John Thompson, historian and teacher, teaches in Oklahoma.


He writes:


“National readers will be shocked, shocked, to hear that the nomination of Betsy DeVos marks the beginning of a new school privatization campaign in the red state of Oklahoma. Seriously, as each of our state’s school systems are attacked, we must share those experiences in order to inform our collective responses.


“On the eve of the November election, Oklahomans had reason to be optimistic about rolling back test-driven, market-driven reform and, perhaps, starting to restore massive cuts to the education budget. But, out-of-state “dark money,” funded a last minute, post-fact advertising campaign which defeated a state question which would have raised teacher salaries. Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children poured money into legislative races, often funding the opponents of teachers who were running for office.


“Trump and DeVos reenergized true believers in vouchers. A Republican legislator said that last year’s effort to expand vouchers was defeated by just a few votes, but “the time is now” for a new campaign. Even our most reasonable congressman, Tom Cole, says of DeVos, “She is an advocate of charter schools, vouchers, opportunity scholarships and homeschooling. … Her steady leadership and depth of knowledge will be fundamental in improving our nation’s education system.”


“The editorial page of Daily Oklahoman has long given a platform to test-driven, competition-driven reformers, but now it offers a nonstop supply of national and local corporate reformers offering commentaries such as, “Paul Greenberg: Betsy DeVos is a Fighter and a Winner.” Another guest commentator, Benjamin Scafidi, claims that it is the increase of administrative spending, not budget cuts, that created our state’s crisis. Since 1992, the number of Oklahoma students has increased by 35% more than the number of teachers, but administrative costs have grown by $225 million per year. Scafidi claims that that money could have funded a teacher pay raise of more than $6,000 – or it “could reduce class sizes by giving a $7,000 scholarship to more than 36,000 students, thus allowing them to attend the school of their family’s choice.”


“Scafidi claims to have evidence that it wasn’t state and federal mandates (like requiring millions of dollars of computer systems to keep score of test score growth in order to fire teachers) that caused all of the administrative increases. (emphasis mine) He claims that his charges would be provable if the government would release more data. Since evidence for this rightwinger’s assertion isn’t available, readers are merely supposed to trust the editorial’s title,” Economics Professor: Non-teaching Staff Surge Prevented Oklahoma Teacher Pay Raises.”


“Before the election, there was reason to hope that Oklahoma’s primitive A-F School Report Card could be made less destructive. Even Mike Petrilli (who the Oklahoman cites as a traditional conservative who praises DeVos) admitted that the old grade card wasn’t reliable because it was based on proficiency rates, and they “are strongly correlated with student demographics, family circumstance, and prior achievement.” The answer, said Petrilli, is “growth measures that instead track the progress of all pupils [and] therefore do a better job of capturing schools’ effect on student achievement.”


So, what happens when the new A-F Report Card uses the growth measures that the Oklahoman editorial page praised?


The Oklahoman now (incoherently) editorializes against the growth model that it previously supported: “In plain English, that means specific target goals for black and white students refer primarily to middle- and upper-income families, not children living in poverty. Thus, schools would have lower academic goals for middle-class minority students than for comparable white students based solely on race.”


“So, what can Oklahoma educators and patrons anticipate, and what lessons apply to other states? In our extreme mess, teachers must compete with other state employees who have gone for years without a raise. Due to budget cuts, state employees are “nearly 24 percent below the market rate for similar positions in the public and private sector.” Last year’s budget cuts were so severe that 113 Oklahoma City Public School System principals have gone public with their opposition to the ways that reductions were implemented. Teachers are complaining that conditions are worse than during the “Great Recession” and, perhaps, even the meltdown which occurred during the crack and gangs years when deindustrialization spun out of control and the banking system collapsed. End of the semester resignations are pouring in.


“And now the state faces close to a $900 million shortfall for next year! (It’s so bad that the Republicans are calling for a tax on tattoo parlors and car washes, even though they won’t consider the restoration of progressive taxation.)


“And that brings us to the national lessons. Since No Child Left Behind, and especially during the last 8 years, even many Democrats have pushed an anti-teachers union agenda. Mass school closures and charterization have eliminated good-paying jobs for support staff, as they drove unionized teachers from the profession. Who knows how many presidential votes were lost in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin because loyal Democrats lost their jobs due to mass charterization demanded by reformers such as Democrats for Education Reform?


“Other states will face differing and similar challenges as DeVos leads a new choice campaign. During the last year, I believe, many Oklahoma business conservatives finally started facing up to the fact that so-called “high-performing, high-poverty” charter schools wouldn’t dare take over the type of high-poverty neighborhood schools that we have in Oklahoma City. Proposals for mass conversions of traditional public schools by “public” charter schools would result in thousands of “disconnected youth,” high-challenge students pushed out by charters. Our conservatives had been realizing that a return to the 1980s, with crowds of jobless youths walking the streets during the school day, would not be good for business.


“DeVos offers a larger arsenal, however, and it has emboldened privatizers. Now, high-poverty neighborhood schools can supposedly be replaced by private as well as public charters, vouchers, and homeschooling, with all of those options enhanced by expanded virtual school options. And the new spin is that choice will actually help public schools weather the budget crisis!?!?


“This brings us to another national lesson. Whether we’re speaking about DeVos’ acolytes or more establishment-type reformers like Mike Petrilli, corporate reformers don’t need no stinkin’ facts; they just need more post-fact headlines condemning public schools, and legislatures devoted to shrinking government to the point where it can be strangled in the bathtub. As test-driven, competition-driven reform cripples teachers and public sector unions, resistance to the right wing legislative agenda will become more difficult.


“We can also expect more crocodile tears editorials as Social Darwinism undermines the education, health, and economic futures of poor families. They will be mourned as the victims of unions, educators, and Democrats who ____. That blank will be filled in by whatever spin pops into commentators’ heads.”