An Educator’s Opinion: Why DeVos is NOT qualified to lead Education

I watched the entire confirmation hearing for the U.S. Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, yesterday evening. DeVos is a major proponent and financial backer for “school choice” and prominent advocate for federal aid vouchers for education. Streaming live from a news organization website via my cellphone for nearly 4 continuous hours, I listened. So interested in the buzz surrounding the nomination, I even missed viewing my son’s 2 hour basketball practice so I could sit in my car and hear the Q&A session through the Bluetooth speakers.

I never desired for my blog to become political, but as someone seriously passionate about education, as a former educator, as a parent, and as a tax payer, I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

There are quite a few things I strongly agree with Mrs. DeVos about – for instance, like DeVos, I agree every student should be provided a quality education, regardless of socio-economic status. I also agree the idea that “one-size-fits-all” does NOT work in education and the practice should be abolished. I also welcome the idea some charter schools and private institutions may provide curriculums better suited for a particular learning style, and I believe there are business principles that would be highly effective in the academic arena. However, as the hearing progressed, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at several different instances, and immediately found DeVos’s answers lacking. Additionally, her careful deflection of certain questions and ignorance of educational law were highly troubling.

There were a myriad of disappointing moments in the DeVos hearing last night, but the top four most egregious and offensive to me are listed below:


  1. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Introduction

Former Sen. Lieberman (D-CT) had the honor of introducing DeVos as the confirmation hearing began. He admitted she didn’t come from the education establishment, but went on to say he believed that to be “one of the most important qualifications” for the job. My eyebrow raised immediately – leading the country’s highest educational department should not require you to not have an education field experience??

Like Mrs. DeVos, at one time, I had strong ideas about how to “fix” the education system. My mother was a classroom teacher with over 20 years experience, I volunteered as a K-12 tutor , had worked as an academic coordinator for an afterschool mentoring program, and fell in love with the No Child Left Behind Act after completing a graduate-level research paper on the policy.

Then I began teaching.

Similar to the childless person who has all the best child-rearing intentions, ideals, and tips until he or she actually becomes a parent and realizes many of the former ideas were futile, until you have actually secured several years (or even just one year) under your belt as a classroom educator,  you can’t see there are many complexities and peculiarities in the education field that simply cannot be understood by an outsider. From grasping Maslow’s law, or realizing Piaget might have actually been on to something, to understanding how communities and home life affect the 25+ different young individuals on a daily basis, the education field is truly a mix of art and science, and definitely not something one can just absorb by reading or third-person osmosis. The fact that Mrs. DeVos has spent time volunteering and mentoring is certainly admirable – but mentoring is vastly different from owning the responsibility of learners’ educational success and achievement on a daily basis– the two simply do not compare.

Simply put, teaching and leading in the education field cannot be managed by someone with no direct experience. Just as I would never attempt to guide American military troops with my well-meaning, but uninformed and inexperienced advice, the field of education is best left to be directed by someone who understands the field, understands the obstacles as well as the successes, someone who is experienced.


  1. Proficiency versus Growth

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) asked DeVos a question regarding test scores and whether she believes their use should be focused on measuring proficiency or growth. I was highly disappointed Mrs. DeVos could not seem to articulate the difference between the concepts of student proficiency (a standard of measurement to obtain) and growth (the level of improvement of a learner over time).

How can one set targets and objectives without the understanding of proficiency, and have the ability to describe how proficiency attainment looks at each level? How can one recognize student improvement without realizing that it’s displaying growth?

I cannot fathom a school district hiring an administrator who did not know the difference in these basic concepts, much less the Department of Education hiring a leader who views the two as being interchangeable.


