This is the letter I have sent to about 40 United States Senators, including Senator Deb Fischer, the Nebraska Republican. If you agree, please communicate with your Senators and with Senator Fischer, whose vote may well determine the immediate future of public education.
“Dear Senator Fischer,
In the 41 years I spent covering education for PBS and NPR, I never encountered anyone less qualified for leadership than Betsy DeVos, the Administration’s nominee for United States Secretary of Education.
I reported for the PBS NewsHour and National Public Radio from early 1974 to late 2015. In fact, I cut my reporter’s teeth on IDEA, the 1975 federal law originally known as The Education of All Handicapped Children Act and followed that story with great interest throughout my career.
The Charter School movement was born in 1988, when many of education’s original thinkers met at the headwaters of the Mississippi River to develop the notion. I moderated that historic 3-day meeting, which led to the first state charter legislation (Minnesota, 1991) and the first charter school in Saint Paul in 1992. From that day forward I reported on charter schools, covering post-Katrina schooling in New Orleans for six years (12 reports for the NewsHour and a 1-hour film for Netflix, “Rebirth: New Orleans”), as well as reports about charter schools in Los Angeles, Arizona, Texas, Washington, DC and elsewhere.
In 1989 I was invited to interview for the position of Education Advisor on George H. W. Bush’s Domestic Policy Council. Although I was told the job was mine for the asking, I chose to remain a reporter.
During my career I covered progressive ‘open classrooms’ and back to basics “No Excuses” elementary schools where children marched silently to their classes. I spent time with education’s radicals like John Holt and Jonathan Kozol and ideologues like Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC.
I covered the seminal 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” Secretary Ted Bell’s “Wall Charts, and the rise and fall of No Child Left Behind, the law that set off our current obsession with standardized testing.
While the federal government’s track record in public education is mixed, the past 16 years have demonstrated quite clearly that a micro-managing Washington, no matter the political party, cannot run public education. Perhaps it’s time to return to basics. In education that would mean the collection and dissemination of information and renewed support for two classes of children: those with special needs and those who are economically disadvantaged.
During my 41 years as a reporter, I interviewed every sitting U.S. Secretary of Education, from Shirley Hufstedler to Arne Duncan. Although now retired, I watched with keen interest the testimony of the current nominee, Betsy DeVos, before the Senate’s HELP Committee and have read much of the reporting about her involvement in education in Michigan and elsewhere. (Not incidentally, discussions of the nation’s least effective and most corruption-prone charter schools seem to begin with Michigan, where for-profit charter school operators have been making out like bandits, and where all charter schools are subject to minimal scrutiny.)
I have concluded that Ms. DeVos is stunningly unqualified to serve as United States Secretary of Education. In her testimony and her subsequent letter, she demonstrated her unfamiliarity with IDEA and the federal commitment to special needs children. Moreover, both her testimony and her track record demonstrate an ideologue’s zeal for a single-minded approach to education. Neither her words nor her deeds show a commitment to the concept of public education for all children or any understanding of the importance of well-educated citizenry to our economic security and our democratic society.
I strongly urge you to vote against her confirmation on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
former Education Correspondent,
PBS NewsHour, and founding President,
Learning Matters, Inc.”