Monday, January 23, 2017

Opinion: Trump's Ed secretary has no IDEA about education UPDATED

Dear Friends,
As many of you know, during my term as your state representative I have done my best to prioritize disability and mental health issues. Working in this arena has been tremendously challenging and rewarding, and I have greatly benefited in this endeavor from the help of many across the political spectrum.

That being said, I wanted to share with you a letter I recently sent to the press detailing my strong concerns regarding the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be our next U.S. Secretary of Education. To be clear, while she is not someone I would have nominated, I do tend to believe that the incoming Administration should receive a degree of deference in appointing people who are consistent with the incoming president’s positions. That, though, presupposes that the nominee has an understanding of the intricacies of the office, as well as the related federal law and its impact on the states.

In Mrs. DeVos’ testimony I found her understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to be shockingly limited, and since the IDEA is widely considered to be the most important and successful federal law on education in the last half-century, I felt compelled to pen the following:
DeVos doesn't understand Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Betsy DeVos should not be Secretary of Education. I say that not because of her lack of personal experience as a student, parent, educator, or administrator in the public school system -- although those are short-comings to me. I say that not because of her blanketed condemnation of our public education system -- although such rhetoric discounts the hard work and success of many. And I say that acknowledging a degree of deference to the incoming Administration and admitting that I disagree with much of her previous work. That being said, Mrs. DeVos should not be Secretary of Education because she doesn't understand the importance and impact of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The IDEA is the result of a decades-long, bipartisan effort to improve the education, experience, and future for children with disabilities. Before its passage, the education and outlook for many such kids was abysmal. Often sent far from home to be “educated” in asylums more than schools, entire generations of typical students grew up with little to no contact with students with disabilities, especially those with developmental disabilities. While many caring professionals did the best they could in such circumstances, they were often underfunded, under-supported, and kids were warehoused more than encouraged to be all that they could be. Even for those with less severe disabilities, the lack of support in the traditional classroom setting often contributed to risk-taking behaviors, increased dropout rates, and a future more of limitations than opportunities. 

The IDEA – and its predecessor, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act – started changing all that in 1975. Through federal requirements, more and more kids with special needs are now being educated sitting next to their typical peers in a mutually beneficial experience. Parents now have a larger role in advocating for their kids, and classroom teachers are given more supports, often including skilled paraprofessionals. Although the federal government has struggled to meet its financial promises, local school boards and states have largely stepped up to the plate to comply with the IDEA, knowing that graduating as many kids ready for employment as possible helps us all. While disagreements between schools and parents still exist, and there is more work to be done in every state, the IDEA has created a framework countless kids have relied upon. It has helped move our country toward a more perfect union. 
Unfortunately, all this seems lost to Mrs. DeVos. For many families with a loved one with a disability, her confirmation testimony was either shocking in its degree of ignorance or frightening in its vision to unwind the federal requirements that have lifted up so many.

In today’s times it is incomprehensible to have someone nominated to be the highest ranking education official in our country who is “confused” by the IDEA. In answering a question regarding the enforceability of the IDEA on schools that receive “taxpayer funding,” her answer that it is a “matter best left to states” is only minimally correct at best. This would apply to only a small fraction of students who are educated in schools that receive only state “taxpayer funding.” The vast majority of students of course are educated in schools that receive federal and state “taxpayer funding,” which obviously triggers IDEA compliance. However, she further complicated the situation by saying that the applicability of the IDEA even where federal dollars are used is something “certainly worth discussion.” Her later admission that she could have been “confused” on the matter does little to assuage concern, especially given how she refused to address the practice in some states of requiring students to waive their IDEA rights as the price of admission to voucher programs.  

