I am an American first, a Republican second and a disabled person last. If you doubt these words, consider the fact that I went against the grain of my party by not voting for Donald Trump in the last election. I was certain that he would not be the best outcome for this country. Despite my misgivings, I love his cabinet picks.
Speaking of which, Betsy DeVos is officially our new Secretary of Education. This came after a nocturnal Democrat “talkathon” that added up to absolutely nothing but juicy fodder for headlines. At least Ted Cruz was gracious enough to recite Dr. Seuss back in the day.
Many of my disabled friends and colleagues have done a great deal of hand-wringing over the fact that DeVos seemed less than prepared when discussing IDEA (The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.) I understand the concern. I wish her staff had better prepared her for the adversarial process of a confirmation hearing.
That said, despite video clips taken out of context, DeVos has never demonstrated hostility toward IDEA or disabled students in general. DeVos is our new reality and going forward, we of the National Federation of the Blind had better spearhead the effort to meet with her and educate her.
If I looked at the picture through the lens of my disability, maybe I would have called for DeVos to be benched. As a Republican, on the other hand, maybe I would have blindly followed my party no matter who they chose.
As an American, I have to look at the bigger picture. That picture comes in the form of an article from the Washington Post published on October 28, 2015, in which the latest results of testing from the National Assessment of Educational Progress were revealed. They showed that 64 percent of fourth graders and 66 percent of eighth graders were not proficient in reading. It also concluded that 60 percent of fourth graders and 67 percent of eighth graders were not proficient in math.
Consider those figures for a moment. That is nearly 2/3 of our national student body. If those results were confined to a specific school with 2/3 of the students failing in basic reading and math, how long do you think the principal would last?
After seven years of a digression from results that were already tepid, it’s time for a change. Devos’s signature issue is school choice. Contrary to liberal talking points, school choice would benefit poor and minority students more than the rich, since affluent parents are already sending their children to private schools. If you doubt it, just ask many of the Democrat senators who oppose DeVos as being predisposed against public schools. Many of them, as well as their children, have bypassed public education for the private sector.
I don’t believe that school choice is the stake that will finally put this American vampire to rest all by itself. There are a lot of angles to consider. Standardized testing is proving to be a disaster. The teachers unions have entirely too much influence and that is not likely to change without someone in power to challenge them. Too many parents think their kids live in a snowflake culture and bristle whenever a teacher brings constructive criticism to bear on their child.
But if you believe as I do that America is the most powerful nation on Earth, then these NAEP results are nothing less than embarrassing. We’ve thrown money at the problem for decades and have seen too little improvement. It’s time for a new approach. I believe that Betsy DeVos represents an appropriate shake-up of the status quo. If I’m wrong, she can be removed and replaced, but how will our children get their formative years back if we continue to fail them?