Archives for category: Accountability

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, wrote a blistering article about the DeVos family’s purchase of the Republican members of the Michigan legislature in return for their abandonment of any oversight of Detroit’s woeful charter schools.


The DeVos family, owners of the largest charter lobbying organization, has showered Michigan Republican candidates and organizations with impressive and near-unprecedented amounts of money this campaign cycle: $1.45 million in June and July alone — over a seven-week period, an average of $25,000 a day.



The giving began in earnest on June 13, just five days after Republican members of the state Senate reversed themselves on the question of whether Michigan charter schools need more oversight.


There’s nothing more difficult than proving quid pro quos in politics, the instances in which favor is returned for specific monetary support.


But look at the amounts involved, and consider the DeVos’ near-sole interest in the issue of school choice. It’s a fool’s errand to imagine a world in which the family’s deep pockets haven’t skewed the school debate to the favor of their highly financed lobby.


And in this case, it was all done to the detriment of children in the City of Detroit.


Deep pockets, long arms


Back in March, the Senate voted to place charter schools under the same authority as public schools in the city, for quality control and attention to population need and balance, in line with a plan that had been in the works for more than a year, endorsed and promoted by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.


But when the bills moved to the state House, lawmakers gutted that provision, returning a bill to the Senate that preserved the free-for-all charter environment that has locked Detroit in an educational morass for two decades. After less than a week of debate, the Senate caved.


Even then, several legislators complained that the influence of lobbyists, principally charter school lobbyists, was overwhelming substantive debate. The effort was intense, they said, and unrelenting.


Now we know what was at stake.


Five days later, several members of the DeVos family made the maximum allowable contributions to the Michigan Republican Party, a total of roughly $180,000.


The next day, DeVos family members made another $475,000 in contributions to the party.


It was the beginning of a spending spree that would swell to $1.45 million in contributions to the party and to individual candidates by the end of July, according to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network…


The legislation the DeVos family bought preserves a unique-in-the-nation style of charter school experimentation in Detroit.


If I wanted to start a school next year, all I’d need to do is get the money, draw up a plan and meet a few perfunctory requirements.


I’d then be allowed to operate that school, at a profit if I liked, without, practically speaking, any accountability for results. As long as I met the minimal state code and inspection requirements, I could run an awful school, no better than the public alternatives, almost indefinitely.


That’s what has happened in Detroit since the DeVos family helped push the charter law into existence 20 years ago.


On average, the schools don’t perform on state and national tests much better than public schools. A few outliers have reached remarkable heights. A few have done much worse. And charter advocates have become crafty liars in the selling of their product.


They’ll crow, for instance, that nearly twice as many of their kids do as well on national math assessments as the public schools. What they don’t tout are the numbers, which show the public schools are 8%, and the charters at 15%.


Regardless of outcome, none of the charter school establishment has been subject of a formal oversight and review that would reward the best actors and improve the worst.


Education should always be about children. But in Michigan, children’s education has been squandered in the name of a reform “experiment,” driven by ideologies that put faith in markets, alone, as the best arbiters of quality, and so heavily financed by donors like the DeVos clan that nearly no other voices get heard in the educational conversation.



I believe that charters should be created by districts to meet needs that the district itself can’t fill. Charters should not drain funding from public schools. They should not compete with public schools. Charters should be led by educators, not by corporate chains, entrepreneurs, celebrities, sports stars, or high-school dropouts.


Here is a charter that meets my criteria, described in a comment on the blog today:


I work at a nonprofit charter school for kids with autism. we only accept children who are diagnosed with autism first on their IEP. We range from preschool until high school and are in the process of building a second location to cater to students aging out of public school. We accommodate children on the spectrum whose needs may not be met at public schools. We stay open by raising money, having donors, and getting a small percentage of funding from the school district. We are not a for-profit charter which seems to be the problem with charter schools. When you have schools that are being regulated and the call is to profit instead of help the children you have a serious problem. I found this blog when I was looking for articles about for-profit charters and if they do meet the needs of children with special needs. From what I am able to find the only thing that for-profit charter schools do is take away federal funding from public schools and make money off of the education system. I happen to be in the car using talk to text so I don’t know if all my sentences are making sense but I hope my comment was helpful. We need to stop women like Betsy Devos before she privatizes education and stops thinking about children and only thinks about profit.

