Saturday, February 11, 2017

Open Letter to Betsy DeVos

Dear Madam Secretary,

You are a brave soul. You certainly don't need a secretary's paycheck. You had a powerful sphere of influence in Michigan.

When you testified before the Senate HELP Committee, where I worked for five years, and you were asked about the federal special education law, those of us who care about and know federal policy affecting the education of children with disabilities, were at least surprised, but most likely shocked by your answer. And then today, I learned a key IDEA website, maintained and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education since the time of George W. Bush, has disappeared!

There was some time between when you were notified of your selection to be Secretary of Education and when you testified. Why did you not seek to learn more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a civil rights law that has been on the federal law books since 1975, 42 years? Providing each child with a disability a free appropriate public education is not a matter of state discretion.

Well, now whether we agree with each other or not, we are partners in shaping what children and their parents may expect from our schools in the next four, possibly eight, years. We must find a way to work together. You indicated as much in your remarks to employees in the U.S. Department of Education. The challenge is how do we do that?

Here are my suggestions:

1. Recognize that charter schools and school choice are part of a much bigger equation.  They are mere strategies that must be joined with substance, reflect respect for law, do not foster a logistical nightmare, and include meaningful accountability.
2. Acknowledge that parents want the best education for their children, so we must invest in teachers, wherever they work, and recruit the brightest to become the teachers of tomorrow.
3. Realize that making America great again in education requires that we address issues on the ground, in every neighborhood. From this input, of great expectations, work with states and local community leaders, educators, and families to develop local benchmarks and goals. Supply the necessary resources for goals to be achieved.
4. Accept that national organization representatives care about children as you do, and this fact can be the common ground that provides the bridge to your working together.
5. Consider the diversity of our communities, their cultural and ethnic richness, and respect it as you design or promote accountability measures.
6. Embrace your role as a protector of civil and human rights, ensuring that each child has the right to an education that is empowering and allows the child to achieve his or her full potential.
7. Acknowledge that there is value, but also limits in states rights and flexibility in education, and as you continue as the national leader in education, you identify  circumstances that require a national solution in order for children to thrive.
8. Respect and protect longstanding websites, do not silence them. They are the fertile ground through which we learn essential information and develop a basis to work together.

We come to this point with differences in perspectives and experiences, but I hope common goals. I wish you well.

Thank you,

Patricia Morrissey
Aka: Common Grounder