All means all

I read with great interest (and some concern) the February 4, 2017 The New York Times op-ed by Maggie Hassan, a Democratic senator from New Hampshire, explaining why she won’t vote for Betsy DeVos.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/03/opinion/why-i-wont-vote-for-betsy-devos.html

The op-ed starts off well, echoing deep beliefs I share—that public schools are vital for our nation; a necessary foundation for our democracy; a reverence for schools should be held by public officials.

Focusing on these key basics may raise valid issues about this nominee, who has championed parental choice, often through charters and vouchers, though I haven’t analyzed her beyond the fury coming at her, much from teachers unions, and don’t comment here on that.

About charters and vouchers—they are not the answer because they can’t be scaled fast enough–ever. After almost a quarter of a century in our country (since the early 1990’s), charter schools educate about 3% of US students. A drop in the bucket.  In comparison, special ed educates 13-14% of students. If, as some critics charge, the push for vouchers is simply to enrich private companies, that’s way too cynical for me and I don’t deal with that here.

Now back to Ms. Hassan, who veers off from her opening to highlight her son’s excellent special education public school services, why she wants them to continue, and her belief that they won’t with this nominee.  The pull quote highlights, “My son flourished in the public school system. Trump’s pick will ruin it.”

I am troubled by the use of the word “all” or “every” in this op-ed. Ms. Hassan (and many special education advocates) talks about “all students,” as in having public schools “serving all students…”  Thus she writes, “Ensuring access to public education for every student is an issue that is personal in my family,” and then she writes about her adult son…

As someone devoted to public education and working to reform it, I find this use of little words “all” or “every” troubling. For me, “all” students means focusing on all students–from the most gifted to the most needy and all in between.  That’s what public schools are supposed to be about and that’s why many need to be better than they are.

Instead, here the words “all” or “every” seem to mean that all students with disabilities have the same access to education as all others do.  While not questioning that,  I am troubled by the focus.When I read about people wanting public schools to work well and focusing on how well they work for students with disabilities–I am glad for them, of course–but it seems that the tail is wagging the dog.  The focus on special education students leads us astray and may even inadvertently bolster the push for parental choice, vouchers and charters–for people to leave public schools that are NOT focusing on all students. It’s a vicious circle.

Schools should serve all students with commitment, funds, time, and passion.  A vote for a Secretary of Education should be a vote for all students, as I use that term.

 

 

About Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA—an expert in public education, focused on special education law— is a lawyer, author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. For more than 35 years, Miriam worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to translate complex legalese into plain English and focus on good practices for children. Now, she focuses her passion on reforming special education, with her new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law. Presentations include those at the AASA Conference, Orange County (CA), Boston College (MA), CADRE (OR), and the Fordham Institute (DC). Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Education Next, Hoover Digest, The University of Chicago Law Review on line, DianeRavitch.net, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

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