Grading Betsy DeVos After One Year

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By Andrew Pillow  

It has been a little over a year since Betsy DeVos took the role of Secretary of Education. She was a controversial pick for this role. She seemed uncomfortable answering questions about her views during her Senate hearings. She seemed even more uncomfortable answering questions about education in general. Which led many to point out her lack of actual educational experience. In the end, the vote to install her as Secretary of Education ended in a 50-50 deadlock after some Republican defections. Mike Pence had to become the first-ever vice president to cast a tie-breaking vote for a Cabinet nominee.

While by some accounts DeVos has “softened her language” around her more controversial proposals, she still remains a polarizing figure. So how has DeVos really done during her tenure as Secretary of Education?

Let’s break it down into several categories:

1.       Stated Goals vs Accomplishments

There were a number of actions DeVos said she wanted to get done as Secretary of Education. She wanted to scale back the role of government in education and she wanted to pass an ambitious school choice proposal.

She’s done one of those things.

She has scaled back the role of government in education. She’s undone many regulations without replacing them. She’s left certain roles vacant for long periods of time and appointed people who don’t believe their jobs should even exist. These actions decreases the role of government, but many would argue it is the worst way you could possibly do it.

She has yet to pass the ambitious school choice overhaul even though that was her main goal prior to taking office. It’s also worth noting that Republicans who mostly ideologically agree with her, control both houses of Congress. She did succeed in expanding the use of the 529 savings accounts to include use for school choice initiatives.

Stated Goals vs Accomplishments: C

2.       Controversy

Betsy DeVos appears to actually have made attempts to not be purposely abrasive while in office which is a sharp departure from her style prior to taking the job and a departure from her boss that appointed her.

Still, she has managed to attract negative attention through political gaffes and controversial appointments. Whether it’s citing Jim Crow era educational systems as a model for “School Choice,” or making jokes about “nobody getting a free lunch,” every other month DeVos finds a way to make controversy in a position that usually, for the most part, stays out of the headlines.

This isn’t even touching on her propensity to choose the worst person to fill specific roles in her administration. Such as appointing Candice Jackson to lead the office of civil rights even though she has repeatedly referred to the work of Murray N. Rothbard as a “monumental achievement.” Rothbard is known for disagreeing with compulsory education and wait for it…CIVIL RIGHTS!

The amount of controversy she generates is not only annoying, but a barrier to achieving her own aims. Especially, when you consider the average American couldn’t even tell you who the Secretary of Education was before her.

Controversy: F

3.       Policy Moves

So, what are the actual policy moves Betsy DeVos has done? Well, mostly it’s what she hasn’t done or has undone. Like every other Trump nominee, she wanted to undo Obama era regulations and laws.

In that vein, she scaled back the Obama program for defrauded student loan victims. This mostly referencing the collapse of the large for-profit schools like ITT Tech and Corinthians Colleges. DeVos wants to replace that regulation with a stricter law to “save the taxpayers money.” The current system limits relief based on income.

Still, it’s hard to justify leaving thousands of defrauded college students to languish under student loans when it's the government that determined students were being defrauded in the first place.

Betsy DeVos also reversed Obama-era policy on school sexual assault. Specifically doing away with the burden of proof required to punish the accuser on a college campus sexual assault case. This move was controversial, but there were many who agreed with it.

As a black person from “To Kill a Mockingbird” land, I understand the need to protect the rights of the accused. However, the Obama era law was created to protect victims as well and Betsy DeVos did not replace it with anything better. Is it okay for a school not to do anything about a sexual assault even if the “preponderance of evidence” suggests the victim is telling the truth? According to Betsy DeVos, the answer is yes and that’s not okay.

Her policy moves accomplished some things that some people thought maybe needed to be done, but in the worst and most heavy-handed way possible.

Policy Moves: D+

Overall Betsy DeVos probably deserves around a D for her final grade. It’s worth noting that her tenure is not finished, and she has many ideas in the works. If you like Betsy DeVos’s ideas, then you are probably excited that she is beginning to hit her stride. If you are not a fan, you probably would prefer her to go back to being ineffective.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Top Five Issues Facing African Americans in Education Today

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By Andrew Pillow

As everyone knows, Black History Month is a great time to reflect on how far African Americans have come. It is also a great time to reflect on how far we have to go. While great strides have been made, there are still plenty of strides yet to be taken.

Looking specifically in the arena of education, African Americans face many issues that have yet to be addressed. As a classroom teacher, I see many of these first hand and hear about others second hand.

What are the issues society needs to address for African Americans moving forward?

1.       The Achievement Gap

Terminology around the achievement gap hasn’t aged well as many find the term offensive. The phenomena itself, however you want to classify it, is still a huge problem. Black students lag behind in academic achievement in relation to their white counterparts. This achievement gap persists from kindergarten all the way to college.

