U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos is on her way out, and many educators are glad about it. According to a March 2020 article published by the National Education Association, despite widespread concerns among parents and educators, it was Devos who pressured the nation’s public schools to fully open in Fall 2020. Devos threatened to “cut off funds to public schools that don’t fully open in the fall” and suggested those funds would be routed to “private and religious” schools instead. We know that public schools, particularly in urban and low income areas are highly populated by Black and brown children. What Devos’ decision suggested is that the nation’s most vulnerable students and their teachers were not her concern, money was. Where was the national plan for student and teacher safety in the face of COVID-19? That should have come from Devos’ office.
Betsy Devos’ appointment as Education Secretary has been problematic for a long time. The NEA’s article goes on to list a number of egregious decisions made by Devos including “regulations requiring cross-examination of victims of campus sexual assault. Experts, educators, and parents agree that the proposal will effectively deter survivors from coming forward to report assault…” and also lawsuits against Devos.
This week’s Washington Post, says that students are asking for Biden’s office to involve them in the next Education Secretary’s agenda, by giving them “a role in education policy and to prioritize racial and social justice.” It’s certainly not too much to ask given the state of social justice problems in the country and that Devos’ agenda did not prioritize these issues for the nation’s schools.
There has been much talk about who could be Devos’ successor. The person should be someone with a long standing commitment to equity, social justice, and closing the achievement gap among all students. The next Education Secretary should also be someone who is not so blinded by partisan agendas that they cannot serve the needs of all students, not just the most privileged in our society.
This person should also have a track record of exemplary leadership and scholarship, having served in prior leadership roles, in various levels of education. It is advisable that the person have a background in diversity, giving them a more in depth perspective to serve in such a role. It is an excellent time in our history to appoint a woman and a woman of color in this role, since historically the position has been predominantly male.
Only five of the nation’s Education Secretary’s since 1953 have been women. Only three have been a person of color — Lauro Cavasos (1988–1990), the first Hispanic American to serve in a presidential cabinet, an African American, Rod Paige (2001 to 2005) and an Afro-Puerto Rican, John B. King, Jr. (2016–2017). None have been women of color.
Since we now have our first woman of color Vice President elect, Kamala Harris, it’s certainly time to also consider a woman of color as our next Education Secretary.
Here are four women who are well suited for the position of the next U.S. Education Secretary:
Gloria Ladson-Billings is a pioneer of cultural inclusion in education. Ladson-Billings is a notable author, educational researcher, professor, and the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She also served as the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. Ladson-Billings was the first black woman to become a tenured professor in UW–Madison’s School of Education in 1995. She earned the Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1984.
Gloria Ladson-Billings investigates Critical Race Theory in education. She is the author of the critically acclaimed books Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Beyond the Big House, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children and Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms, and numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is the former editor of the American Educational Research Journal and a member of several editorial boards. Her work has received numerous scholarly awards including the H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship, the NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Palmer O. Johnson outstanding research award. Ladson-Billings is a 2018 recipient of the AERA Distinguished Research Award, and she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2018.
Lisa D. Delpit is a professor, notable author and educational researcher who earned advanced degrees in Curriculum, Instruction, and Research at Harvard University. She earned the B.S. degree in Education at Antioch College. Delpit’s focus as a researcher has been elementary education with an emphasis on language and literacy development. She has also been concerned with issues relating to race and equitable access students of color in education. Delpit wrote essays for the Harvard Educational Review, including “Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator” and “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” — which later became the an award-winning book, Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom.
Delpit is an Eminent Scholar and Executive Director of the Center for Urban Educational Excellence at Florida International University in Miami, Florida and Felton G. Clark’s recently retired Distinguished Professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Delpit has served on the Commission for Research in Black Education (CORIBE).
According to an article last week in the Salt Lake Tribute, Lily Eskelsen García is one of the top contenders for the position of Education Secretary. Eskelsen García is a former Utah teacher and the most recent present of the National Education Association. Eskelsen García was the first Latina to head the NEA.
Eskelsen García also led the Utah Education Association, a state branch of the NEA, from 1990 to 1996 — first winning election as a write-in candidate. And a year prior, in 1989, Eskelsen García was named Utah Teacher of the Year.
She is the former president of the Utah State Retirement System, and was a member of the White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Education. Eskelsen García was the first Hispanic to run for Congress in her state, raising almost $1 million and taking 45 percent of the vote against the incumbent. She earned her bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Utah.
Sonja Brookins Santelises is the CEO of Baltimore City Schools in Maryland. She was previously Chief Academic Officer for City Schools. She was previously the assistant superintendent of Boston Public Schools. Brookins Santelises also served three years as vice president for K-12 policy and practice at The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization. She began her career as the director of professional development and teacher placement with Teach for America in New York.
Brookins Santelises was a teacher and curriculum specialist in Brooklyn, lectured for two years at Harvard University, and served as executive director of the New York City Algebra Project. Brookins Santelises graduated from Brown University, earned the M.A. in education administration and Doctor of Education degrees from Columbia University.