The Cabinet Position Biden Can’t Get Wrong

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The biggest roar you heard on Saturday when Joe Biden was named President-Elect was from educators. That roar was because an end to the Trump presidency means an end to Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. There has never been a cabinet head in American history as unqualified as Betsy Devos. She possesses no educational background. She has never been a teacher, a public-school parent, a school board representative, or held any position in education. Furthermore, she has regularly diverted funds from public education into private schools. It is evident to me that she does not believe in public education

This is a crucial moment in education. Schools have been underfunded and under resourced for years. There is an emerging teacher shortage that is growing every year. The school to prison pipeline has been destroying the dreams of Black and Brown families and needs to be eliminated. College education is becoming a form of indentured servitude due to costs and student loans. Additionally, Covid has exacerbated a lot of the inequities we already knew existed in education. Our most vulnerable populations will be left further behind if we don’t get the right person to lead us. This is one of the most important decisions facing the Biden administration and our children can’t afford for them to get it wrong.

We need a Secretary of Education who has proven results of student achievement with vulnerable populations. Far too often we label people educational experts when they have never worked with children who have faced adversity. They have never served populations with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, Black and Brown students, or ELL students. The majority of students in our country are students of color and they deserve a Secretary of Education who represents them. We need someone with a record of success with all students.

We need a Secretary of Education who is not a current or former union president. Unions are great and I am a member of a union, however, unions also have issues they need to address. At times, they protect teachers and policies that are harmful to students. Most education unions are also anti-charter schools which are a significant portion of schools and a growing option for Black and Brown families who have been failed by traditional schools. A Secretary of Education must be willing to represent all students and schools in America.

We need a Secretary of Education who makes retaining and hiring teachers of color a national priority. We have seen all the studies on the achievement gap and how to fix it. The US Department of Education released a report in 2015 that said all students benefit from a diverse teacher workforce. It also said that schools that have more teachers of color experience more parental involvement, students of color are represented less in special education classes and more in advanced classes. Additionally, there is less absenteeism and a decrease in discipline issues when teachers of color are part of the teaching staff. Dr. Constance Lindsay’s study said that black students who get a black teacher in elementary grades are 39% less likely to drop out of high school and 19% more likely to go to college. Having more teachers of color in the classroom is the number one way to close the opportunity gap. All students deserve educators who look like them and understand their culture.

We need a Secretary of Education who values teacher voice. Far too many decisions are made in education without the perspective of classroom practitioners. We need a diverse array of teachers on staff who represent all students and student demographics. The demographics of the US Department of Education should represent the demographics of students in America’s schools.

There is no such thing as a perfect candidate for any job description, but we must have bottom line disqualifiers for the job of Secretary of Education. Our parents and children deserve someone not tied to any political interest, not biased in any way, and not pushing a personal agenda. They deserve someone who is only dedicated to the proper and holistic education of every student in America.

2019 NTOY Acceptance Speech (Media Blackout on Original Speech)

Written by

Sr Advisor Richmond Public Schools, 2019 National Teacher of the Year

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