But it was only four years ago that I started hearing the question: How will Betsy DeVos being Secretary of Education affect my child’s school?
My reply is to ask parents to name the previous Secretary of Education, and what he (there — I’ve eliminated 50% of the US population from contention) did that affected their child’s school?
I have yet to receive an answer to either question.
With all due respect to Arne Duncan (whose book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, I reviewed here) and his successor, John King Jr. (the answer to Question #1), until the media decided to make Betsy DeVos a celebrity, the majority of parents didn’t know who the Secretary of Education was. Because what he or she did had very little effect on their child’s school (the answer to Question #2).
It’s not that the press suddenly developing a burning interest in what the Secretary of Education thinks and does is necessarily a bad thing, as I explained in Believe It or Not, Trump and DeVos Have Done Some Good for American Education.
But it isn’t necessarily the most productive approach, either.
Case in point: Last week was another crazy one for New York City parents.
Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio played tug-of-war over which schools would be closed when due to rising COVID-19 rates. The Mayor said one date, the Governor said another. De Blasio released one set of affected area maps, Cuomo responded with a conflicting graphic.
Fourteen days later, as mandated by the Covid Response Protocol, it was time to announce which schools would be allowed to reopen.
Once again, it was a battle for power that only succeeded in leaving parents, education journalists, school administrators, and even city officials confused and frustrated:
Update on zone closures: In Brooklyn – orange zone becomes yellow, which means schools can open. Brooklyn red zone remains red. In Queens, the red and orange are both moving to yellow, so schools can open.— Jessica Gould (@ByJessicaGould) October 21, 2020
The mayor said this morning he was kept out of the loop before Cuomo’s announcement. It’s wild. pic.twitter.com/7P6PADNZjO— Alex Zimmerman (@AGZimmerman) October 21, 2020
I’m told City Hall basically learned about the changes to the zones at the same time everyone else did: when the Gov went on TV. It’s ridiculous. This is not how our city or state should be treating working parents, students, and educators at a time like this.— Justin Brannan (@JustinBrannan) October 21, 2020
If I’m understanding correctly, orange zones are now yellow & their schools may reopen. Previously yellow zones are staying yellow and their schools can not reopen if they were in the original zip code closures which we don’t use anymore. Cuomo should write a 2nd leadership book.— Karol Markowicz (@karol) October 21, 2020
Principals in cluster zones have been told by the DOE that staff is still getting updated guidance from the state – and not to communicate any change to families until they get official word. DOE spox says orange zone schools will not open BEFORE Monday…. https://t.co/6M8imTNE16— Jessica Gould (@ByJessicaGould) October 21, 2020
I’m confused, per the @NYCSchools own Covid Response Protocol after a 14 day shut down students return. There was no mention of 5 additional days to get the school ready. @DOEChancellor the decision to close may not have been yours but the plans on how to open are. Get it 2gether https://t.co/AfQTNx61Oy— Heather EB Dimitriadis 🌊☕️✝️☮️ (@HeatherEBD) October 22, 2020
This? This right here? This is what affects your child’s school.
These are the politicians directly responsible for education policy in your city and in your state.
School openings and closing. District rezoning. Dual language/ELL instruction. Expanding or eliminating Gifted and Talented programs. Middle and High school admissions (including SHSAT schools). Charter school caps, end of year testing, and overall educational standards.
None of this is primarily in Betsy DeVos’ hands. True, the federal government mandates yearly testing via the Every Student Succeeds Act. Nonetheless, according to The Common Core State Standards Initiative: (S)tates routinely review their academic standards and may choose to change or add onto the standards to best meet the needs of their students.
These decisions are primarily in city and state hands, which include the NY Assembly and State Senate, City Council members, Borough Presidents, Panels for Education Policy, Community Education Councils, and even PTA’s.
Mainstream and social media is screaming about the national elections. But NYC parents would be wise to remember that when it comes to who is truly in charge of your child’s day to day, year to year school experience, it is vital to #VoteLocal.
Hear more below: