Betsy DeVos, unbelievably the actually (though barely) confirmed secretary of education for Donald Trump, is one of the handful of Trumpers who’s lasted his whole term so far. It could be because he doesn’t give a damn about education so he hasn’t bothered to notice her, or it could be that she’s horrible enough to keep his favor. That’s the more likely bet.
Consider her latest: she’s going full-on Trump in coronavirus denial, jumping on the “declare victory” and move on the bandwagon. She is enforcing federal standardized testing requirements in grades K-12 this year, never mind the massive disruption the pandemic has created for students and teachers. The testing requirements were waived last spring, but she notified the states by letter this week that it’s not happening again. It’s back to normal, folks! Even if that means people—children!—get sick and die.
Even Republican governors, like Georgia’s Brian Kemp, have asked DeVos to suspend the testing requirements for the 2020-21 school year. Between the pandemic and budget cuts, necessitated by the refusal of Mitch McConnell’s Senate and Trump to provide adequate funding to revenue-starved states, the states need this relief. The Republican superintendent of schools in Georgia, Richard Woods, said in a statement “It is disappointing, shows a complete disconnect with the realities of the classroom, and will be a detriment to public education.”
“This virus has had an unprecedented impact on our kids, and forcing them to take these assessments during a time when families everywhere are working around the clock to stay safe is cruel,” Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. DeVos doesn’t care. “If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come,” she said in her letter. “Not only will vulnerable students fall behind, but we will be abandoning the important, bipartisan reforms of the past two decades at a critical moment.”
Teachers are less than thrilled with the mandate as well. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blasted the decision. “Instead of focusing on the supports our kids need to get back to school safely, or what she can do to help, her first missive to the field is to tell them she is maintaining high stakes testing,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Of course accountability has a role, as does data, but right now educators and students are struggling with the daily realities of remote learning and returning to a potentially unsafe working environment.”
It’s a ridiculous burden to place on states, school districts, teachers, and students this year. The rationale for the cancellation of testing last spring remains true today: “Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn.” That’s what Devos said in March. “Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time. Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment.”
The only thing that’s changed from March to now is that Trump thinks his reelection hinges on pretending that the pandemic is over and we can go back to normal. It’s just more cruelty from his administration to force that on children.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.