Nancy Flanagan, retired NBCT teacher and current blogger, explains in a comment what has happened in Michigan, where she lives:


I live in Michigan, where the charter movement was an outgrowth of Betsy DeVos’s inability to get a voucher law through, resulting in her turning to charter schools (DeVos family paid–twice!–to put failed voucher initiatives on the ballot). Initially, 25 years ago, the goal was conversion charters–making Christian (not Catholic) education free for white parents in western Michigan, by putting up a new sign and moving Bible Study classes to the end of the day, as an “elective.” A few education progressives took advantage of the law to start high-tech schools (very sexy, at the time), including one in Henry Ford Museum. Charters were all about serving the privileged kids and the promising kids, with new, out-of-the-box thinking.


It wasn’t until the DFER Democrats came along, promoting charters as a “civil rights” initiative (just about the time the admin turned over), that charters could also be positioned as a cheap and promising strategy for “saving” kids in troubled urban districts. Connecting charters to the civil rights movement was a brilliant (although utterly failed) strategy, because the charter model produced nothing of consequence in urban education, except financial malfeasance.


People who live in states where charters are very limited and relatively new immediately perceive–because we have plenty of evidence now– all the things that are wrong with the charter movement. You have to go to a state where the policy has been in place for 25 years–like Michigan, which has 300+ charter schools–to see what advanced-stage charter syndrome looks like.


Jay Mathews is just stuck in the past, following an old (but seductive) narrative. And he has plenty of company–witness the terrible, deceptive coverage of education (and the policies of major candidates) in the 2016 election.

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) issued a statement congratulating Betsy DeVos on her selection by Donald Trump to be Secretary of Education. The statement expressed the hope that Trump might “disavow” his hateful rhetoric. Note that the DFER statement does not mention vouchers, which is DeVos’ most cherished goal, nor does it acknowledge that DeVos paid out $1.5 million to Michigan legislators to block ANY oversight of charter schools. Nor does it refer to Michigan’s for-profit charters, which are 80% of all charters in the state. Nor does it make any mention of public schools, which enroll 94% of all public school children (excluding those in religious and independent schools, which are about 10% of the total).


The reformers are in a pickle. They can’t claim fealty to Trump, because they pretend to be Democrats. But Trump has embraced the reformer agenda, lock, stock and barrel. This statement is one way of handling their dilemma: embrace DeVos–a figure who finances the far-right and wants completely unregulated, unaccountable choice, and simultaneously chide Trump for his hateful rhetoric. Pretend to be Democrats while saluting her. Search for any gift she ever made to a real civil rights group to offset the tens of millions the DeVos has invested in rightwing groups that are hostile to equity. Let’s watch to see what other “reformers” come up with, now that Trump and DeVos are the new face of “reform” and do not hide their desire to jettison public schools.



New York, NY – In response to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to the post of Secretary of Education, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) President Shavar Jeffries released the following statement:


“DFER congratulates Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.


“However, DFER remains deeply concerned by much of the President-elect’s education agenda, which proposes to cut money from Title I and to eliminate the federal role on accountability. These moves would undermine progress made under the Obama administration to ensure all children have access to good schools. In addition, our children are threatened by many of the President-elect’s proposals, such as kicking 20 million families off of healthcare, deporting millions of Dreamers, and accelerating stop-and-frisk practices. We hope that Mrs. Devos will be a voice that opposes policies that would harm our children, both in the schoolhouse and the families and communities in which our children live.


“Finally, regardless of one’s politics, Trump’s bigoted and offensive rhetoric has assaulted our racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, causing millions of American children to perceive that they are less than full members of our communities. We hope Mrs. DeVos will push the President-elect to disavow such rhetoric.”



A. J. Wagner formally resigned as a member of the Ohio State Board of Education, due to family circumstances.


He wrote  this letter of advice to his colleagues.


He said that he “joined the Board with a hope of moving the needle on programming for children in poverty from ages zero to three. I leave the Board having accomplished nothing in that regard. So, I leave with one more articulation of recommendations for what can be done to improve education in Ohio.” He has a list of recommendations that are based on research and commonsense. Every state and local school board member should read his recommendations.


I hope his colleagues take his letter and proposals to heart. Ohio has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on low-performing charters and disastrous cyber charters, allowing their public schools to be negatively impacted and underfunded. Mr. Wagner has sound ideas about how to improve education in Ohio.

Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, attempting to assuage fears that Betsy DeVos would privatize American schools. If she tries to promote privatization, she is likely to face “disappointment and frustration,” as Carey put it. He believes that the decentralization of American public education will prevent her from imposing privatization. I disagree with Carey, because we have seen state after state, district after district, where “reformers” have passed legislation for charters and vouchers, intended to undermine public schools without the consent of the governed. Massachusetts and Georgia, the only states that voted on whether to have more charters, decisively voted NO. The point of Carey’s article seems to be to persuade readers that charters are swell and vouchers will never happen, that DeVos can’t change much, so relax, privatization is not a threat. Can’t happen. Won’t happen. Trust me.


The New America Foundation, Carey’s employer, has received nearly $10 million from the Gates Foundation since 2009. Not surprisingly, it regularly defends charter schools and the Common Core standards. It  has even urged colleges to adopt the standards now.



Carey previously worked at Education Sector and Education Trust, both Gates-funded and charter-friendly. He tells us that “charter schools are public schools, open to all, accountable in varying degrees to public authorities, and usually run by nonprofit organizations.” Savvy readers of this blog know that charter schools declare that they are private organizations whenever they are sued or when their teachers try to form a union, but they are “public” when it is time to collect government money. They choose their students. They exclude children with severe disabilities and English-language-learners. They kick out troublesome students. In many states, charters are deregulated, unsupervised, and non-accountable. Carey has written favorably about the for-profit Alt-School chain of technology-based private schools (which would be eligible for Trump’s vouchers). Carey joined Eli Broad and every national “reform” group (including TFA, 50CAN, DFER, etc.) to endorse the Obama administration’s plan for “reforming” teacher education. After the 2008 election, he called on Democrats to embrace such “progressive” reforms as charter schools and test-based accountability.*


Carey says not to worry about DeVos’ passion for privatization because most states won’t be able to afford the cost of a universal voucher system. Trump says he will free up $20 billion from existing federal programs, but expects states to chip in another $110 billion. That won’t happen, Carey says, because “states don’t have that kind of money lying around.” Local school districts will resist the diversion of their property taxes. And besides, Betsy DeVos’ state laboratory of free-market reform–Michigan–is hardly a success. 80% of the charters there operate for profit, and Detroit is still a mess, despite a Wild West of charters and competition. Nor have vouchers proved to be a success.


Larded throughout the article is subtle praise for charters. He points out that expansion of charters was voted down in Massachusetts “despite strong evidence that the state’s well-supervised charters produce superior results for low-income and minority schoolchildren.” No mention of the reason that liberal Massachusetts rejected charters: the districts with charters did not want to sacrifice their public schools to the growth of charters, and the districts without charters wanted to protect their public schools. Organized groups of parents rang doorbells and told their friends and neighbors to support their public schools. The defenders of public education were outspent 2-1 by out-of-state billionaires like the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg, but they defeated the charter question by a vote of 62-38%.


Carey exemplifies the new line of “reformers”: charters run by private corporations and private boards are “public” but vouchers are a bad idea. The problem with this logic is that once you start down the road of school choice, it is hard to know when or how to stop. The Obama administration’s advocacy for charter schools greased the wheels for vouchers, some form of which now exist in about half the states.


Yes, we do have to worry about DeVos and Trump’s privatization agenda. If the state is a deep red state, with a Republican governor and a Tea Party legislature, like Indiana and many more, the state may grab whatever the feds offer and supply vouchers to anyone who wants them to use for any purpose, including home schooling and low-quality religious schools. DeVos may open the floodgates to unregulated, for-profit charters, allowing anyone to open a charter who wants to, regardless of their experience or qualifications (like Florida, Michigan, and Nevada). School choice does not have a record of success; charters get mixed results, at best, and vouchers have a record of failure. Even when they produce higher graduation rates, they simultaneously have astonishingly high attrition rates.


Join with the Network for Public Education to fight the DeVos nomination. Democrats, Republicans, and independents must stand together in opposition to this raid on public money. Separation of church and state is part of our heritage as Americans. Public schools that enroll all children–not just those they want–are part of our democracy.


When the federal government turns against public education, as the Trump administration promises to do, that is unprecedented. We don’t need to be soothed and promised that its threats to public education are not real. They are real. They build on the opening to school choice created by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation and the think tanks that they have underwritten as part of their “policy advocacy.”


Parents and educators and concerned citizens must mobilize to oppose the Trump privatization agenda.


