Well, folks … he’s done it again. Donald Trump has gone out there and found the most impossibly imperfect person to fill a cabinet position. That person is Betsy DeVos who Trump has named to fill the position of Secretary of Education.
What is it, exactly, that makes DeVos such a poor choice to fill this position? First, her education is in business administration and political science, while her career has been primarily in philanthropy and politics. She served for many years as chairman of the Michigan republican party, but has never been either a teacher or a school administrator. So, like the one who chose her, she has no actual experience for the job she will be stepping into. But that is not the worst of it.
The worst of it is that she is what is known as a ‘school choice advocate’, a strong proponent of charter schools and school vouchers, neither of which do anything to help improve the public schools which the majority of children attend, and both of which actually take funding away from traditional public schools.
We have all heard of charter schools, but many may have only a fuzzy concept of what a charter school actually is and how it operates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):
“A public charter school is a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state or jurisdiction. The charter exempts the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter. A school’s charter is reviewed periodically (typically every 3 to 5 years) by the group or jurisdiction that granted it and can be revoked if guidelines on curriculum and management are not followed or if the accountability standards are not met.”
Legally, charter schools charge no tuition, intend to provide a higher quality of education than public schools, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, sex or disability. The charters provide rules and guidelines and the schools are periodically reviewed to ensure they are following the rules of the charter. The problem? Most charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars that would have otherwise gone into the public school system, where some 90% of all students are getting their education. The result? Some public schools are not receiving adequate funding to maintain school buildings, provide quality teachers, and other amenities such as books and meals.
There is much more, both positive and negative, to be said for charter schools, but I cannot possibly cover all the pros and cons here, so let us return to Ms. DeVos and her track record.
As an advocate for school choice, DeVos has pushed for charter schools in her home state of Michigan, particularly in Detroit. DeVos sits on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project, which advocates for its education reform priorities in the Michigan state legislature. This group is responsible for pushing the legislature to end its plans for a Detroit commission to regulate charter schools. DeVos has been at the forefront of efforts to push against accountability by charter schools. Detroit’s charter school system is considered by many to be the biggest school reform disaster in the country. For more information on this, click here.
DeVos is also a strong advocate for school vouchers that provide government funding for tuition at private and religious schools. Like the charter school system, these serve very few, and take funding away from public schools that serve the vast majority.
There can be no doubt, especially in light of recent events in the U.S., that our educational system is broken and in need of repair. In a 2015 PEW Research study, U.S. students ranked 35th in Mathematics and 27th in Science. Our schools, so focused on technology, no longer teach basic History and Civics courses. And our literacy ranking, according to one study, is 7th among industrialized nations. However, the path to improved education for ALL is not to set aside a few schools for the benefit of less than 10% of all school children in the U.S., while taking away from the greater good, the other 90%. Charter schools may be an equalizer for a few, but in the long run, they impede the progress of the many. I do not pretend to have the answers, to know what steps need to be taken to improve public education in the U.S. But one thing I do know is that a charter school system that benefits a small portion of students with minimal accountability, is most definitely not the path to fixing the educational system in the U.S.
Additionally, neither Trump nor DeVos have addressed the issue of college tuition and student loans, which is a major concern in the U.S. today, and must be a part of any attempt to improve our educational system.
Betsy DeVos, like most of Trump’s close advisors, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and married billionaire Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway fortune. I have nothing against the wealthy, however I think that people who have known some form of struggle, of hardship, are better able to understand the needs of the majority than those who have always resided in the upper echelons. And I definitely think that for the position of Secretary of Education, a person with a background in the field of education would be better prepared to address the needs of our crumbling educational system.