“If MLK was here today ... He would stand with us and say ... ‘We choose public schools! We choose public schools!’”
Led by a high schooler from the South Side of Chicago, a crowd of about 50 critical of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos chanted those words outside the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday. They carried boxes filled with 80,000 report cards grading DeVos’ first year as education secretary.
Close to 90 percent of the report cards gathered by the American Federation of Teachers and several other organizations representing educators, students, administrators, and community members gave DeVos an F.
Those participating in the anti-DeVos rally walked to the public entrance of the Education Department headquarters at 3 p.m., only to find the doors were locked, frustrating AFT President Randi Weingarten, who led the demonstration.
“Actions speak louder than words, Betsy,” Weingarten said in an interview after the rally. “We are all Americans who have the right to have a conversation with the head of the Department of Education ... and we have been locked out.”
Weingarten said her staff had asked DeVos for a meeting prior to the rally and that they were transparent about their intent to give what she called thoughtful feedback to DeVos.
Education Department Spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill, in an e-mail, called the rally “a two-hour political publicity stunt,” and said union leaders should have been aware they would not be able to get in without an appointment.
“Building security staff followed standard protocols to secure the building,” Hill said. “This is a long-standing practice.”
Hill said, “If they would like to send a representative to the department to deliver their feedback, we’d be happy to accept it. ... We do so daily from other groups.”
The AFT hosted the event and was joined by other union and activist groups including the National Education Association, the AFL-CIO, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the Badass Teachers Association, Color of Change, Daily Kos, and the Journey for Justice Alliance, as well as individual educators, and students.
A common theme: that DeVos was not doing her job because she appears not to care about public schools, or that she does not spend enough time visiting public schools. An Education Week map has tracked DeVos’ 36 visits to schools in her first year. She has visited 18 public schools, nine private schools, eight charter schools, and one funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Controversy surrounding the appointment and confirmation of DeVos has centered on her position favoring school choice and voucher programs, along with claims that she is unqualified for the position.
NEA president Lily Eskelsen García also spoke at the rally. She said DeVos was out of touch with the mission of the Education Department and with the educators, students, and families involved in public schools.
“Secretary DeVos has failed the American people,” García said.
Photo: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks at a rally criticizing U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on her first year in office.—Rachel Wegner/Education Week
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.