Dear Secretary DeVos,
Congratulations on your appointment. I guess you’ve heard by now that some people aren’t happy about you being our Secretary of Education. That’s okay. You’re starting at the lowest point, which means there’s no place to go but up.
And I’m here to help! I’ve penned a few helpful suggestions that, if followed, will make you the most popular Secretary of Education ever. Do you mind if I call you Betsy? Secretary DeVos seems so formal. I’ll call you Betsy and you call me Paul.
First and most important, stay in your lane. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but unlike other areas of the Federal government, your department’s authority is limited. Federal money isn’t the biggest portion of funding for most local school districts. Betsy, did you know that while many people think public education is in rough shape, they believe their local schools are pretty good? When asked to raise local taxes to improve schools, most folks vote yes. By and large, we trust our local schools.
Second, don’t roll out a bunch of new regulations that make schools jump through hoops. Do you remember No Child Left Behind, Betsy? It was a hot mess. Educators spent more time crunching numbers than teaching children. We’re still paying the price.
Third, celebrate great teachers. Imagine what will happen if you go on a “great teacher tour!” Drop in unexpectedly and celebrate them like they are Beyoncé or Tom Brady. How about this? Set aside every Monday to jet around the country and find great teachers. And don’t depend on school principals or superintendents to tell you who they are. Ask the kids and parents. They know.
Fourth, don’t assume charter schools or private schools or parochial schools are the end-all best solutions for education. They have their places, but you need to remember that most don’t deal with the cross-section of students our public schools see. Despite all my years in public education, I’m not against school vouchers. But Betsy, you need to make sure that the elite schools your kids attended take the same cross-section of kids as the public schools. You can’t leave behind the kids who don’t fit the mold. Oh, yeah, Betsy, a little secret: most kids don’t fit the mold.