A Secretary of Education Must Be an Advocate for Education

This week’s post of The Unrealized Republic serves as the second 2017 installment of open letters to elected officials in order to encourage a healthier planet, evidence-based sharing of information, and appreciation for a plurality of cultures, lifestyles and opinions. For this letter, I am returning to the topic of education in a letter to Maine Senator Susan Collins.

Dear Senator Susan Collins:

As one of your constituents and an educator with experience in public education, private education, alternative education, experiential education and environmental education, I urge you to use your wisdom and influence to prevent the President-Elect’s choice for Secretary of Education, Ms. Betsy DeVos, from serving.

In 2017, our American public schools are amidst an era of uncertainty regarding how to best prepare our next generations to innovate and problem solve in an increasingly complicated world. Other countries are leading the way in public education; students from Finland, South Korea, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, even neighboring Canada, among many others, routinely outperform their American counterparts in core content areas like math, science and literacy.

You are likely aware Ms. DeVos does not have experience in public education, did not send her children to public schools, and has not supported public schools in the past. While we cannot criticize anyone for being an advocate for charter schools or sending his or her children to a private school (that is a fundamental right of all Americans, and one can understand any education stakeholder’s desire to seek alternatives if the local schools in one’s region are earning a poor reputation), the Secretary of Education must be a champion of public school advocacy. Ms. DeVos has not demonstrated a desire to make American public schools better. Instead, she has promoted the philosophy that public schools should be run like businesses and that they should compete for resources and funding. This approach is now archaic and has proven disastrous for the learning climate and the professional culture of teaching in public schools.

We’ve seen this philosophy fail badly on multiple fronts with No Child Left Behind. Public schools are not for-profit institutions; they are community centers for the facilitation of learning. When tainted with the forced incentive to compete against each other for resources and livelihood, teachers and students endure an anxious learning environment overburdened with testing and data collection. Budgets are proposed not in the best interest of students and educators with the purpose of maximizing learning opportunities, but with the purpose of minimizing costs and preventing layoffs. The business approach promotes a culture of rigid accountability and discourages innovation and excellence.

A Secretary of Education cannot single-handedly reform or destroy America’s schools, but she can be a catalyst to either outcome. In order to advocate for America’s schools, one has to care deeply for them and want our public schools to succeed.

A Secretary of Education must understand that in order to succeed, our schools need to collaborate. In a learning environment, collaboration is essential, not just for students but also for professional development and improving teaching practices, and for innovation and excellence in education on a bigger scale.

Competing for students, competing for resources, competing for teachers, and competing for test scores is a proven recipe for failure and the exact direction we must turn from. This will be Ms. Betsy DeVos’ approach and we cannot allow our schools to succumb to that at this time.

Please reject Ms. DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education and instead support a candidate with a philosophy of innovation, excellence, collaboration and equity in teaching and learning.

Sincerely,

James Gale
The Unrealized Republic

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I am a math strategist in RSU 5 (Freeport, Pownal and Durham, Maine), and have been teaching for ten years. These days I help oversee the math curriculum in my district and I coach and support teachers (mostly K-6) in their math instruction. My interests in education extend far beyond math, though.. I have been a passionate writer and musician since I was a young child. I have a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a certificate in math leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife and dog in Bowdoinham.