My letter to Trump about Betsy DeVos: She’s no puppy killer but she needs to go

To President Trump:

I was one of the 470,000 women who marched on Washington Saturday, the day after your inauguration, holding a sign that was earnest but not angry, focused on the aspirations I have for my young adult daughters.

In a million years I couldn’t have imagined I would ever be writing you a letter (let alone putting the word “President” next to “Trump” in a greeting), but I just finished this amazing story in the New York Times about the President’s mailroom and how a team of staff, interns and volunteers responded to the 10,000 letters and emails that came into the White House every day, and how that team carefully culled that immensity into a stack of 10 letters that authentically reflected the hopes and fears of everyday Americans and were personally read by President Obama every evening.

I have a hard time imagining you doing this, because I have not seen any evidence that you care about what everyday Americans think, especially the ones who disagree with you and are deeply afraid of your presidency. But in the spirit of those amazing 20-somethings who read President Obamas mail for years, I’m going to give this a try.

Please reconsider your choice of Betsy DeVos for the Secretary of Education.

She really is not qualified for the job. She doesn’t understand how public schools operate or the basics of education policy or law, and she didn’t even try to do her homework about that before her confirmation hearing last week. Her financial entanglements as a billionaire businesswoman don’t automatically rule her out, but they are alarming and require careful scrutiny before she is hustled into this job.

I’m in a little bubble of people who care a great deal about education policy and politics–I’ve been writing about education for almost 20 years and used to work for the Education Department–so of course I’m focused on this appointment.

But I’m a little shocked at how many everyday Americans are protesting this appointment, and how many signs and speakers at the #WomansMarch called out Betsy DeVos by name. (Like the one above, which compared DeVos to a wealthy villain known for wanting to kill puppies). I’m shocked because the Education Secretary isn’t a particular powerful cabinet position–it’s 16th out of 18th in the presidential line of succession, and with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the department’s ability to drive change in our nation’s schools is sorely diminished.

So I don’t know if DeVos is truly a “Cruella,” but she surely is misguided when it comes to school choice and what it truly means to “disrupt the status quo” in education (and yes, when it comes to guns in schools, but that’s a distraction for another day).

I favor school choice and I’m no fan of the status quo, but Betsy DeVos’ views deeply damages both causes.

She can’t promise that “school choice” will offer students a better education and a brighter future, and then actively fight against the kind of school accountability that ensures a level playing field in charter and parochial schools–as she did in her home state of Michigan. She can’t threaten to blow up the public school system without having a better alternative in place.

Just because she criticized members of her own party for fighting school choice because they don’t want “poor minority kids (to) come to our good suburban schools,” it doesn’t give her a pass on decimating the civil rights of students she purports to save from the ravages of terrible neighborhood schools. She can’t pretend that states and school districts will protect the civil rights of at-risk students, especially those with disabilities, because they won’t, not without oversight. It’s too hard and too expensive to do the right thing sometimes.

I’ll be honest, I’m so, so terrified by so many things you have done since you were elected and by so many of the people you have elevated thus far, so it’s hard to keep my fervor on DeVos. But education is the world I know, and I have to start with something.

Because passive despair is not where I want to live for the next four years.

Because this is what democracy looks like.

Sincerely,

Tracy

A woman. A mom. A voter. A taxpayer. A peaceful protestor.

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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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