  1. School Accountability

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) repeatedly grilled Betsy DeVos on her beliefs on equal accountability for public, public charter, or private educational institutions. Mrs. DeVos continuously smiled and repeated “I support accountability”. After asking several times whether she believed in “equal accountability” and “If confirmed, will you insist on that accountability?” (and being answered with “I support accountability”), Sen. Kaine finally stated “I think all schools who receive taxpayer funding should be equally accountable. Do you agree with me?”, to which Betsy DeVos replied, “Well, no…”

No?? She doesn’t believe schools that receive taxpayer funding should be held equally accountable? Although I agree with the availability of charter schools to provide an option for students to attend, and also agree with the federal funding of these organizations, I was particularly dismayed and astounded when Mrs. DeVos said she did not believe the institutions should be held accountable under the same measures.

I find this to be highly troubling, as it opens the possibility for the commercialization of K12 education –  any person or corporation would be able to open a school to receive public funds via vouchers, and not be held to the same standards as the public schools are currently being held to.

Why would the expectations and objectives differ? If Mrs. DeVos were interested in the success of every learner (as each Secretary of Education should be) , why would she not find it necessary to hold all schools to the same level of scrutiny, accountability, and expectation of success?

  1. IDEA Law

Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) also approached the topic of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law, originally enacted over thirty years ago, ensures educational agencies that receive federal funding will provide services to children with disabilities for free. These services include intervention, special education, and other services deemed appropriate by a learner’s Individualized Education Program/Plan (IEP).

In response to a question asked by Sen. Kaine’s question whether she believes all schools receiving federal funding should meet the requirements of IDEA, Mrs. DeVos replied “I think that’s best left to the States”. Sen. Hassan asked DeVos to clarify how the matter could be left to the states when it was federal law – and asked whether DeVos plans to enforce the IDEA law in all federally funded programs. Unfortunately, Mrs. DeVos refused to answer the question, and instead referred to a single program in Florida. Sen. Hassan noted the non-answer, and stated she was concerned DeVos was unfamiliar with the law.

My immediate question became, how can our nation’s leader on education not be familiar with the current educational laws that govern how federal funding is to be used? IDEA was originally enacted in 1975 and revamped in 1990. Over 6 million students are currently affected by IDEA, and it has a significant presence in today’s schools.

Without knowledge of the federal laws, how can the public expect Mrs. DeVos to enforce them? How can we expect her to protect the educational rights of millions of students who depend on IDEA for access to the tools necessary for their success? If the laws aren’t enforced, what happens to the IDEA student who attends a non-traditional school federally funded via vouchers that refuses to provide accommodations?


I strongly believe in quality, equitable educational experiences for ALL students. I believe those we look upon to lead should be sufficiently knowledgeable of the area they plan to direct. I also happen to believe in accountability and the ability to count on our leaders to uphold the laws that protect our most vulnerable of citizens – our youth. I believe yesterday’s confirmation hearing has shown that Betsy DeVos is not qualified for this post.

These four education-based concerns are the primary reasons why I have reached out to my senators’ offices to request Betsy DeVos is not granted the nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education. I hope that you join me. Please call your senators at 1-855-882-6229 and demand they vote NO for the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

8 Great Instructional Methods for Elementary Learners

Sometimes while teaching we tend to use the same type of activities for different lessons and may want to try something new. A quick Google search will garner a variety of methods to use while teaching – many are excellent choices, but often times will work best for older students. Here is a list of 8 great (and not used often enough) instructional methods that are learner-centered and work very well for elementary students. Although they do require a bit of pre-planning (I would suggest planning the entire unit versus week-to-week planning), they are easy to implement. The best part is, they are all adaptable cross-curricula, highly engaging, and require few, if any, items to purchase. So, are you willing to shake things up in your class to try a few? If so, comment below and let us know!

8great_lg1. Service Projects: are a great way to include humanities in any lesson. One idea is to sew gloves for senior citizens. In completing this, students will combine and use several math concepts, including measuring and estimating. Also, while students determine how much fabric they will need, they can also calculate the price of the fabric based per yard. A nice resource for service project ideas can be found on Kid World Citizen’s website.

2. Workshop Presentations (“Be a teacher day”): provides students the opportunity to become the facilitator of learning for their peers. It encourages them to learn as much as possible about an area of discussion in order to present and “teach” to classmates. As facilitators, students should research and prepare a 20-30 minute lesson, as well as provide a short class assignment related to the content. This method works well for group presentations due to time restraints.