2.       Segregation

In America, we have a bad habit of talking about segregation as if it was a relic of the past. When in fact, some places never actually desegregated to begin with. Some schools are more segregated now than they were during the prime of separate but equal policies. Today’s segregation is not necessarily the product of overtly racist policies, but that doesn’t make it any less real. School districts have become a pizza pie of racially segregated neighborhoods.

3.       Policy Wars

In any war, there are civilian casualties. In a war with bullets and missiles, that looks like broken buildings and dead bodies. In a war of educational policy, it looks like broken schools and uneducated children.

While public and charter school factions battle it out over supremacy, inner-city students are caught in the crossfire. We don’t have to decide which is “best” in order to serve students. But unfortunately, some public school districts don’t feel that way and inner-city students are the ones caught in the crossfire.

4.       Low Expectations

It is well-established fact that black children are held to lower expectations by teachers than their white counterparts. It is also well established that high expectations are a key driver of academic achievement. It’s not hard to see how a teacher's standards, or lack thereof, contributes to the achievement gap.

5.       Harsher Discipline Practices

Many times, black students face much harsher discipline than white students. This includes suspensions, expulsions and even consequences such as timeouts or negative phone calls home. Out of school suspensions and expulsions are not only punishments in and of themselves but also direct contributors to low academic achievement.

All of the areas listed above have been problems for a number of years, but some have solutions that have worked in other places. Some problems have no clear answer. Other times it’s a matter of finding the answer and replicating it. That is the case with these problems. It's on us to take availible solutions and implement them so these issues don't negatively impact future generations.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

We Aren’t Going to Do Anything About School Shootings

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By Andrew Pillow

America is still reeling from a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. If I had written this article 10 days ago, I could have easily substituted “Parkland, Florida” for “Oxon Hill, Maryland” in that first sentence. If I had waited to write this article next week, I probably could have substituted it for some city or small town yet unknown.

Unfortunately, this trend toward school shootings will likely continue and for a very obvious reason: We are not doing anything to fix it. I'm not being cynical. I'm just making an observation.

This doesn’t mean that people don’t care, or people don’t want change. On the contrary, nothing can be further from the truth. In the aftermath of one of the deadliest school shootings in American History, social media, and the blogosphere lit up with hot takes and think pieces touching on everything from gun control to gun culture. Clearly, people want something to be done.

The issue appears to be that the right people don’t want change. The simple truth is this: The political will does not exist to prevent school shootings.

Political will, of course, isn’t stagnant and it can change. However, we have been in this deadlock for what seems like an eternity. Here is the typical format of a school shooting:

Step One – Shooting Occurs

The shooting happens. It usually doesn’t take long for it to trend on social media depending on how bad it is.

Step Two – Questioning

“Any deaths or injuries?”

“How many?”

“What color is he?”

“What religion is he?”

“What is the motive?”

Step Three – Political Conversation

This is where politicians began to cite the tragedy in their arguments for their agenda. For the liberals, it is almost always a jump start for a gun control debate. For the right, it depends on the ethnic and religious identity of the shooter.

Step Four – News Cycle Passes

Yep. That’s it. We care a whole lot for a little while. Then we move on. And in spite of our “never forget” rhetoric following a tragedy, America is REALLY good at moving on.

So why is it this way? Why can’t we move past this?

1.       The pro-gun lobby can weather the storm

It is impossible in America to reach critical political mass for any issue in one week. Which happens to be the extent of a news cycle. Pro-Gun republicans and the NRA can afford to take it on the chin for a week and get back to business later.

2.       Liberals don’t vote against guns

Most liberals favor more gun control and will openly say that. However, because the Democratic base is so vast, and their desires so diverse, gun control tends to be an issue that gets lost in the sauce until there is a shooting.

Pro-gun conservatives make it clear to their politicians that gun rights are not just some random issue in the conservative bucket of grievances. For a lot of conservatives, it is the main issue they vote on. As long as gun legislation matters significantly more to the pro-gun crowd than the anti-gun crowd, the anti-gun crowd will lose.

3.       Liberals are more likely to cater to the other side than conservatives

Go look at any election in a red state. Whatever Democrat is running is so scared to be perceived as “taking guns away” that they virtually ignore gun control altogether. Whereas conservative politicians won’t give an inch.

The people conservatives vote for will fight for gun rights. The people liberals vote for will claim they want more gun control in closed circles but deny it in mixed company.

None of these things have to be this way. Gun control has to become as important to liberals as “gun rights” are to conservatives. Liberals have to extend the debate beyond the news cycle. Democrats have to come out as gun control advocates and stay out. All of these things can be done. But we’ve been here before...and if history is any indication, we will be having this same conversation next week.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Weekend Education Links (2/11/2018)

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Thousands of DACA Teachers Hold out Hope for a Deal

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By Andrew Pillow

DACA has been all over the news lately. Democrats have been sparring back and forth over how to deal with DACA immigrants. Unfortunately, it appears that we will have to wait a little longer for answers.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or, DACA, is a program that allows young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents to get a temporary break from deportation. It also allows them to work, study, and get a driver’s license. People who have received DACA are known as DREAMers according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration.

If DACA was to be ended or repealed in full, as has been threatened by the Trump administration, the DREAMers could be deported.

This will have drastic effects for many people. Most notably in education. Many people have discussed the number of students impacted by the program, but one issue that hasn’t been talked about as much is the number of teachers impacted as well.

Close to 9,000 school teachers are DACA recipients. Many of these teachers are in predominantly immigrant, and high need areas. Many states like Texas have heavily leveraged DACA teachers requiring only that they renew their permit every two years.

These teachers are also in danger of being deported like the other DREAMers. No matter what your political affiliation, it’s easy to see why we can’t let this happen for a couple of reasons.

1.     It’s Wrong

As discussed earlier, the DREAMers are people who were brought over illegally as children by their parents. Even if you think it’s wrong for someone to come over illegally, you have to concede their children can’t be held at fault.

Moreover, most of these children have grown up and become for all intents and purposes Americans in every sense except the legal one. Imagine having every single memory of your life take place in one country, only to be deported to another country you may have never been to - that speaks a language you may not even know. 

2.     It Puts Stress on Already High Need Schools

If you work at a school, then you know how destabilizing it is to lose a teacher. Imagine waking up one day to find that we lost 9,000 of them. Additionally, you would be losing them from schools that likely need them.

Many DACA teachers work in the communities they grew up in where their personal experience is useful to students and families. Plus, many are bi-lingual, which is a high need in many schools.

Contrary to popular belief these aren’t jobs that would immediately be swooped up by “real” deserving “red blooded Americans.” A guy laid off from a factory in Detroit, is not all of a sudden going to move to El Paso, Texas a become an ESL teacher. Many of these positions would go unfilled...which is to the detriment of students that are legal citizens too. Unfortunately, the “Immigrants are taking our jobs” rhetoric has obscured the truth: Immigrants are essential to the workforce and even more essential to education.

Hopefully, the Trump administration thinks better of their initial threats and realizes how valuable these first-generation Americans have become. This decision should be made on the basis of their humanity… but if it helps, they have also become essential to education and decision-makers should remember that.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Report: Childcare Could Exceed Cost of College Tuition

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By Andrew Pillow

When a couple conceives a child, the initial excitement is typically followed by at least a little anxiety about finances. Eventually, that conversation turns to “saving for the kid’s college.” While the debate about college tuition should certainly be a priority for any young family, a new report suggests they should spend more time worrying about the cost of childcare.

According to a report by Child Care Aware® of America, families are struggling with the astronomically high cost of quality preschool or child care. Although some states are cheaper than others, the report found that childcare is a sizable chunk of the average family’s income everywhere:

“Despite the rising economy and promises of a great future, we are living in a country where most parents are struggling to afford one of the most significant expenses in their family budget - child care. The child care affordability story remains unchanged and in many homes across the country, child care costs exceed the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation, or food. Across all states, the average cost of center-based infant care exceeds 27 percent of the median income for single parents, an increase of 3 percentage points from our findings in the 2016 Parents and the High Cost of Care report.”

While the childcare debate is often framed as a budget and financial issue, it’s also a huge educational issue. Research shows pretty definitively, that children who participate in high-quality child care are better off. Obviously, childcare prepares children academically, but it also pays dividends behaviorally. A fact that isn’t lost on the authors of the report:

“Child care is more than a work support. When it’s of quality, it helps children learn and prepare for school and life. The research shows that the potential long-term benefits of quality care are many and includes adults that are more skilled, better educated, have better employment opportunities, and more stable families.”

Childcare, in particular preschool, is one of those things that virtually no politician openly claims to be against, but in reality, many states have trouble passing policies and measures to pay for, or subsidize the cost of childcare.

For example: Indiana has gone back and forth on how much childcare to pay for and where to pay for it. Not too coincidently, Indiana is also one of the least affordable states for infant and childcare according to this report.

If America is serious about educating our youth, they can’t wait until the compulsory age of education to start caring about them. Some parents are able to provide a high quality, stimulating environment for their children while still being productive members of the workforce, but many are not. This is a problem that needs to be remedied… starting with the costs.

Read the full report here. ( via: Child Care Aware®)

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.