DeVos in TN speech: ‘I’m just getting started!’

Speaking in Nashville at the National Summit on Education Reform, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rallied education leaders to expand “school choice,” took swipes at teachers unions and Democrats, and put in a good word for her boss’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s tax structure.

From a Chalkbeat Tennessee report:

DeVos’s 20-minute address drew a standing ovation from most of the 1,100 people attending the 10th annual summit hosted by her friend Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida who founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education, of which DeVos once served on the board.

She used the occasion to encourage influencers — from lawmakers to faith leaders — to fight for options that give choices to parents, flexibility to teachers, and personalized attention to students.

And borrowing a quote from Mark Twain, she assured the friendly audience that she will lead the charge from her perch at the U.S. Department of Education.

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!” said DeVos, the subject of a viral report in Salon that she was expected to resign soon. “I’m not going anywhere! In fact, I’m just getting started!”

As the nub of her speech, DeVos referred to “A Nation at Risk,” the 1983 report released under then-Secretary of Education Terrell Bell that, in many ways, was the impetus for the modern education reform movement. The report decried “a rising tide of mediocrity” in public education and said America’s schools were failing to prepare students for a competitive workforce.

“We are a nation still at risk. We are a nation at greater risk,” said DeVos, citing the middle-of-the-pack performance of U.S. students in the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. When it comes to student achievement, America is being outpaced by nations like China, Germany, Vietnam and the United Kingdom, she said.

“This is unacceptable. This is inexcusable. And this is truly un-American. We can — we must — do better,” DeVos said.

…This was DeVos’s first visit to Tennessee as education chief, and she preceded her summit appearance by touring a career and technical education program on Wednesday at Oakland High School, a traditional public school in Murfreesboro, south of Nashville. On Thursday, she called students in those tracks “fully engaged” in learning that eventually will help them land a job in healthcare, engineering or automotive technology.

Further from The Tennessean:

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, responded to DeVos’ lunchtime remarks, saying she talks often about union bosses but not about teachers doing the work.

“Here is the problem with DeVos: She never talks about the good things teachers are doing, only teacher organizations like bad things,” said Jim Wrye, TEA spokesman and lobbyist. “She is very insulting toward teachers.

“She talks about union bosses, but this is a right-to-work state. The Tennessee teachers union is voluntary and we are proud of our organization.”

Wrye said he would have liked to have heard DeVos instead elevate the work educators are doing in the classroom.

“It’d be nice for one time for her to say teachers are working hard, care about kids and doing their job,” Wrye said.

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