Three things Betsy DeVos said in Chicago last night

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cozied up to a friendly crowd Thursday night at Chicago’s Loews Hotel, and honed in on one of her favorite topics: school choice.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Kate Hardiman, a Catholic school teacher in Chicago, DeVos spoke about broadening the definition of school choice beyond vouchers and using  grassroots parents groups to get the message across. She also talked about boosting career technical education, her plan for “teacher vouchers,” and how she regularly channels her father’s advice in the face of strong and persistent opposition.

The conversation took place during the American Federation for Children conference. The group has lobbied heavily for school choice bills and just won a victory in Tennessee.

But DeVos pointedly ignored noting how her host state’s new governor is set to roll back school-choice tax credits — some of the most generous in the nation — that currently fund 5,000 children attending private schools and programs.

Read the highlights of DeVos’s conversation here.

The Week in Review

Shrinking schools get a lifeline: At two high schools on opposite ends of the city, enrollment drops have meant budget cuts. Chicago Public Schools is trying to soften the blow with a series of equity grants. But is it enough? Chalkbeat did the math.

More hoops, more options: Chicago is floating a plan that would offer gifted and talented children more options beyond seats in its sought-after test-in programs. But parents who’ve seen a proposal draft say it sets the bar too high for most children to qualify. Chalkbeat previewed the plan.

Multiple strikes, multiple operators: More than 120 educators from four schools walked out this week as part of Chicago’s third strike of charter teachers this school year, though one school came to an agreement the night after Wednesday’s walkout. A fifth school where teachers threatened a strike settled before Wednesday’s walkout. Read our update here.

Alternative schools in the spotlight: As Chicago’s third charter strike moves forward, it has cast a spotlight on alternative charter schools, a little-known but critical part of public schools that serve some of the city’s most at-risk youth. Chalkbeat asked teachers why they walked out.

Mediation situation: With only weeks until a new mayor takes office, the Chicago school district has agreed to a union request to bring a mediator into contract negotiations, despite initial efforts to push back the bargaining timeline. Here are the details.

Internal elections: It’s been nearly a decade since an upstart leadership group took the reins of the Chicago Teachers Union, but that group now faces an internal challenger: a small but vocal cadre of current and retired educators running on bread-and-butter issues like teacher pay and working conditions. Chalkbeat Chicago has the scoop.

A whole new world: As schools work to adapt to changing technology and how to make students critical users in a world increasingly mediated by phone and computer screens, teachers like Jake Myers, who teaches art and video at at Jones College Prep, are at the center of that discussion. Chalkbeat interviewed Myers on his approach to education.

Still unequal: Teaching about racial inequality in school systems beset by the issue can be a challenging proposition. The New York Times offers readers a chance to see just what some of that education can look like by offering a civics lesson based on the newspaper’s articles on education.

Looking ahead

The Illinois legislature has reconvened after a spring break. It will consider legislation to address the state’s dire teacher shortage through a pay bump and the elimination of the basic skills test for aspiring teachers.

We’ll be at the Education Writers Association conference in Baltimore, Maryland, next week, convening with some of the top education thinkers in the field. Here’s the lineup.


Teacher Appreciation Week is coming next week, and Teach for America got an early start with its Frances and Elliot Lehman Excellence in Teaching Award. This year’s recipient is Sharon Ponder, a fifth-grade teacher at Carter G. Woodson Middle School in Bronzeville.

“Sharon was chosen for this award because of her tireless advocacy for her students and her commitment to her own growth as an educator, two things that we deeply value at Teach For America.” wrote Aneesh Sohoni, executive director of Teach For America’s  Chicago-Northwest Indiana chapter. “When I had the opportunity to visit her classroom and tell her students about the award, one student immediately exclaimed, ‘Well duh she won the award Mr. Aneesh – we already know how great she is!’”