3. Media Development: utilizes technology tools to exemplify understanding of content being covered. Ideas would to allow students to create a digital storytelling project, digital scrapbooking project, record an audio music track, or film a commercial ad for a book recommendation.

4. Problem Solving: allows students the opportunity to work in groups to learn how to navigate the problem solving process or even provide solutions to solve a real-world problem related to content being covered in class. Stenhouse Publishers provides an excellent idea list of in-class activities that can be used to teach learners how to generate solutions.

5. Debate: gives students the opportunity to research and explore all aspects of an issue related to content of study or a current real-world discussion. Carefully planned not to include “hot button”/controversial topics for young learners, participating in debates help students distinguish between fact and opinion, as well as how to support a statement with researched findings. has a really great list of sample debate topics for elementary students.

6. Role Play: is a way for learners to delve completely into the content and learn new concepts while acting out scenes and parts. As they research to create scripts and act out realistic scenarios for their classmates, the learners become more involved with the content and their peers are interested in the information presented. Students can play the role of meteorologists to discuss weather patterns or moon phases (science) or become historical figures and go into detail about discovering new lands or inventions (social studies). They can also imitate a car buying scenario when covering multiplying and interest rates (financial literacy and/or math), or may consider acting out social interactions, such as bullying or integrity (guidance/health related).

7. Expert Interviews: become great options when learners have the opportunity to meet with people known as experts or knowledgeable in their fields. Whether the meetings are live or via telecommunications (i.e. Skype), allowing students to ask questions directly to those who work in the area of study can provide a wealth of credible information that often isn’t found in a text book or with internet search engines.

8. Competitions: can be used as another tool to deepen understanding of material covered in class. As students research information and design experiments and visual aids, they become much more knowledgeable and familiar with the topic covered. In addition, the experience gained by competing against others increases learners’ academic confidence and they often begin to challenge themselves to improve afterwards. Quiz bowls, Science/Social Science fairs, NASA competitions, Robotic challenges, and more are always available for elementary student entry. View the Art of Problem Solving’s list of state and national mathematics competitions to start the hunt for academic competitions appropriate for your young learners! [*Note: Remember, if you can’t find a competition in your area, no one says you can’t buddy with another school or nearby district to form your own competitions!*]


Fun (& Educational) Activities on the Go

mom_carpoolToday’s parents are truly busy people. Between work (whether in-the-home or outside jobs), preparing dinner, shepherding kids from one activity to another, we have a lot to do – and spend a lot of time in the car. As a busy working mom myself, I get it… It can be hard to fit in time to teach our youngsters new things, but over the years I’ve learned that car time can also be a great time for quick, fun learning activities that kids love (especially the younger ones). We all know kids love playing games – if you can merge learning with playing, then it becomes a win-win for everyone! Below I’ve listed some of the car games/activities I’ve used with my son over the years. I’ve used these activities to keep him entertained (and learning!) in the car, while pushing the cart in the grocery store, or simply walking around in the mall. Take a look!

Play the “Alphabet Game” 

There are actually two games that fall under the “alphabet game”. Both of these games are great tools to reinforce skills in alphabetizing and reading fluency, as well as expanding vocabulary.

  1. ABC Game 1 is used specifically when riding in the car. As we drive around, we try to find road signs and businesses with names in alphabetical order, and yell them out to one another. We would race to try to be the first to find the business or sign with the next letter. For example, we would see Applebees, Barnes and Nobles, and a sign that reads “College Drive” (shout out to the LSU fans!). We would continue on until we find as many in alphabetical order as possible. Believe it or not, we’ve made it all the way to Z before!
  2. ABC Game 2 can be played in the car, while waiting at the table in a restaurant, or anywhere! The object of this game is to think of the most difficult vocabulary words possible in alphabetical order, and take turns. For example, I might say “amazing”, and my son would say “benefit”. You continue alternating turns until you get to the end. Of course the words are more difficult for older kids, and easier for the younger ones, but I would encourage the youngster to think of a more challenging word he has heard or read before.  Note – you just may have to skip the letters “X, Y, Z” – those can be difficult! 🙂


Math Questions

So my son may be a little “unique”, but he loves when I make up math word problems or equations. This is also something that can be done anywhere on the go. I started out when he was younger just asking him addition and subtraction facts, then progressed to multiplication and division facts. Now you just might hear him reducing fractions or solving multi-step problems while he trails behind me in a store!

