said during her education secretary confirmation. My opinions are short and sweet and marked with an asterisk.
We discuss IDEA, proficiency and growth, and charter schools.
What is IDEA?
IDEA is a crucial federal law that relates to children with special needs in our public education system. IDEA 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, was the first thing drilled into my head as a green freshman in college in an intro to special education class. This law entitles students with disabilities to several things: FAPE, LRE, an IEP. Do you now see why we call special education the alphabet soup of education? IDEA entitles students with disabilities to what we call FAPE, which is a Free and Appropriate Public Education. This provides the student with many things, one of which is a Least Restrictive Environment. In layman’s terms, this means that the student is entitled to receive schooling in a classroom that is as close to a general education classroom as they can get. For example, I am not going to give instruction to a student with mild autism in a self-contained classroom with one-on-one instruction if they can fully operate in a general education classroom. We aim to get our students mainstreamed into general education classrooms. Lastly, they are entitled to an IEP, which is an Individualized Education Program. An IEP lays out how and where the student is to receive their education. Will they be in a general education classroom? Will they be taught in a self-contained classroom? Will they receive tutoring services? An IEP essentially lays out the student’s disability, their present level of performance, goals we want the student to meet, and how we are going to work or remediate towards these goals.
What did Betsy DeVos say about IDEA?
Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia chose to ask Mrs. Betsy DeVos about IDEA 2004. He asked her if she believed that all schools that receive federal funding (this includes public, private and charter) should follow IDEA. Essentially, he is asking if all schools that receive federal funding should give students with disabilities an appropriate education, their least restrictive environment and an individualized education plan. She responded by saying that the matter should be left to the states. That answer is where the breakdown and controversy forming. IDEA is a federal law, not a state law, therefore it is applied to all states in the United States of America. It is not up to the states. Mrs. Devos then went on to not agree nor disagree that all schools should follow IDEA
Why is this a problem?
We as Americans should provide our students with disabilities with the same opportunities in education as their peers without disabilities. IDEA was created to level the playing field in education so that our students with disabilities are receiving a fair education. Our students with disabilities are already falling greatly behind due to state testing and other variables. Also, it is a federal law. We have to follow federal laws, that’s not really up for debate.
What is proficiency? What is growth?
These are big buzzwords in education. Proficiency is defined as the ability to do something autonomously and without struggle. If you know how to re-wire a house’s electricity, you are proficient in electrical work. If you know every single one of your times tables, you are proficient in multiplication. Simple. Growth on the other hand, is how much you are improving in a certain topic. If I tested you on your multiplication tables on Monday and you got 4 out of 10 correct, and then on Tuesday I tested you again and you got 6 out of 10 correct, you showed growth. 20% growth in fact. Measuring growth is vital in our school systems. When we measure daily or weekly growth, we, as teachers, are able to see if our instruction is helping on our students, if students are plateauing, and if we need to provide remediation. Generally, we measure growth UNTIL the student hits proficiency.
What did Betsy DeVos say about proficiency and growth?
Essentially, not much. Senator Al Franken (what the heck I had no clue he was a senator) asked Mrs. DeVos how we should measure our students, using proficiency or growth? The issue with her answer wasn’t her answer, but her lack of answer. She tried to rephrase Senator Al Franken’s question and mixed up the definition of proficiency and growth to which he corrected her.
Why is this a problem?
In my personal opinion, I would hope that our future secretary of education would have a firm grasp on the difference between proficiency and growth*. Why? State tests. Across America, all students are subjected to taking state tests, for example, in Virginia our students take the Standards of Learning. These tests measure the student’s proficiency in a subject. In an ideal classroom, the teacher would measure daily/weekly growth TO proficiency, and then have their proficiency measured at the end of the year by these tests. When we measure in only proficiency, students in the extreme top or the extreme bottom are at risk of getting ignored or left behind.
*This is 1% of my 2% of political opinion I allowed for this post.
What are charter schools?
Charter schools are schools that receive federal funding just as public schools do, but they operate independently and do not take state tests. No Child Left Behind gives students who attend schools that are tagged as “under performing” the opportunity to transfer to another school, which includes charter schools. If a school system does not meet their AYP, or annual yearly progress, they are threatened with being turned into a charter school. If you would like to learn more about charter schools, I recommend watching the movie Waiting for Superman, which chronicles charter schools in inner city New York. You can rent it on Amazon for I believe $3.99. Some charter schools across America have been wildly successful in remediating students in inner city populations.
What did Betsy DeVos say about charter schools?
Mrs. DeVos is a huge proponent of charter schools. She is a strong believer of giving students and families school choice, which essentially means she wants families to be able to choose where they want to go to school.
Why is this a problem?
As a teacher, I clearly am a proponent of the public school system and providing a Free and Appropriate Education for all of my students*. I am neither for or against Charter Schools. Many are excellent additions to our education system. Our public school system currently is deeply trapped within the Matthew Effect, which means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Our very successful schools and school systems keep getting better and keep producing great students. While on the other hand, our schools and school systems that are struggling keep getting worse. Putting more emphasis on charter schools and charter school formation could potentially deepen the Matthew Effect in our schools systems. Our charter schools will begin to create wonderful students, while our public schools suffer. Charter schools often have limited number of spots available for students, thus students have to compete in “lottery” type situations to get offered a spot. This could then threaten the ability to provide all of our students with free and appropriate public education.
*This is the other 1% of my 2% of political opinion I allowed for this post.
If you have not watched the entire meeting with Betsy DeVos, I highly recommend that you do. We as a community cannot develop an opinion of her until we watch the entire thing rather than small controversial clips on Facebook. All in all, I want to look out for my students, and I hope that after this questioning Betsy DeVos immerses herself in IDEA and special education law. I strongly urge you to educate yourself regarding current issues in education and stand up for those that you feel strongly about.
*Cue teacher voice*
If you chose to comment on this post, please keep it strictly educational. We are not discussing her politics or her political affiliations. We are also not speculating. We do not assume things, because we both know what it makes out of us. We operate on facts in the education system. Please contact or email me if you have any questions about IDEA, ESSA, IEPs, Least restrictive environment, or any other topics that Mrs. DeVos touched on that you are still confused over!
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