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After Hearing, Still Unclear How Betsy DeVos Plans to Approach Educator Equity, Effectiveness

How will Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos impact what New Teacher Center’s Director of Policy Liam Goldrick calls "the most important school-based determinant of student learning?"

Unfortunately, the hearing provided little insight into how the U.S. Department of Education will take on its "important role" of supporting teaching and learning in America's schools.

This is despite the fact that Goldrick and his team wrote a letter ahead of the hearing addressed to U.S. senators encouraging them to ask questions that assessed how DeVos views her role in improving both educator equity and effectiveness in the U.S. 

The questions read as follows:

  • How will you use the regulatory and rhetorical power of the Education Department to cultivate effective teaching and support our nation's classroom teachers?
  • How can the Education Department work to improve opportunities for even the most promising or effective teachers to improve on the job through rigorous, instructionally focused coaching and mentoring?
  • What is your position on the use of Title I funds to support educational equity in urban and rural schools that teach significant populations of low-income students?
  • What is your position on Title II funding and how it helps to strengthen classroom instruction?
  • What is your position on continued funding for programs like Education Innovation and Research (EIR) that cultivate an evidence base of educational programs and interventions that work?

These questions were offered, Goldrick said in a phone interview with Education World, not only because the New Teacher Center as an organization focuses on supporting the country's educators, but also because a "real question" exists in regards to what kind of approach the Department will take. Besides assuming that there will be a "softer regulatory hand coming from the Education Department in a Trump administration than you saw in an Obama administration," many unknowns remain.

The hearing, Goldrick said, led him and his team to be disappointed "that little time was spent discussing the core functions of schools," those functions being both teaching and learning.

"We didn’t really hear any questions from senators nor did we hear any responses or viewpoints from her [DeVos] that would really underscore what she sees as her vision and the federal role for continuing...support in developing effective educators in America's schools," Goldrick said. "In terms of [The New Teacher Center’s] work, our work is focused on intensive, instructionally-focused, individualized coaching and mentoring of teachers" that is proven to work.

"It's still completely unclear today as it was prior to the hearing," Goldrick said, as to what might happen over the next four years in the policy space that New Teacher Center operates in.

In terms of federal funding, it's also unclear if DeVos, in partnership with President Donald Trump, will significantly cut funding dedicated to improving educator quality and effectiveness. Comments made by Trump, like his remark about 'schools flushed with cash' made during his inauguration, indicate he might be heavy-handed on the matter, Goldrick said.

On a positive note, Goldrick says that DeVos' comments made during the hearing about interpreting the Every Student Succeeds Act how 'Congress intended it' is potentially good news.

"Her remarks saying she will stand by ESSA as written may be helpful in a sense that there is that evidence-based language embedded in that act. If that’s seen through, that might be" a good thing.

Still, Goldrick reiterated that New Teacher Center is concerned by what can only be considered a great number of unknowns. 

New Teacher Center works with many school districts that serve higher-need students and which are "heavily reliant on federal funding...to support teachers. That's one reason why…we're concerned. We're worried. If this funding is lost...it fundamentally could hurt the enterprise of teaching and learning in classroom's around the country," he said. 

DeVos' confirmation hearing is scheduled for January 31. 

New Teacher Center is a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving student achievement by "accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers, experienced teachers and school leaders."

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

1/25/2017

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