Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat down Monday with the 2018 Teachers of the Year from states around the country to talk about their concerns — and they heard her espouse views that clash with many of their own.
At one point, according to HuffPost, DeVos engaged in what was described by one teacher as akin to a “verbal sparring session” with another teacher about her favored school choice policies, which many public school educators say are harming their schools.
The 2018 Teachers of the Year — from every state as well as from the District of Columbia, all U.S. territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity — are in the nation’s capital for the annual Teachers of the Year week. Every year, they engage in professional development and meet top administration officials, including the president.
Teachers of the Year have challenged administration officials before during Teachers of the Year week. When Barack Obama was president, some educators told officials that his administration’s emphasis on high-stakes testing was damaging.
During the Monday roundtable, Jon Hazell, Oklahoma’s teacher of the year, a Republican who voted for President Trump, told DeVos that her policies favoring alternatives to traditional public schools were taking resources away from public districts, HuffPost reported. Others in the room indicated that they supported his statement. HuffPost said:
DeVos told Hazell that students might be choosing these schools to get out of low-performing public schools, he said.
“I said, ‘You’re the one creating the “bad” schools by taking all the kids that can afford to get out and leaving the kids who can’t behind,’ ” Hazell said he told DeVos in response. (Hazell said he was not referring to DeVos specifically as creating the “bad” schools but to school choice policies generally.)
California Teacher of the Year Brian McDaniel described the Hazell-DeVos discussion as something like a “verbal sparring session,” the HuffPost said.
DeVos and Trump have made clear that their top education priority is expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of U.S. children. DeVos has spent decades advocating for the expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, and programs that use public money to pay for private education. In 2015, she called the U.S. public education system a “dead end.”
Teachers also heard DeVos say that she doesn’t believe teachers should go on strike to get more school funding from legislators. Teachers in several states — including those with Republican-led legislators — have been striking in recent months for higher pay and increased funding for resource-starved schools.
HuffPost quoted Montana Teacher of the Year Melissa Romano as saying: “She basically said that teachers should be teaching and we should be able to solve our problems not at the expense of children. For her to say at the ‘expense of children’ was a very profound moment and one I’ll remember forever because that is so far from what is happening.”
Last year the big news from the Teachers of the Year week in Washington was their meeting with Trump, where the president broke with tradition. Usually, the National Teacher of the Year speaks at the White House ceremony, but that didn’t happen. The ceremony is usually in the Rose Garden, but it was in the Oval Office. The president usually spend time talking with teachers individually — but that barely happened in May 2017.