Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, was confirmed in a tied Senate vote broken by Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
According to the Washington Post, this was the first time that a vice president’s vote was needed to confirm a Cabinet member.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner expressed concern for the DeVos agenda.
“These Virginians worry about Ms. DeVos’ confirmation. They worry about what it would mean for our children, our students…and for progress towards proving and providing every child with a quality public education regardless of their zip code,” Virginia Senator Mark Warner said on the Senate floor.
Warner said DeVos’s initiatives are not reflective of Virginians’ concerns.
“To put it simply, Ms. DeVos’ single-minded focus on charter schools, vouchers, on converting federal education dollars into a different program, is simply out-of-step with the education climate in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Warner said.
According to the Virginia Performs website, Virginia ranked fifth in reading and sixth in math on the fourth grade NAEP tests in 2015. Also, graduation rates continued to improve in nearly every Virginia region in the 2015-2016 school year. Two regions saw close to a two-percentage point increase over the previous year, while another three regions reported progress of one percentage point or better.
Virginia has had a history of notable literacy performance and has been recognized nation-wide.
“When I left the Governor’s Office in 2006, Virginia was consistently recognized by independent validators as the nation’s Best State for a Lifetime of Educational Opportunity, from pre-K to college and beyond,” Warner said.
Some educators, parents, and students across the state are wondering what this change in leadership will do to Virginia’s good reputation. VWC students add to this statewide discussion.
“Even when I worked for 30 years in a public school system and people on my school board had children not in public schools, I objected to that,” Associate Professor of Education/Special Education Jayne Sullivan said. “If you’re in charge of nearly 100,000 public schools you should know about them.”
Sullivan weighs in on how Devos should spend her time.
“I think her first three months needs to consist of going to all the public schools. She needs to visit these schools so that she becomes more grounded in what the public schools need… I don’t think she has ever been inside one,” Sullivan said.
According to Sullivan, teachers are made for these changes.
“What other occupation gets a fresh start every single year? The kids change, the schools change, the philosophy changes, the pendulum about what’s good and bad. It is just changing all the time, and to me, that’s the most exciting part about teaching,” Sullivan said.
Current education majors at VWC are in the process of learning what it means to be a teacher and how to apply their classes to their future career. Some students question DeVos’ readiness to perform in this position given her known lack of experience.
“I think it will be hard for her to be the Secretary of Education knowing that she hasn’t had any experience in the field whatsoever. I think it’s important for anybody who wants to be in this position to have a foundation,” junior education major Shana Harrison said. “You can be a genius and know everything about the curriculum, but at the end of the day, if you haven’t been in the classroom, you will not understand,”
DeVos is currently the chairman of the American Federation for Children, which fights for school choice advocacy. The AFC ensures that children are attending schools based on their parents’ choosing and are not limited because of their zip code.DeVos received a private school education. She graduated from Calvin College, a school devoted to a Christian, liberal arts experience.
“She thinks that private education is better than public education, and I think that is wrong because any education is the best education,” Harrison said. “You can’t walk into the position saying that one is better than the other. Each is individually creative in their own way. You can’t make all of them the same because that will create a cookie-cutter for each student and that’s not what a student is. A student is their own set of individuality.”
Much of the VWC community is taking a different approach when reflecting on the decision to confirm DeVos.
“I fear that my students will be disheartened by the education system, even more than they already are, with her appointment,” Virginia Beach Public Schools teacher and VWC graduate Kristin (Taylor) Reifsnider said. “Luckily, I don’t fear too much for the sake of my own two children because I have the background in education, so they will be well supported at home. However, I remain fearful that my children’s education might be used to line the pockets of the rich.”
Despite the uncertainty, teachers remain optimistic.
“No matter what changes come down the road, teachers will still motivate students to see the value in their education,” Reifsnider said.