One year after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was sworn in, teachers’ groups delivered “report cards” to her place of employment, grading the secretary on her performance protecting students’ civil rights, ensuring educational equity and providing funding for students of color and low-income students.
Predictably, the teachers did not grade on a curve.
The groups, which have largely been adversarial during DeVos’ tenure, gave her all Fs. They also delivered what they said were 80,000 individual teachers’ evaluations of DeVos, along with comments about what she’d see if she visited their classrooms.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who addressed a small group of activists gathered in the cold outside the U.S. Education Department on Thursday, said 90% of the teachers “frankly gave Betsy DeVos a failing grade.”
DeVos' spokeswoman, Liz Hill, said the department is happy to get feedback, but added, "It’s unfortunate that instead of working to have productive dialogue, the union decided it was important to pull teachers out of the classroom for a two-hour political publicity stunt — for which they shot their own footage to send to media outlets."
For her part, DeVos marked her first year on the job this week saying her proudest accomplishments were shrinking the role of the department and rolling back Obama-era regulations and guidance on several issues.
She offered voluntary buyouts to 207 employees — 45 of them in the Office for Civil Rights, more than in any other department. Overall, the Trump administration has pushed to cut $9 billion from the department's budget.
The new regulations and guidance address campus sexual assault, restroom use for transgender students, for-profit colleges and college students who borrow for school expenses, among others.
"Some of the most important work we've done in this first year has been around the area of overreach and rolling back the extended footprint of this department to a significant extent," DeVos told Education Week this week.
Weingarten on Thursday said she was “aghast” at DeVos’ pride in shrinking the department and rolling back protections for students. “There’s nothing in her proudest achievements that says anything about kids, families or schools,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights group, sent DeVos a letter signed by the parents of more than 700 transgender children nationwide, complaining that the new restroom guidance has had a chilling effect: Nearly half of students who identify themselves as “transgender, non-binary, or otherwise non-cisgender” now say they never use school restrooms, the group said. Of those, 90% attribute this to being “personally restricted from using facilities” that align with their gender identity.
While adversaries such as the teachers’ groups have feared that DeVos would push to “privatize” public education by expanding federal funding for private-school choice and charter schools, which are often privately managed, even DeVos would admit that, a year in, her plans on privatization have been largely frustrated.
Though DeVos has spoken widely about school choice, Congress has given her only one small victory: The recent GOP tax plan allows families for the first time to use 529 college-savings plans to pay for K-12 private school tuition.
DeVos’ cabinet appointment earned Senate approval last year by the slimmest margin ever — Vice President Mike Pence was forced to break a 50-50 tie. After her appointment, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, head of the National Education Association, said she wrote to DeVos and asked if she would commit to holding all schools, including for-profit charter schools, accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars.
Eskelsen Garcia said she also asked for DeVos to promise that she’d protect LGBTQ and immigrant students, among others, and ensure that every student has access school programs “that will make their dreams come true.”
On Thursday, Eskelsen Garcia told the crowd, “I would like to read to you her response — as soon as she sends it. The mail is slow, but I am still waiting.”
Follow Greg Toppo on Twitter: @gtoppo