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The DeVos Agenda Serves Profits, NOT Students

I have worked in education for over 20 years and have served students in both public and private capacities in three states. In both public and private settings, I have found educators who are dedicated, caring, and committed to high standards. But--I must make this very very clear--No matter how idealistic a private school is, money is at the heart of its decision-making, not students, not ideals.

Private schools need to be greedy to stay in business.

I'll prove my point using my own experiences and observations in the areas of: special education, teacher quality, assessment and grading, and teacher salaries.

I invite you to share yours as well in comments.

Special Education
A brief history of Special Ed
The IDEA, (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) is a 1990 extension of the EHA (Education for all Handicapped Children Act) of 1975, the result of parents suing the federal government because of the hardships they faced in trying to educate their children. Many states, including New York, the state I grew up in, had special education services before 1975, but the services were neither universal nor uniform. Students routinely went to special schools rather than being mainstreamed. They were separate, and presumably, not equal.

The site linked above was shut down by the Trump/DeVos administration. There was a tremendous outcry from educators, parents, and the disabled community. A new site was made, but it is not as comprehensive as what it replaced. This is a pattern in the Trump administration. Government sites on climate change, women's rights, voting rights, and even Spanish language sites have been taken down. Finding the assaults on information and protesting them is a constant struggle, but one thousands of Americans are fighting. 

Betsy DeVos
Meet "our" new Secretary of Education.
She paid for her position.
She is ignorant of the IDEA and EHA. 
She is evasive. 
Not only does she have ignorance of the IDEA, she doesn't intend to enforce it.
She plans to profit from her new position. 
She is invested in for-profit education and has NOT divested. 

Protection for Students
Private schools are under no obligation to serve disabled students. They are also under no obligation to put the needs of their students first. 

Let that sink in.

Private schools don't work for students. 
They work for donors and parents. 

If a student shows signs of special needs, and their parents don't want the child to be tested or an assessment of their development to be done, there is no action to help the child beyond the normal course of education at that school. While this is also true of a public school, in the private school, parents are not constantly reminded of the problems because, if they are, the parent will withdraw the child and go to another private school so that they can re-insert their head in the sand. In a public school that is under no financial obligation to the parent, the teachers can constantly remind the parent of their child's needs, wearing them down until they do what is right for their child and get a possible disability evaluated. Public school teachers pursue what is best for their students and fight for those students to get services.

By the time struggling private school students move away or parents can no longer ignore the struggles of their children, the problem(s) could have been festering for years, making it much more difficult to address. I've seen several students suffer with untreated learning disabilities in private settings. When reading is involved, crucial years  of inaction can mean many more of remedial work. The student will be chronically behind, leaving them feeling "stupid" and "other." This does a horrible disservice to students. 

but

Private schools don't work for students. 
They work for donors and parents. 

And don't think that "Christians" or other religious people in private education are immune from such greed. I recently heard about a public school psychologist who is fighting to get the records of a student he is assessing released from a Catholic school. The school will not release the records, records crucial to the special services to the student, because the student's bill is not paid in full. The public school psychologist is a devout Catholic and appalled by the school's behavior. He is compiling a list of scriptures for the administrators who are refusing to release the records to "reflect on." 

Teacher Quality

Again, meet our head educator for the country.

Secretary DeVos is not qualified for her position. She bought it.

This woman is of very low quality as a professional educator. She has earned no degrees in education, has taken no courses in child development, education, learning theory, child psychology, developmental psychology, or any other education discipline. I searched her personal website and wikipedia for any indication that she has sought knowledge in this area. I found nothing.

I have tried to find indications that Secretary DeVos wishes to uphold high standards for teachers, but I cannot find it. As mentioned above, I have worked in education for 20 years. Only at my current job have I worked with 100% highly qualified fellow teachers in my building. In my state of Massachusetts, the state with the highest rated public educational system in America, that means

  • our teachers have earned education degrees and passed state board tests to be teachers.
  • teachers practicing 7 or more years hold masters degrees related to their field 
  • all teachers are certified in the state and keep that certification current
  • all teachers are free of criminal convictions related to the safety of children
Just a few short years ago, many districts did not have 100% highly qualified teachers. The definition of "highly qualified" was originally stated in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and states have added to it, strengthening their professional development and evaluation guidelines. Private schools DO NOT HAVE TO ABIDE BY NCLB. Private schools set their own standards for teacher excellence. 

