Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had a contentious first week in office, beginning with her visit to Jefferson Middle School in my home city of Washington, D.C. We all saw the protesters as she attempted her first school tour.
While I understand the protestors’ frustrations, here’s what’s wrong with that scene: The doors of our public schools should never be closed to those who seek to learn more about them. And it is absolutely imperative that our Secretary of Education understands them.
We have entered a new political era – one tense with strong words, closed doors and hard lines. That is not what education is about and it is not what we at Magnet Schools of America believe in. Instead, we believe in open doors that serve all students, words of sharing and the building of common ground.
Across the country, more than 4,300 magnet schools serve nearly 3.5 million students each year to teach them STEM and art skills — even how to be a firefighter. Our schools are public schools that have a proud history steeped in the civil rights movement.
Magnet schools were originally created in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision with the explicit goal of reducing school segregation while providing high-quality public education programs to all students.
This rich tradition of serving all students by creating an inclusive and diverse student population is exactly what we need to be sharing with Secretary DeVos.
In an era of divisiveness, what could possibly be more important than showing her excellent public schools that prioritize student diversity and welcome students outside of traditional school boundaries?
Last Wednesday, we took a bold step and invited Secretary DeVos to keynote our National Policy Training Conference. We viewed this as our opportunity to open our doors, assert our belief in quality public education that prioritizes students, and shape the Secretary’s agenda for the next four years.
No matter where they fall on the political spectrum, the educators, advocates and parents who make up our membership are in alignment that we must expand free, quality public education for all. They were glad for the opportunity to engage with Secretary DeVos during our conference, and submitted thoughtful questions to learn more about her plans.
We recognized the responsibility to use this time to represent the needs of the students and families we serve every day. This is precisely what our annual policy conference is about: taking the pulse on what’s going on in magnet schools across the country and bringing that information to Washington.
Over the course of our three-day conference, attendees met with lawmakers to share stories of the challenges they face delivering free, quality education in their home states, as well as the successes they have celebrated with students who have had a fair chance at a great education because their district embraced magnet schools.
We believe as Secretary DeVos and other policymakers continue to learn more about the power of magnets to close the achievement gap, increase diversity in our school system and make a lasting, positive impact on children, families and communities, they will find ways to expand funding and support districts to increase their magnet school offerings.
This first engagement with the Secretary was a very good start. We hope to keep the momentum going.
Earlier this month when some were protesting Secretary DeVos, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Former Secretary of Education Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanStripping opportunity from DC's children Catherine Lhamon will make our schools better, fairer, and more just Providing the transparency parents deserve MORE spoke out against the actions, urging our schools to open the doors. They were correct, and in that we heard a rallying cry.
During Secretary DeVos’ time at our conference, I invited her to tour some of our great magnet schools so that she can witness firsthand the learning that goes on inside. In this same vein, Randi Weingarten recently offered to tour traditional public schools with the Secretary. Together, we champions of public education must take on the critical work of sharing the best of what America’s public schools have to offer with our new Secretary.
Every student deserves an education that will help them be college and career ready, and reach their full potential. Let’s not be quiet about it.
Todd Mann is the executive director of Magnet Schools of America.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.