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Top Teachers Voice Concerns in Roundtable With Betsy DeVos

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More than 50 teachers named as the 2018 teachers of the year in their states sat down for a roundtable discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Monday. The teachers had about 30 minutes to ask DeVos questions.

School choice was at the center of an exchange described as a "verbal sparring session" between DeVos and Jon Hazell, the Oklahoma teacher of the year, according to the Huffington Post. DeVos has long championed school choice, including as the head of the American Federation for Children, and she's made it a key part of her agenda as secretary. Hazell, who the Huffington Post notes is a Republican, said school choice often takes students and resources away from already-struggling public schools.

In an email to Education Week after the roundtable, the recently named 2018 National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, said she picked up on a disconnect between how educators and the U.S. Department of Education view the concept of "rethinking schools" during the meeting.

"I believe it is paramount that students not have to travel outside of their neighborhoods to attend a school that has the necessary resources to meet their needs," Manning wrote.

She also said she hopes DeVos will listen to teachers who know what their students and communities need, and give them the resources to make their neighborhood schools the best choice for the people there.

New Jersey teacher of the year Amy Andersen said in an email there were several points during the discussion during which it was evident that some people in the room disagreed with DeVos. But she said DeVos listened intently and that "everyone was treated with respect and given the opportunity to fully express their opinions."

Kara Ball, the teacher of the year for the Department of Defense Education Activity, which manages schools for military children, wrote in an email that she "was moved and inspired by the courage of my fellow State Teachers of the Year to speak up about the issues important to them and their states."

A video from the meeting, also published by the Huffington Post, captured DeVos criticizing teachers participating in statewide walkouts. When asked about the strike in Arizona, which began April 26 and is ongoing, DeVos said, "I can't comment specifically to the Arizona situation. I just hope and wish that adults would take their disagreements and solve them not at the expense of kids and their opportunity to go to school and learn."

Several of the teachers in the room were from states where educators have walked out of their classrooms to demand higher pay and more school funding. 

The state teachers of the year will attend a reception at the White House on Wednesday. 

Image via Alex Brandon/AP

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