In a private setting, I have worked with some teachers who would fit the NCLB, but most would not. Most private school teachers whom I have encountered do not participate in the amount of professional development the NCLB requires. Those who do tend to be teachers looking to reenter the public school setting. This has nothing to do with dedication to the students. Rather, the lack of professional development and continuing education has to do with the financial burdens of those pursuits. Masters coursework is very expensive. Most private school teachers need to hold down second and third jobs to make ends meet. They have no time for course work. Without a district to help you pay for it and a living wage to begin with (see Teacher Salary below) it is impossible for many private school teachers to do the professional development they would like. 


Assessment and Grading
Let's hear from the Secretary first.


I have had to change student grades to maintain employment in a private school. This has NEVER happened to me in a public school. I have had to change actual grades and narratives that accompany those grades to please the "paying customer" parents. I am not cruel or unprofessional in my narratives. I never tried to say something that was mean-spirited. But I have been told that a child with chronically poor behavior needs a more positive spin on his evaluation because his parents donate heavily to the school. I changed it. I lost all respect for that administrator, but I changed it.

This was not a one-time event.

Students deserve fair assessments. Students deserve to know how they are doing. They also deserve compassion, intervention to help them make better behavior choices, rigorous curriculum, known standards, and teachers who are at the top of their game.

Who's the boss?
Teachers and parents need to be working for the students and their future selves. We need to give sacrificially of our egos and time to find answers to the difficult problems facing children today. We need to be partners, not adversaries. The introduction of money into the relationship between teachers and students, pollutes that relationship. In a private school, the teacher's boss is ultimately the paying parents and large donors to the school. If parents don't want to hear about a child's struggles, teachers need to comply. In a public school, the teacher's ultimate boss is the community, that includes the future person of that child. Public school teachers work for the kids. They work with parents, not for them.

To be fair, in my experience, over 90% of students in private schools have amazing parents who are dedicated and want what is best for their kids. But those others...
Parents who send their children to private schools to avoid dealing with special needs...
Parents who view private education as a status symbol instead of the best place for their child...
Parents who believe they can buy grades instead of encouraging their children to earn them...
Parents like those of Donald John Trump...

are not what is best about education, and we should not cater to them!

Teacher Salaries

I've worked in private parochial, arts, and concept schools. Here's a break-down on the various types.

The Parochial School
I loved this school, and the staff and students were wonderful. Many of them are my Facebook friends, and I delight in the pictures of their weddings and babies. Unfortunately, the checks from this school bounced routinely, and I had to resort to tracking down the head of school's house to get his signature on a check to cash it before their fund went dry. I don't know how long this school will remain open. I wish them well.

The Arts School
The only schools that paid good, hourly rates were the arts schools. The schools were audition based, and so weeded out students with high behavioral or special ed needs. These schools were high-tuition, and there were no expectations for teacher development. As a result, I earned an excellent wage and was not expected to pay out any of that wage for course work. The competition for teaching positions at these schools was keen, and the students suffered very little staff turnover. I left these jobs only because I moved. I loved these schools.

The Concept School
This school was founded on wonderful, liberal ideals that I hold dear. Due to the economic downturn, I worked at this school for many years but never made more than $30,000. To be fair, my position was only .6 (three days a week), but, had I been in a public setting, my salary would have been hovering around  $40K-$45K. On top of this, I had two duties per day, unsupported special needs students, and was expected to work several nights and weekends during the course of the year. These demands on my time increased over time. Because my tenure at this school coincided with the economic downturn, our wages were frozen for several years. In other years, we had a 1% raise, but never the 3% or 4% in our contracts. NEVER. As a result, I started working there for $25,000. Eight years later, I made a little over $28,000.

I have a masters degree and earned a CAGS during my tenure at that school.

Late in my tenure, the concept school fired most of its veteran faculty. It replaced teachers who had dedicated decades of their lives to the school with novices who worked full-time, with nights and weekends for $25,000 OR LESS.

I believe these new teachers are eligible for public assistance.

I now make $75,000, a matter of public record. I have half the duties of the concept school, teach 5 fewer grade levels, and two night and no weekend responsibilities for the year. I am proud that the highest paid person in my building is a Kindergarten teacher with over 30 years of experience who is a force of nature, an excellent educator, and an even finer human being. I know our principal does not mind being paid less than that veteran teacher. Our principal is paid a good and fair salary, and she doesn't find her self-worth in her salary. She is also the finest principal I have ever worked under. I don't find her worth in her salary. You can't pay for the kind of love she brings to the job.

There is no one left at that concept school who has given the years of service of my current principal, definitely not as many as that Kindergarten teacher. Veteran teachers have the heart and experience for excellence. We need them. 

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