Using the few spare minutes to have your child(ren) answer math questions not only increases their fact fluency, but also increases their mental skill ability to solve problems without needing the use of pencil and paper.


Online Trivia

Longer road trips are perfect for online trivia questions! Can your child name all of the United States Presidents? What about all 50 state abbreviations or state capitals? If you are in the passenger seat, grab your cell and search for a list to quiz them on. Or, if you’re traveling through a new area, let your child search for interesting facts about that city or state and read them aloud to you. You’ll both get a chance to learn something new! Click here to get a free PDF download of my state capital packet. Some pretty good websites to check for trivia include,,, and more. *I would advise checking out the content first, just to be sure it’s viewable for young eyes.


I Spy with Tally Marks

Also great for longer road trips would be the old-school “I Spy” game. Create a list of things, animals, places, or objects you anticipate seeing, and have your child keep a running tally in a notebook of how many of each item he or she saw. Depending on age and ability, they can then create bar graphs, line graphs, or circle graphs to reflect their findings. This is great skill practice for sorting and categorizing with younger students, and sharpening graphing skills of the older ones.



These activities are great for allowing your youngsters to practice skills in a fun way and spend quality conversation time with you. My son recently turned 10 years old, and although we don’t play some of these “games” as often as we used to, he still gets a kick out of them, and will randomly ask to start one from time to time.

Try one or all of these fun, educational activities and tell me how it worked out! Also, if you have a few different games you use, feel free to share with us below!



Learning How to Study

It’s pretty ironic I am an educator who is consumed with student academic growth. I say this because I wasn’t always the best student – and my final high school GPA was definitely nothing to brag about. Although my parents (one a teacher!) both stressed the importance of studying, no one ever showed me how to study, or what studying should look like. To me, once I finished my homework, I felt I was done with studying – I really had no clue what studying really involved. It wasn’t until I was well into my college years before I finally stumbled upon what techniques and tricks worked for me.

My son is currently in the fifth grade, and in trying to prepare him for middle school, I want to make sure he knows how to study correctly.

Just like anything else being taught, I found the best way was to describe and model what studying looks and sounds like, as well as what he needs to gather beforehand, and how often he should practice studying. The biggest and most important part, of course, is teaching him what he should be doing while he’s studying (click to find my top 5 studying strategies).



I created this nifty graphic to help remind him of what proper studying is – and to share with you guys! You can download a full-page copy for free by clicking here. I would even suggest enlarging it to a small poster to pin up on a wall or bulletin board!

We just recently started putting studying into practice, so we’re a work in progress. So far it’s been great – we haven’t had any complications yet – and I anticipate he’ll have great study habits down just in time for middle school!


If you download and use the graphic, be sure to come back and let us know if it made study time easier for your young learner!

Baseball & Math: Teaching Liquid Conversions

So my fifth grader son is a major sports fan… so much so that any given day you will find no less than 10 old or current recorded NFL, NBA, MLB, or collegiate sports games on our DVR. Because of his intense interest in athletics, I try to relate many things in education to sports as I can.

Last year I began thinking how to teach my son about liquid conversions (you know, going from cups to gallons and vice versa). I thought about using the standard Gallon Man drawing, but since he is back into playing baseball, I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate his sport du jour.

After thinking about it every free moment for a few weeks, I finally got it – and he loved it! I also shared it with his fourth grade classmates and they really enjoyed the image as well. I’ll explain:



The Image:

For the graphic, I used a standard image of a baseball field (with three bases and home plate) and named the drawing Gallon Field.



