Dear Secretary DeVos,
You must be eager to get to work in your new role as Secretary of Education.
As you begin to make your transition, we welcome you any day of the week, announced or unannounced, to visit our classroom!
You will see students asking and answering questions that probe into a text’s complexities, and that challenge them to consider issues from multiple perspectives. You will see diversity, including kids of different ethnic, racial, and religions backgrounds. You will see affluent students working alongside kids whose families struggle to provide them with a breakfast before school starts. You will see kids who spent the night in the trunk of a car because they don’t have a home and kids who have been the victims of bullying, even some who have experienced suicide and homicide personally. You will see students who are learning to speak English as well as many students with physical and cognitive disabilities.
Although our room is filled with unique people, we don’t focus on the differences. Instead, we are a family and we care about each other and making our school the best that it can be. You won’t know this, unless you experience it. Please, spend time in our schools and meet our kids, listen to what they have to say, and take them into consideration as you set policy. Our public schools and their teachers make up the fabric of our country. Invite our public school teachers to collaborate with you on policy. Ask them for their feedback on how best to implement your ideas. Visit their schools and listen in on their meetings, and lesson planning collaborations to better understand what is working before acting on what is not.
Know that as public educators, we are highly educated professionals who are in this profession for one reason: to impact kids. We ask that you keep the interests of ALL students in mind when you are making decisions. Many charter schools and public schools have had great successes. Let’s get together and study what is working, so that we can replicate and grow that work in our less successful schools. Charter schools are not the only answer.
Here is some great advice from my 6th and 7th grade students:
On public schools: “Our public schools are so important because no one is denied by the way they look, their religion, or the color of their skin. Our public schools welcome the kids with disabilities and who are poor. They welcome everyone.”
On school funding: “If there is a really nice school that has everything, don’t keep giving it more all the time. Instead, give it to the poor and broken down schools that need it the most.”
On higher standards: “Students need to be pushed to succeed. They also need to feel rewarded when they accomplish big things.”
On education for all: “Consider the point of view for the kids in the worst scenarios, and know that families want their children to have the best education possible.”
On bullying: “A big problem in our schools is bullying and cyberbullying. These issues can lead to death, both from suicide and through physical fighting. We need you to take a stand on this and make our schools more inviting.”
On making big decisions: “I think you should be open-minded about public schools and consider every aspect of a kid's life at school and at home. You should get “in the field’ and experience issues firsthand before making any big decisions.”
“If you could at least think about people who don’t have money, that would be great. Interview kids from public schools, including the poorest one, and ask about their lives … then you could really help improve our schools.”
I echo my students’ words. Our public schools are at the heart of communities and they need us, parents, teacher, and citizens, to come together in support and commitment to improvement. Our best solution is to work together on this. Visit our schools, observe, and listen as much as possible in service of what is truly most valuable: our kids.
Jessica Moore teaches 6th and 7th grade language arts in the Weld RE-1 School District in Colorado, which serves rural students in Platteville, Gilcrest, and LaSalle, Colo. She is a Teach Plus Colorado State Policy Fellow.