Give a big F to secretary of education

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos missed a big opportunity this week. She made her first visits to NYC schools as the leader of the nation’s educational system, but she did not visit a public school. Instead, she toured two private Jewish schools: the Manhattan High School for Girls and Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway.

More than a million students attend public schools in the five boroughs, part of the nation’s largest school system. Some 260,000 attend independent or parochial schools combined.

Although DeVos has visited other public schools around the country, she missed a chance to better understand the challenges of a large and vital urban system. She has a role in overseeing systems like it.

By highlighting only impressive and successful private Orthodox schools, she forced into the shadows the controversy here over the claims of subpar secular education standards at other private Jewish institutions. In 2015, the city promised to investigate dozens of those yeshivas, and we’re still waiting for the results.

DeVos’ first official visit to NYC must get a failing grade. Her narrow vision is not a surprise. DeVos, who did not have a substantial background in education before taking this job, has championed initiatives like using public funding to pay private school tuition. Recently, her office loosened federal checks on for-profit colleges. In general, DeVos’ interest in strengthening and advancing public schools, which educate the vast majority of the nation’s children, seems insufficient.

Here in New York, many public schools are underperforming, deeply segregated, and lacking key resources. They can use the kind of creative thinking and federal support a Cabinet secretary might offer. Instead, DeVos nodded and smiled mostly silently through visits to schools — ones segregated by gender, no less — that share very little with the majority of the education system. Her visit won’t help many city students — and that’s a major disappointment.