*I had my own unfortunate brush with Carey in 2011; I didn’t realize he was a key player in the “reform” movement, and I agreed to an interview. He published a mean-spirited screed about me, taking pot shots at my scholarly works and claiming that I changed my philosophy of education because Joel Klein did not give my partner a job. At the time, I was closeted, and Carey managed to “out” me. My partner already had a high-level job at the Board of Education when Klein arrived and was not in need of a job. So long as she worked at the Board, I was constrained from criticizing Klein or Bloomberg, whose policies of disruption did little to improve education. Once she retired, I was free to write and speak my mind. Yes, they helped me to see the deep flaws of corporate reform, of putting non-educators in charge of schools, of intimidating experienced educators, of trying to run schools like a business, of making test scores the basis for all decisions, but not for the reason Carey and Klein asserted.


Peter Greene opened his email and found an invitation to attend the annual convening of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence. Bush may have done poorly in the 2016 campaign but he still wants to remake American education in the image of Florida: charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing for students and teachers.

Greene wonders:

I am interested in seeing what happens next to Jeb!, who now occupies a weird sort of reformster twilight zone. On the one hand, Herr Trump appears to fully embrace Bush’s education policies, or at least the Let a Million Charters Bloom part. But Bush himself–well, it seems unlikely that Jeb is in line for Trumpian Ed Secretary. And that bitter taste resting on Bush’s ivy league palate must be getting only more and more bitter as it becomes obvious that President Trump will be following a lot of the policies that Candidate Trump used to smack Bush over the head. What happens when hated political enemies actually stand for pretty much the same policy ideas? How exactly do you criticize someone for pursuing policies that you totally agree with?

Who will the conventioneers hear from? Open the post.

Two years ago, Mother Jones published a lengthy and excellent article about the DeVos family, how they became billionaires, and how they turned Michigan into a “right to work” state.


They are “the new Kochs,” determined to crush the left, especially labor unions and public education.


“THE DEVOSES sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” says Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.


“Nowhere has the family made its presence felt as it has in Michigan, where it has given more than $44 million to the state party, GOP legislative committees, and Republican candidates since 1997. “It’s been a generational commitment,” Anuzis notes. “I can’t start to even think of who would’ve filled the void without the DeVoses there….”


Forbes ranks the DeVos family at #60 of the richest 400 families in America. They are noted for their generosity to Christian and conservative causes.


In selecting Betsy DeVos for the role of Education Secretary, Trump has chosen someone who looks on public schools with contempt. She will use her influence to harm public education and the teaching profession.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan released the following statement on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education:

Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan, issued the following statement on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education:


We strongly urge Congress to scrutinize the record of Betsy DeVos, who has been a staunch proponent of school vouchers, a misguided idea that diverts taxpayer dollars into private and parochial schools and perverts the bedrock American value of separation of church and state. She and her husband served as the primary fundraisers and engine for a Michigan ballot initiative –Kids First! Yes! Coalition that voters soundly rejected in 2000.


She has ardently supported the unlimited, unregulated growth of charter schools in Michigan, elevating for-profit schools with no consideration of the severe harm done to traditional public schools. She’s done this despite overwhelming evidence that proves that charters do no better at educating children than traditional public schools and serve only to exacerbate funding problems for cash-strapped public districts. We believe that all children have a right to a quality public education, and we fear that Betsy DeVos’ relentless advocacy of charter schools and vouchers betrays these principles.

Kate Zernike of the New York Times has an excellent article explaining Betsy DeVos to the general public. She is not your garden-variety “reformer,” who claims to love both public schools and charter schools. She is a  privatization zealot.


For nearly 30 years, as a philanthropist, activist and Republican fund-raiser, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence.


A daughter of privilege, she also married into it; her husband, Dick, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan a decade ago, is heir to the Amway fortune. Like many education philanthropists, she argues that children’s ZIP codes should not confine them to failing schools.


But Ms. DeVos’s efforts to expand educational opportunity in her home state of Michigan and across the country have focused little on existing public schools, and almost entirely on establishing newer, more entrepreneurial models to compete with traditional schools for students and money. Her donations and advocacy go almost entirely toward groups seeking to move students and money away from what Mr. Trump calls “failing government schools.”


Conservative school choice activists hailed her on Wednesday as a fellow disrupter, and as someone who would block what they see as federal intrusion on local schools.


Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, where Ms. DeVos helped push legislation establishing tax credits for scholarships to private schools, called her an “outstanding pick,” a “passionate change agent to press for a new education vision.”


DeVos and her  fellow privatization zealots have a goal: the destruction of public education.