US Education Secretary Is Flunking and Endangering Our Public Schools

By Diane Jukofsky, Beavercreek

Kathleen Jeskey, co-founder of Oregon Save Our Schools

School safety is a prime concern always, but especially since the horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last month. The issue also underlines another striking difference in principles between the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and the nation’s leading teachers’ organizations. DeVos, who is heading a newly formed commission on school safety, has expressed her support for arming well trained school staff, including teachers.

But the National Education Association’s President, Lily Eskelsen García, roundly rejects the Trump-endorsed idea of arming teachers. “Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” she said. “Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms.”

Clackamas County Neighborhood Leader Kathleen Jeskey, a Canby public schoolteacher and co-founder of Oregon Save Our Schools, strongly supports Eskelsen García’s position. “The shooter at the Parkland high school was a former student,” she said. “Firing a weapon at one of our students is against every instinct and value we possess as teachers.”

Last month, the Oregon AFL-CIO weighed in on DeVos’s performance, giving her an “F” for her first year as education secretary. Among other criticisms, the organization flunked her for directing public school funding to a voucher system for private and charter schools, which likely means larger class sizes and less professional development for educators, and for rolling back gender equality policies establishing by President Obama.

Jeskey agrees that DeVos deserves an “F” for many reasons, but especially because “instead of protecting and promoting public education she is attempting to destroy and privatize it.”
The Canby teacher continued:

“Oregon schools generally, including Clackamas County schools, are already suffering from two decades of underfunding since the passage of Measure 5 in the 1990s and the failure of the legislature since then to find the ever promised new path to stable and equitable funding. Any more cuts to our already depleted system will be difficult to take. There are already teacher shortages due to overcrowded classrooms, comparatively low pay to other professional fields, and the constant demand of more from teachers.”

In terms of what actions DeVos could take during 2018 to improve Oregon’s schools, Jeskey offered three recommendations:

  • Ensure equity for ALL students
  • End the call for privatization that will result in the destruction of public education.
  • End the drain on school resources and time due as a result of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that calls for testing of every child, every year, in Math and English Language Arts. “It is unnecessary as well as demoralizing to struggling students,” Jeskey maintained. “We have a far greater need for school counselors and other outreach services to families if we want to improve outcomes for our students.”

You can also grade DeVos’s performance by completing the Oregon AFL-CIO’s report card. The group is joining the American Federation of Teachers and other groups to deliver the report card to the Department of Education with marks from 51,200 citizens. So far, 40,912 have been delivered.