The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former D.C. schools chief takes on DeVos: ‘Sorry lady … this is so amateur and unprofessional’

Kaya Henderson is the former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. She stepped down last year. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Kaya Henderson, the former chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools, is none too happy with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s comments about teachers at a D.C. public school she recently visited.

DeVos, confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 7 only after Vice President Pence broke the first-ever tie vote for a Cabinet nominee, visited Jefferson Academy last week. Her initial effort to get into the school by a side door was blocked by protesters, and she entered another way. She later criticized the protesters, saying they were hostile to change in education.

DeVos: Critics want to ‘make my life a living hell’

DeVos is seen by her supporters as a true champion of school choice who has used her inherited fortune to advocate choice and support education efforts in Christian communities. Critics of DeVos, who has said public education is a “dead end” and that “government sucks,” say she wants to privatize America’s public education system. They also say she has no real experience with public schools, having attended private schools, sent her children to private schools and spent decades advocating alternatives to traditional public schools.

Demonstrators gathered outside Jefferson Middle School Academy in Southwest D.C. to protest a visit from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (Video: WUSA)

As The Post’s Emma Brown wrote, DeVos also criticized some of the teachers she saw at Jefferson, telling columnist Cal Thomas of the conservative online publication Townhall that they seemed dedicated and sincere but were in “receive mode.”

“I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students, and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more successful from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.”

It is certainly true that the education policy changes of the past 15 years have taken away autonomy from teachers as many of them have been forced to use scripted curriculum and spend a lot of time preparing students for high-stakes standardized tests. But that’s not the same thing as saying that teachers at Jefferson — or other schools — are “waiting to be told what they have to do” or that DeVos would be able to see and identify really great teaching on a carefully arranged, brief stopover at a school.

DeVos criticized teachers at D.C. school she visited — and they are not having it

As Brown reported, teachers at Jefferson were none too pleased about DeVos’s comments, blasting her on Twitter.

After Henderson’s tweet about DeVos, there was this exchange between her and

, chief of staff to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D):

Bowser got in on the conversation about DeVos’s comments with this tweet:

After all of this, DeVos tweeted back:

And the new chancellor of D.C. schools, Antwan Wilson issued this statement, supporting the Jefferson teachers in more diplomatic language than Henderson: