I recently had the opportunity to meet with the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and her senior advisers. It was an invitation I wasn’t sure if I would initially accept. However, I am glad I did.
I believe in engaging with folks I diametrically am opposed to on issues because it is one of the ways to become more informed about the root causes of their beliefs and actions. It is easy to have circular dialogues that exist in an echo chamber that reinforces our own conversations, but doesn’t move us forward. Even at times of war, sometimes, folks have to pitch tents and make themselves heard.
When conversations about education default to ideological trench warfare, it doesn’t move things forward-each side relentlessly taking snipes at the other, using the same weapons and casting the same aspersions. As Charles Cole III and I wrote earlier this year, we cannot hibernate for four (or eight years).
As advocates and agitators on behalf of our communities, at times we must engage with those who profess opposing views.
Also, I recognize that although DeVos is the U.S. secretary of education, my time and experience as a Principal Ambassador Fellow, showed me that the power of this office is mainly vested in two areas: convenings and the bully pulpit. (Money is the third lever the department has, but I’m from Philly, we don’t see much of that flowing into our city.)
Being able to share my views and experiences that I share with thousands of Black families is important. If educators who work with Black families don’t engage to firmly offer a counter-narrative in these spaces, who will? All the noise we bring cannot be from afar.
Although we briefly met with DeVos to share our opinions, we also had the opportunity to meet with her senior staff and senior career officials in the department – several of whom I had the pleasure of working with during my eighteen months as a Fellow. I went to express my opinion and to be heard. The main issues I raised included:
- Concerns about creating situations where choice without accountability becomes the norm.
- Concerns about vouchers that still do not provide access to many private schools.
- Concerns about overly trusting 50 states to ensure educational justice for all of their constituents.
- Signals that indicate a disinvestment in teacher and principal professional development through gutting of Title II funding.
- Language that suggests a lack of awareness of the impact of concentrated poverty on school communities and what any decrease or portability of Title I dollars actually mean to schools that serve high needs students.
While some department officials claimed that there were no silver bullets in education, I, and others pushed back. There actually are silver bullets in education; weighted, predictable and adequate funding levels, high expectations and high levels of support for children and any adult being paid to educate them, robust professional development opportunities, teacher equity, high performing and diverse staff, robust post-secondary pathways and partnerships that support to college and career readiness, holistic curriculum that is rigorous, responsive, and respectful of students’ humanity, etc., are all ingredients for what works in schools—including those schools that support our most marginalized. There are silver bullets, but without the courageous will to invest in our school communities, schools will continue to falter.