While advocating for “innovative” learning in Florida’s capital city on Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s education chief drew complaints for choosing to tour two schools that are atypical of the traditional public school experience most children have.
Public education advocates — ranging from Democratic candidates for governor to the dozen protesters who picketed her visit — criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her continued promotion of private schools, charter options and voucher programs over the traditional schools that still educate most of the nation’s children.
“She doesn’t seem to have the interest of public schools in mind,” said Al Thorburn, who — with his wife, Colleen — faced the blistering Tallahassee summer heat to protest DeVos’ stop at Holy Comforter Episcopal School, a private Christian school for pre-K through eighth grade that charges annual tuition reaching up to $11,800 a year.
“The fact that she’s coming to a private school here and then an experimental school — although it’s supported by taxpayer money — she isn’t going to the city’s public schools. That seems to be a pattern,” Thorburn said.
Inside Holy Comforter, DeVos took a tour of the facilities, visiting several classrooms where every child had an Apple MacBook Air or other laptop to use in their lessons. She read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to an attentive kindergarten class, observed third-graders building robots in the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab and somewhat awkwardly joined a fifth-grade class in raising their hands in “silent cheers” when they got the right answers during an interactive quiz on English idioms.
Later in the afternoon, DeVos visited Florida State University Schools — a K-12 charter school known as “Florida High” that’s affiliated with FSU’s College of Education. She observed a physics lab where students learned the fundamentals behind robotics and then she tested the school’s flight simulator, before eating lunch privately with students.
DeVos praised Florida as “an innovator in approaching education and meeting the needs of students,” but she deflected questions about whether she was observing a typical student experience.
Photo credit: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos participates in a lesson with fifth grade students at Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, as they use an online-learning platform to take a quiz about idioms. DeVos spent two hours visiting classrooms at the private Christian school. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times