The new Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, is receiving quite a bit of slack for this recent interview. Although the interview covers a variety of education-related topics, I want to focus solely on the question and answer regarding her visit to Jefferson Academy Middle School, in Washington, D.C. Full disclosure, I have the privilege of working at this school and alongside a talented group of school leaders and teachers. Now, as much as I can take offense to her unfounded critiques of my colleagues, I rather focus my attention on the question and response, itself, through the lens of a five-year, public middle school teacher.
Before I analyze her response, I want to first evaluate and unpack the interviewer’s question.
Question: “There have been many programs to improve public education through Democrat and Republican administrations. And yet American students continue to lag behind in areas like math and science. Why haven’t those programs worked? What has been the missing piece in these noble and sometimes very expensive efforts?”
This question is dependent on the following assumption: there is a single missing piece or simple solution to “fix” the American public education system. Unfortunately, the interviewer is not the only person who suffers from this logical fallacy. In my professional opinion, both political parties fall victim to the silver bullet narrative in education reform. For liberal leaning education reformers, this assumption is often promoted by the “teacher as savior or superhero” narrative, where we (wrongly) celebrate the teacher who works 100 hours a week or until they “burn out” and leave the profession, altogether.
For conservative leaning education reformers, this fallacy is used to promote the idea and policy of school vouchers and/or school choice. Even though this policy makes for great campaign rhetoric and talking points, school vouchers and/or choice, albeit a parent’s right, is not a strategy for “improving” public education. Think of this policy “solution” as more of an “out,” than a evidenced-based approach to improving a “failing” public school. In fact, this Experience Matters | EdCentrist: