DeVos and School Choice- The Good, the Bad, the Reality

So I’m hearing a whole lot of back and forth about our new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, and whether or not she’s the savior of our education system or the nail in its coffin. As it turns out, the issue is a lot more complicated than partisan politics. Republicans tend to frame the argument in terms of a free market scenario in which competition breeds better choices. Devos said as much in an interview back in 2001. In the interview she and her husband are asked directly if they want to “destroy our public schools.” She responded, “No, we are for good education, and for having every child have an opportunity for good education…We both believe that competition and choices make everyone better and that ultimately if the system that prevails in the United States prevails today had more competition- there were more choices for people to make freely- that all of the schools would become better as a result.” The thing is, our education system isn’t exactly a free market scenario because- government funding. Democrats see government funded “school choice” as the death knell for public schools because public schools already struggle to perform with the funding that they have. What would they do if funds were to be diverted to private and charter schools? Good question. From the perspective of a parent, everyone wants to have the ability to provide their child with the best education possible and the fact of the matter is some public schools do NOT fit that bill. Where does the complication come in? Government funding. Essentially, this is an issue of privately funded school choice vs government funded school choice and the realities of each.

Let’s look at DeVos and school choice from the liberal perspective. The first thing that really stood out in my research is that the left absolutely HATE Betsy DeVos and the thought of her as Education Secretary. They do have one valid concern which is DeVos’ lack of experience. She has never overseen a public office and now she is over The Dept. of Education with nearly 5,000 employees. She has never worked at a school district, so her experience with education is limited to her perspective as a student and a parent. That being said, DeVos has never attended public school and her children haven’t either. Is this a big deal? According to education analyst Jay P. Greene from the University of Arkansas and Lisa Shell from the Reason Foundation, the Education Secretary really doesn’t have much to do regarding federal funds as they are already pre-committed through funding formulas that aren’t easy to tamper with. What DeVos CAN do is set a broad agenda and a tone, which is really what the left are up in arms about.

Agenda and tone- herein lies the rub. Betsy DeVos is a very outspoken Christian and as such is a proponent of making government funded religiously based school choices available to everyone. This is truly where the left shifts into complete freak out mode. You don’t need to spend much time listening to their point of view to realize that. Here’s a little sampling of their rhetoric:

      1. Gizmoto contributor Rae Paoletta says, “DeVos has repeatedly supported Republicans who have waged war against climate change and evidence-based education. Her family supports the notoriously anti-science evangelical group Focus on the Family, and other fundamentalist Christian organizations. Unsurprisingly, DeVos also supports vouchers that can carry taxpayer dollars to religious schools, which could be teaching creationism. In effect, taxpayers could be sending their children to school where evolution is regarded as—to quote Trump—’fake news’.”

      2. Quoted in the same article is Allie Sherman, a biology teacher from California, “DeVos may try to push some backwards anti-science curriculum, and that’s going to be tough for science teachers in places that already struggle with anti-science culture,” Sherman said. “But I think those of us who really understand and care about science are going to laugh at any attempt to tell us what to do in our classrooms.”

      3. In this Newsweek article entitled “Betsy DeVos is coming for Your Public Schools, two section headings read, “Christs Agent of Renewal” and “Advancing God’s Kingdom”. Dramatic much? The author goes on to use Devos’ quotes out of context to make a faux point.

      4. This article in Politico states, “The Devos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to “Focus on the Family”, a conservative Christian organization that supports so-called conversion therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation.

        -This example strikes me as a little Buzzfeed vs Chip and Joanna Gaines if you know what I mean.

I emphasize this point to bring to light a blatant irony. The left wants to determine what is taught at the institutions their tax dollars support. Hmm, what a novel idea! You might think the left would welcome school choice! An excellent opportunity for them to have control over what their children are exposed to. But no, they are opposed on the grounds that their tax dollars would support any institution with a curriculum they disagree with. Which, by the way, Christians have been doing for decades…

Let’s draw another mind boggling comparison. The left just supported a massive Women’s March in which women demanded that the government give them full autonomy over their bodies while also demanding federal funding for these autonomous decisions.

What is DeVos championing? The right to governmentally funded school choice with respect to the institution you send your child to be educated and that institution’s right to be privately run. Good grief, if DeVos was a Democrat they would have asked her speak in the time slot between Madonna and Ashley Judd at their march. Hello hypocrisy!! If you’re conservative this may leave you feeling a little uneasy- and it should. That’s your inner logic trying to get your attention.

So what does all this mean? Is school choice bad?? The answer is no. Let’s take a look at charter schools because the left tries to give them a bad name even though they are pretty much an innocent bystander in this whole debacle. This is the header from an actual anti charter school website:

Oh. The. Drama.

Ok, back to reality. Let’s look at how charter schools are similar to public schools:

      1. They take the same state mandated standardized tests

      2. They don’t charge tuition.

      3. Can’t discriminate by race, sex, or disability in their enrollment.

      4. Accountable to the city, state, county, or district that granted their charter.

Here’s how they are different:

      1. Varying leadership, or staff organization structure.

      2. They can be run and operated by a nonprofit Charter Management Organization.

      3. They can be run by private, for profit entities that also provide the school’s curriculum.

      4. They can have an educational philosophy which determines the curriculum and teacher training.

      5. They can hire teachers who are not part of a union and who aren’t credentialed. The latter is something you should DEFINITELY check into with the specific charter school you may be considering. California law requires all charter school teachers to be credentialed.

      6. Typically charter schools allow their teaching staff more leeway regarding their curriculum and teaching style.

How do charter schools stack up against public schools? Well, just like public schools, there are good ones and bad ones. According to this article at , “A 2012 study by the California Charter Schools Association found that charter schools tend to fall on two ends of the spectrum- high performing or low performing- rather than somewhere in the middle. The study shows positive effects are strongest at charter schools serving low-income students than there are high-performing traditional public schools serving low-income students.”

Now we come to the reality of where DeVos gets it WRONG. As a parent, I’m all for being able to choose the school I want to send my child to without having to shell out mega bucks I can’t afford to get them there. As a realist, I know there is always a give and take- you can’t have your cake and eat it to. This is exactly what DeVos is trying to do, and as much as I would love for it to be possible- it just isn’t. As Daren Jonescu puts it in his blog post on the subject, “What kind of ‘private options’ come at public expense? The short and obvious answer: the kind that meet with government approval.” What is the huge problem with our public education system now? The fact that the government has way too much control over it. DeVos’ answer to making private and charter schools affordable for the masses is a voucher system. This excerpt from a Brietbart article sums it up, “School vouchers are the transfer of taxpayer funds from a public school to a private or charter school. Grassroots constitutionalists know that school vouchers as a means to bring about “school choice” are associated with the greatest amount of regulation for the schools that agree to accept them. In some states with voucher systems, the schools that accept these vouchers, have been forced to use the same Common Core standards and have their students take the same Common Core-aligned tests as their counterparts in the public schools. This is done in the name of ‘accountability’ for use of public money. This situation, however, begs the question, “Why bother, then, to move a child from a public school to a private school?” Schools that want to be included on a state’s alternate school option list will have to conform to learning parameters dictated by the current government administration. This is what government intervention in our school system currently looks like:

And this:

‘Sorry, kid…that’s it.’

And this:

Is this what we want to turn our private and charter schools into?

Two things cause me to suspect that DeVos is in fact a part of the establishment “swamp” when it comes to education. The first is her backing of Common Core. Don’t be fooled by her recent claims that she isn’t a common core supporter. According to Michelle Malkin in this article for the Daily Caller DeVos is, “…a woman every last grassroots activist in Michigan knows was not just mouthing words of support for Common Core, but funding the main state non-profit organization that was pushing it on them.” American Principles Project senior fellow Jane Robbins had this to say about DeVos’ denouncing of Common Core, “ Though, upon her nomination, DeVos quickly dismissed any notion that she has been supportive of Common Core, her statement that she calls for ‘high standards’ and ‘accountability’ are ‘sleight of hand’ words that describe the unpopular nationalized standards.” Indeed, DeVos supports what is effectively the “rebranded” version of Common Core. The second sign is the fact that DeVos’ has expressed the desire to implement the massive Every Student Succeeds Act (the just as boondoggledy successor of the boondoggle No Child Left Behind) Jane Robbins had this to say, “[ESSA] enshrines the progressive-education agenda of national standards, workforce development, competency-based education (the modern term for discredited outcome-based education), digital training, government preschool, and non-academic ‘social emotional learning.’” These are the chief factors that lead me to believe DeVos is what I would consider to be an establishment Republican when it comes to her push for government funded school choice.

What does that mean? When it comes to DeVos herself, she may truly want to make school choice (and religious school choice) a reality for those who currently cannot afford it- which is commendable. However, she is attempting to accomplish this by effectively maintaining or increasing the role of government in our already ailing education system. That may work out well for us now, while we have a pro-Christian Education Secretary and President of the US, but what about when we don’t? By taking private and charter school education under the wing of the federal government, DeVos opens the door for even these school options to be wrested from our control. Democrats and Establishment Republicans are two doors to the same room. Both want a larger government, they just disagree about how to run it.

So, sometimes being a realist really stinks. I mean, I can’t jump on the government funded school choice bandwagon, which at this point excludes me from being able to take advantage of a private or charter option that I would love to be able to provide for my kids. The optimist in me, however, sees this as an opportunity. An opportunity to fight for my children to receive the kind of education I want them to have- in public school. And if I’m fighting for my kids, then the underprivileged kids in my zip code benefit as well. I can do that by being an activist in the fight against governmental overreach in the public education system and lobbying to reform how our schools are run. Dale Rogers, a teacher in Michigan with 32 years experience who achieved National Board Certification for Career and Technical Education in 2007, wrote an article detailing how we need to revolutionize our education system that I think a lot of us can get behind. Here are some of the high points in his article entitled “Run Schools Like Businesses? Sure. Here’s How.”:

      1. Utilize the intern model used by the medical profession by having quality internships for new teachers.

      2. Redesigning a school calendar that recognizes the quality benefits of time for teachers to plan and evaluate student work.

      3. Develop techniques for education that aren’t built on a foundation of standardized curriculum developed by 10 elite men in the 1890’s.

      4. Not placing blame on the workforce (teachers) who are only responsible for 15% of the problems where the system designed by management (politicians) is responsible for 85% of the unintended consequences.

Rogers goes on to stress three important points that education reform currently overlooks:

      1. Quality goes down when ranking people.

      2. Cramming facts into students’ heads is not learning.

      3. People talk about getting rid of deadwood (bad teachers), but there are only two explanations of why the dead wood exists: A. You hired dead wood in the first place, or, B. you hired live wood, and then you killed it.

I’m definitely no education expert, but if our aim is reform, this seems like an excellent place to start.

4 Replies to “DeVos and School Choice- The Good, the Bad, the Reality”

  1. Excellent critique. I am going to post it on my FB page, as it is timely and honest.

    The fact of parental rights in public schools became agonizingly clear to me when I had written a note for my high school student to be excused for a dentist appointment. He forgot, didn’t show up and I went to the school to get him excused personally. I was told they were not compelled to release him to me. I’m like what? Yeah. The public school administration has the authority to deny the legal guardian the release of their own child. I had a fit after the assistant principle called me while I stood in the office waiting, telling me all of this. I slammed the phone down on the table and the whole room of employees (there were probably 15) just stared at me like I was maybe a danger to them, although I remember watching them as this thing unfolded and honestly believed some of them thought I was right. Anyway, your child is not yours, and when I told my husband this story (he’s a news guy) he thought I just misread what happened. Not long after I read elsewhere the same complaint from other parents.

    I wish that Devos would find a way to turn the federal funds back to the states themselves, where the whole thing belongs. When did “public education” become “federal education.”

  2. Wow, what an experience! I’m inclined to believe I would also have had a “come apart”. Lol! We, as parents, have got to make sure the government “knows its place”. Government works for us, not the other way around.

  3. I love the ideas of Dale Rogers. As an educator, at times I feel micro managed. For goodness sake, I have 2 education degrees, countless professional development hours and a lot of common sense! Yet, I don’t feel trusted to teach what my kids need to be taught…thanks to our government. Thanks for sharing!

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