Making the Connection:

Using this image, I was able to teach my son how to convert liquid measurements in about 5 really easy steps:

  1. Keeping in mind the entire field represents a gallon, each base and home plate became a letter Q, to represent quart.
  2. I told him to think of the letter P for player, which would represent pint. I placed one P on each base as first, second, and third basement, and catcher.
  3. I told him to imagine bases were loaded (placing a second “P” on each base), and a strong batter was up to bat at home plate, placing a second “P” on home plate
  4. Then I told him each player has 2 hands, so I wrote the number 2 inside of each P, and these were to represent 2 cups.

The end result was an image with the 4 quarts, 8 pints, and 16 cups that are equivalent to a gallon. So simple for a young baseball fan to remember.

My son grasped this concept so quickly and easily, and wrote a book and workbook for it in the Brandon Jones Book Series. Check out the book and workbook pack at any time!

Do you know any young sports lovers ready to learn about liquid conversions? Click here to download a free Gallon Field Stadium image and worksheet, or download a full Liquid and Conversion packet from my TeachersPayTeachers store!

5 Easy Study Strategies for Elementary Students

The biggest hurdle I had as a student was learning to realize the difference between completing homework assignments and actual studying. My parents would tell me
Studying kidto study, I would assure them I did – then midterm grades would come out. They would assume I’d done nothing, I’d insist I’d done something, and the end result would be three frustrated people as I scrambled to salvage my grades for the report card.

As an adult, educator, and parent, I want to help others who may fall into that same predicament, including my son, Brandon. Brandon is close to starting middle school and I want to jump start good study habits before he leaves elementary.

I believe the most critical part of learning how to study is figuring out “what to do“. Knowing different strategies to use while studying is key to studying with success.

Here I’ll share the top 5 easiest studying strategies I am beginning to use at home with my fifth grader. Keep in mind, the strategies I use really aren’t new at all, but they are pretty helpful to recall when showing a young learner the ropes.

Study Strategy #1: Re-read Chapter or Info in Text

This can actually be a little tricky if, like my son, students aren’t allowed to bring home the text books used in class. As an alternative, I have him bring home his notebooks to read over or we find additional sources for information. In my home, this typically means using the internet. We will search from verified sites such as Britannica for Kids or, as well as sites that accept user input, such as Wikipedia.


notes1Study Strategy #2: Copy Class Notes

A tried and true method that helped me through Biology class in college is to copy class notes into a new notebook. Studies have shown there’s a connection between writing and the ability to recall information. I believe writing the same information again reinforces the content and allows for greater grasp of understanding. This year I have my son bringing home all notebooks to rewrite his notes (in neat handwriting) on looseleaf paper we keep in a binder at home.


Study Strategy #3: Highlight Key Terms & Facts

After reading and rewriting notes, using a highlighter to mark important facts and keywords is a great way to call attention the the information. The trick I’m currently working on is teaching my son to not mark the entire page! A benefit to using this strategy is that it also reinforces finding the main idea of a passage.


Study Strategy #4: Write Questions on Sticky Tabs

notes2As my son reads over his notes and information (often times he reads to me while I’m cooking), I’ve instructed him to use sticky tabs to notate questions he has about the material. When he’s finished, he searches online to answer each question. I have him explain his findings to me to ensure he understands the material. I think this strategy is beneficial because it allows the student to identify gaps in his/her understanding and take ownership in researching to bridge the gaps.




Study Strategy #5: Make Flash Cards

Another “oldie but goodie” is to have your young 5_easy_study_strategies
learner create his or her own flash cards. A stack of index cards and a couple of markers are great tools to use along the way to learning vocabulary, biographical
information, or historic events. My son writes the key term on the front of the card in marker, the answer on the back in pencil, and even gathers all his cards together using a cheap binder ring for personalized learning ready to travel! Making flash cards is a great idea for young learners because they are able to determine what information they have not fully grasped, they are rewriting the content, and it caters to three of the four main learning styles (visual, reading/writing, and kinesthetic).