Whether through design or error, Mrs. DeVos positions and comments regarding the IDEA are deeply troubling. A first year education student would have provided better answers. The IDEA is arguably the most important and successful piece of education legislation Congress has passed in the last half century. A step backward is unacceptable. 
State Representative Dan Miller
2016-17 Session Member of the House Education Committee,
Minority Chair of the Subcommittee on Special Education,
Co-Chair of the Autism and Intellectual Disabilities Caucus
Parent advocate
Former public school teacher

Opinion: Trump's Ed secretary has no IDEA about education


Wanting to read more on the nomination of Betsy DeVos, I found the following opposing view:

Opinion: The foolish Democratic crusade against Betsy DeVos

Update January 24, 2017 12:08 PM Dan Miller's original submission is included in the email exchange below. Thank you, Dan and Sheryl, for the clarification!!
Email to The Almanac


E. T. Gillen said...

I noticed that the letter that Dan sent to constituents isn't exactly what was published in The Almanac. Dan's letter to constituents states:

"And I say that acknowledging a degree of deference to the incoming Administration and admitting that I disagree with much of her previous work."

The Almanac letter includes Trump's name.

"And I say that acknowledging a degree of deference to the incoming Trump Administration and admitting that I disagree with much of her previous work."

I wonder why that is.

E. T. Gillen said...

Dan Miller rocks! He called me to explain what happened. In his original submission to The Almanac, he specifically omitted Donald Trump's name, so that people would focus on the IDEA issue, and not make it about Trump's choice. The Almanac added Trump's name. Dan suggested that Sheryl send me the original submission to The Almanac. The Almanac has license to make changes, as they see fit. Another reason why I am dreading tomorrow's edition.

I asked Dan what we could do, if we agree with him. We can write to State Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr. I am learning so much about our political system.

Thanks, Dan for all you do!

E. T. Gillen said...

Please check the update to this post for the email from Dan Miller's office. As I told him on the phone, it could appear that Dan was bashing Trump, and I never thought that Dan would do something like that. I'm not cool with bashing our President, even though many Hollywood personalities think it is cool.

Richard Gideon said...

Mr. Miller, a former school teacher, is certainly entitled to his opinion on Betsy DeVos. However, for the Democratic Party and their alt. left allies NO nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education that supports SCHOOL CHOICE is acceptable; whether they understand IDEA or not! Robby Soave, associate editor at, in his recent article "Cher Attacks Betsy DeVos, Says ‘Your Child Deserves More.’ But Isn't School Choice 'More'?" makes this point quite well. Soave writes, "The contention that DeVos wants to defund public schools is as absurd as the contention that she poisoned the water in Flint, Michigan. (Embarrassingly, many liberals are indeed insisting that DeVos had something to do with Flint, which is ludicrous.) DeVos merely recognizes some of the flaws inherent to the public education system: it takes in a whole lot of cash, and produces a whole lot of kids who can't read or do math well."

As someone who did not vote for Donald Trump (or for Clinton!) I understand and sympathize with the left's angst over Trump and his cabinet selections. But, like Mr. Miller, I too am a former teacher, and I know how the game is played. I think Mr. Miller is an honorable man and he's been more than fair to me, but Ms. DeVos aside, his party will not back anyone for Education Secretary that is not subservient to the teachers unions. And that is just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

Even though I have much respect for Mr. Miller, let's take a look at what past education secretaries have done for the American education system and the results produced.


"The literacy rates among fourth grade students in America are sobering. Sixty six percent of all U.S. fourth graders scored "below proficient" on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reading test, meaning that they are not reading at grade level. Even more alarming is the fact that among students from low-income backgrounds, 80 percent score below grade level in reading.

Reading proficiency among middle school students isn't much better. On the 2013 NAEP reading test, about 22 percent of eighth graders scored below the "basic" level, and only 36 percent of eighth graders were at or above grade level.

In a 2012 analysis of student performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. placed 27th out of 34 countries in math performance and 20th in science performance."

I would like to ask Mr. Miller, if the system is broken which apparently it is, why not try something different by giving Betsy DeVos a chance?

Nick M.

Richard Gideon said...

For readers who are not sure what to make of Betsy Devos, or may not be up to speed on the subject of school choice, here is an extremely valuable podcast from that will be helpful: With or Without Betsy DeVos, "School Choice Has Achieved Escape Velocity" [Reason Podcast]. This podcast features an interview of Jay P. Greene, a leading education-reform researcher at the University of Arkansas and a strong proponent of school choice, by Reason's Nick Gillespie. (Both Jay Greene and Nick Gillespie hold Ph.D.'s) This is a long interview - a little over an hour - but as you listen at times you'll think these men are talking about the Mt. Lebanon School District.