Jennifer Berkshire (aka EduShyster) is a funny, affable, charming person who often visits reformer gatherings, to learn more, get to understand the reformer ideas, and engage reformers face to face. Not in a hostile way, but as an interested observer who listens and learns.

 

In this remarkable post, she explains what Betsy DeVos wants. She first encountered Betsy DeVos at a Republican candidates’ parley in the summer of 2015. The candidates spoke, each outlining their bipartisan views on school choice, and DeVos spoke, and Berkshire wondered:

 

Could the education reform coalition’s major selling point, its bipartisan-ness, really stretch to incorporate the extreme right-wing views of DeVos?”

 

Some reformers are less than thrilled with DeVos, says Berkshire, especially because of her personal role in torpedoing efforts to bring some order and accountability to the charters in Detroit. Other reformers did not appreciate the “outsized role she has played in shaping Detroit as an, um, education laboratory in which an out-of-control lab fire now burns.” Detroit is hardly an advertisement for educational reform via school choice.

 

For a brief moment in time, there was a genuinely broad-based coalition that wanted to save Detroit. It formed in 2014, and it seemed to be heading towards a hopeful conclusion. But the effort collapsed in the summer of 2016:

 

The feel-good story screeched to a halt last summer thanks to a wall of GOP opposition. Except that *wall* and *opposition* make it sound as though there were a whole bunch of people involved in the kneecapping that went down. There was a single family: Betsy and Dick DeVos. The bill that ultimately passed, with the DeVos’ blessing and with the aid of the lawmakers they bankroll, did virtually nothing to regulate Detroit’s *wild west* charter school sector, and will likely hasten the demise of the Detroit Public Schools. While Michigan’s burgeoning charter lobby was well represented in the final negotiations, elected representatives from Detroit were missing; in a clear violation of House rules, they weren’t even allowed to speak on the bill. And in a final twist of the shiv, the legislation that emerged lets uncertified teachers teach in Detroit, something not allowed anywhere else in Michigan. Oh, and don’t forget the new punishments for teachers who engage in *sick outs* to call attention to the appalling conditions in the city’s schools.

 

There is a queasy, racialized undertone to much of the education reform debate, with its constant implication that students of color fare best in schools over which their communities have little say. In Michigan, though, that argument has been taken by reform advocates, Betsy DeVos chief among them, to its extreme conclusion. The official message of DeVos’ organization, the Great Lakes Education Project, during last summer’s legislative battle was that dissolving the Detroit Public Schools would *protect kids and empower parents,* a cause that came with its own hashtag: #EndDPS. But what GLEP really meant was hard to miss. Detroit is a tax-hoovering abyss whose residents are too corrupt and incompetent to oversee their own schools.

 

After the GOP took control of Michigan in 2010, the charter cap was lifted, then eliminated. The state, once home to the nation’s industrial unions, became a right-to-work state. The legislature passed a law allowing “emergency managers” to take control of financially stressed districts, with unlimited powers. Voters passed a refendum eliminating the emergency managers, but the legislature revived it in a budget bill.

 

Guess whose districts and and schools were taken over by emergency managers and turned over to charter operators?

 

You’ve heard about Detroit, and Flint, with its poisoned water, but there are other less well known cases—like Benton Harbor, Muskegon, and Highland Park, which at last count was down to a single public school. Within a few years of Public Act IV’s enactment, half of Michigan’s Black population was living under some form of emergency management. *The municipalities and school districts that have been taken over are predominantly African American and poor,* David Arsen, an economist at Michigan State University, told me when I interviewed him last summer. *The optics are not good, especially in the context of the long civil rights struggle for voting rights.*

 

Berkshire realized that the real danger of the Trump era is that he is “moldable clay,” amenable to the plans of others.

 

The terrifying thing about the dawning of the Trumpian era isn’t just the specific awfulness of the President-elect’s policies. It’s that Trump is what the long gamers think of as *moldable clay,* receptive to whatever plots and plans they’ve spent years dreaming and scheming up. In Michigan, the long game has long been about making over the state’s schools: breaking up the government monopoly over education and getting rid of that pesky prohibition that keeps public monies from following kids to private schools, especially private schools of the religious variety. When Detroit-based writer Allie Gross set out this summer to document the long history of the efforts of the DeVos family and its allies to remake Detroit’s schools, she dug up an archival piece that a reporter at her paper, the Metro Times, wrote in 1995. Gross’ predecessor described a *relentless attack* on Michigan’s public education system, and a *Trojan horse* meant to blur the distinction between public and private schools en route to realizing the real goal: public funding for parochial schools.

 

Betsy DeVos is playing the long game, and she knows what she wants. What others want is irrelevant.