Former D.C. schools chief takes on DeVos: ‘Sorry lady … this is so amateur and unprofessional’

Kaya Henderson, the former chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools, is none too happy with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s comments about teachers at a D.C. public school she recently visited. Saturday morning, Henderson tweeted:

“Sorry lady. Tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. But this is so amateur and unprofessional that it’s astounding. We deserve better.”

DeVos, confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 7 only after Vice President Mike Pence broke the first-ever tie vote for a Cabinet nominee, visited Jefferson Academy last week. Her initial effort to get into the school by a side door was blocked by protesters, and she entered another way. She later criticized the protesters, saying they were hostile to change in education.

DeVos is seen by her supporters as a champion of school choice who has used her inherited fortune to advocate choice and support education efforts in Christian communities. Critics of DeVos, who has said public education is a “dead end” and that “government sucks,” say she wants to privatize America’s public education system. They also say she has no real experience with public schools, having attended private schools, sent her children to private schools and spent decades advocating alternatives to traditional public schools.

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As The Washington Post’s Emma Brown wrote, DeVos also criticized some of the teachers she saw at Jefferson, telling columnist Cal Thomas of the conservative online publication Townhall that they seemed dedicated and sincere but were in “receive mode.”

“I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students, and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more successful from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.”

As Brown reported, teachers at Jefferson were none too pleased about DeVos’ comments, blasting her on Twitter:

“JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode.’ Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

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After Henderson’s tweet about DeVos, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) got in on the conversation about DeVos’s comments with this tweet:

“DC teachers are one of the reasons we are the fastest improving urban school district in the nation. We respect & support the work they do.”

After all of this, DeVos tweeted back:

“.@JATrojans Your teachers are awesome! They deserve MORE freedom to innovate and help students.”

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And the new chancellor of D.C. schools, Antwan Wilson, issued this statement, supporting the Jefferson teachers in more diplomatic language than Henderson:

“I’ve worked in schools for my entire professional life – as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. I have learned from much experience what it takes to prepare students for college success. The teaching and learning at Jefferson will put our students on a path to college, successful careers, and beyond. I see that. Our teachers see that. Our students see that. And our parents see that. Defying expectations takes experience and a lifelong dedication to all students. DCPS is rich with educators who have this experience.”