Speak UP weighed in on President Elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, last week and the huge difference between the equitable and accountable school choice we support versus the unregulated and unaccountable choice systems they promote. To continue that discussion, Speak UP asked all four of the candidates running for the LAUSD School Board seat in Board District 4 to give their opinions on DeVos. Candidates Nick Melvoin and Steve Zimmer provided their responses below. Candidates Allison Holdorff Polhill and Gregory Martayan did not send their thoughts. The primary election will be held March 7.
Dangers and Opportunities in a DeVos Regime
By Nick Melvoin
A parent at a dual-immersion school recently reminded me that in Mandarin, the word “crisis” is comprised of two distinct characters. One means danger, the other opportunity. The election of Donald Trump, and his nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, is a crisis. And while it brings unquestionable danger to our public schools, I hope we also seize the opportunity to build a larger coalition working on behalf of our kids.
Donald Trump’s election is a nightmare for educators. We teach tolerance; he has preached intolerance. We teach children to be kind to each other; he ran as the schoolyard bully. We try to bring out the best in our students; he harnessed our worst impulses.
And now, he has chosen Betsy DeVos, a pro-voucher activist who has never worked in the public education system, to lead a Department of Education that he has pledged to dismantle. A Department, it must be noted, mainly responsible for enforcing our civil rights laws. While Trump has paid lip service to the concerns of parents working towards better schools—concerns like more high-quality options and an effective teacher in every classroom—his actual goal is to fundamentally undercut public education.
That is all the more clear with DeVos, whose sole qualification is that she is a wealthy donor. As an educator—a public school teacher and now also a teacher of teachers in their graduate school programs—I find it insulting that someone with no experience in public education is being tasked with running the Department of Education. Strong leadership comes from a mix of vision and experience; DeVos has no experience and her vision is a misguided one.
For proof of that, look at Detroit, where her “wild west” system of unregulated school reform has been one of the biggest disasters in the country.
Despite all this, we should take comfort in the fact that the recently passed Every Student Succeed Acts diminishes the federal role in education and returns more autonomy to local school boards.
Another opportunity is to spend the next four years building a broad coalition, one focused on children. In three presidential debates, there was not a single question about public education. And yet, many of the deep societal chasms exposed by this election relate to education levels achieved by voters. When less than 25% of students in LAUSD are proficient in math, how do we expect people to adapt quickly to the forces of globalization and automation?
Special-interest politics need to take a back seat to a politics that puts kids and families at the center of every decision. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case with LAUSD.
I believe that public education remains the last best hope for our democracy; it is where our national community is forged. If a new political coalition emerges—one with public education at the center—this crisis will be remembered not just for the dangers that we consciously avoided, but for the opportunities we seized.
Nick Melvoin, a former LAUSD middle school teacher, is an attorney, teacher organizer and candidate for the LAUSD Board.
Statement from School Board President Zimmer on L.A. Unified’s commitment to its mission: Educating students
The president-elect’s choice of Betsy DeVos as the next Secretary of Education does not change the mission of the Los Angeles Unified School District. This nomination will not change our drive toward 100 percent graduation. We will double down on our collaborative approach to continual improvement at every level that recognizes teachers and school employees as essential partners in our educational equity mission. We will continue to embrace policies and investments at the federal, state and local level that include all children and promote equity. We will continue to resist policy, practice and investments that are about some students, but not all students.
L.A. Unified is more committed than ever to our mission of assuring that every child receives an outstanding public education and is on a trajectory toward the graduation stage and success in life. We understand that the foundation of public education is based on the ideal that our public schools serve every child that comes to our schoolhouse door. Here in Los Angeles, where 84 percent of our students live in conditions of poverty, and more than 40 percent of our students are English Learners, we understand how high the stakes are for our students. Our mission is to make sure that American Dreams come true through public education.
We expect to have the continued support of the U.S. Department of Education, as we advance the core mission of public education in Los Angeles.