Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire’s A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. Schneider and Berkshire have collaborated on podcasts called “Have You Heard.”

Thompson writes:

The first 2/3rds of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, is an excellent history of attacks on public education. It taught me a lot; the first lesson I learned is that I was too stuck in the 2010s and was wrong to accept the common view of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as a “joke” and a “political naif.” The last 1/3rd left me breathless as Schneider’s and Berkshire’s warnings sunk in.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door starts with an acknowledgement that DeVos isn’t the architect of the emerging school privatization tactics. That “radical agenda” has been decades in the making. But she represents a new assault on public education values. As Schneider and Berkshire note, accountability-driven, charter-driven, corporate reform were bad enough but they wanted to transform, not destroy public education. They wanted “some form” of public schools. DeVos’ wrecking ball treats all public schools as targets for commercialization. 

Schneider and Berkshire do not minimize the long history of attacks on our education system which took off after the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk blamed schools for “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation.” They stress, however, that it was a part of Reagan’s belief that our public schools and government, overall, were failing, and how it propelled a larger attack on public institutions.

Forty years later, free marketers are driving a four-point assault. They contend that “Education is a personal good, not a collective one,” and “schools belong in the domain of the Free Market, not the Government.” According to this anti-union philosophy, it is the “consumers” who should pay for schooling.

The roots of this agenda lie in the use of private school vouchers that began as an anti-desegregation tool. Because of “consumer psychology,” the scarcity of private schools sent the message that they were more valuable than neighborhood schools. But, neither private schools nor charter schools made good on their promise to deliver more value to families. Similarly, Right to Work legislation and the Janus vs AFSCME ruling have damaged but not destroyed collective bargaining.

Neither did online instruction allow the for-profit Edison schools or, more recently, for-profit virtual education charter chains to defeat traditional schools. Despite their huge investments in advertising spin, these chains produced disappointing outputs. For instance, DeVos claimed that virtual schools in Ohio, Nevada, and Oklahoma had grad rates approaching 100%. In reality, their results were “abysmal.”

To take one example, the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy had a 40 percent cohort graduation rate, not the 91 percent DeVos claimed. It received a D on the Oklahoma A-to-F Report Card for 2015-16. Also, in 2015, a Stanford study of 200 online charters found that students lost 72 days per year of learning in reading and 180 in math in a 180-day year.

Such dismal results prompted more calls for regulations for choice schools. Rather than accept more oversight, free marketers doubled down on the position that parents are the only regulators. To meet that goal, they borrowed the roadmap for Higher Education for-profits, adopting the tactics that failed educationally but made them a lot of money.

So, Schneider and Berkshire borrow the phrase “Lower Ed” from Tressie Cottom  as they explain how privatizers patterned their movement after Higher Ed where 10 percent of students attended for-profit institutions. Their profits came from the only part of public or Higher Education that could produce big savings, reducing expenditures on teaching. This meant that since the mid-1970s tenure-track faculty dropped by ½, as tenured faculty dropped by 26 percent. Consequently, part-time teachers increased by 70 percent.

Moreover, by 2010, for-profit colleges and universities employed 35,000 persons. They spent $4.2 billion or 22.7 percent of all revenue on marketing and recruiting. 

In other words, the market principles of the “gig economy” are starting to drive the radical “personalized” education model that would replace “government schools.” Savings would begin with the “Uberization” of teaching.  A glimpse of the future, where the value of a teaching career is undermined, can be found on the “Shared Economy Jobs” section of JobMonkey where education has its own “niche.” Teachers could expect to be paid about $15 per hour.

And that leads the system of “Education, a la Carte,” which affluent families need not embrace but that could become a norm for disadvantaged students. What is advertised as “personalization” is actually “unbundling” of curriculum. Algorithms would help students choose courses or information or skills and teachers (who “could be downsized to tech support”) that students think they need.

Worse, this “edvertising” is full of “emotional appeals, questionable claims, and lofty promises.” Its “Brand Pioneers” started with elite schools’ self-promotion and it led to charters adopting the “Borrowing Prestige” dynamic where the implicit message is that charters share the supposed excellence of private schools. And then, charters like Success Academy took the “brand identity” promotions a step further, spent $1,000 per student on marketing SA logo on You-Tube, Twitter, Instagram, baby onesies, and headphones.

Schneider and Berkshire also described the KIPP “Brand Guidelines” video which compares the charter chain to Target, which wouldn’t represent its business differently in different cities. So, it says that every conversation a KIPP teacher has about the school is “a touch point for KIPP’s brand.”

Similar edvertising techniques include the exaggerated size of waiting lists for enrolling in charter chains. Their marketing role is sending the message, “Look how many people can’t get in.”  Charters have even engaged in “market cannibalism,” for instance issuing gift cards for enrolling children in the school.

Worse, demographic trends mean that the competition between choice schools and traditional schools will become even more intense as the percentage of school age children declines, For instance, 80 percent of new households in Denver since 2009 didn’t have children. And even though corporate reformers and DeVos-style free marketers have failed to improve education, their marketing experts have shown an amazing ability to win consumers over.

So, here’s Schneider’s and Berkshire’s “Future Forecast:”

The Future Will Be Ad-Filled;

The Future Will Be Emotionally Manipulated;

The Future Will Be Micro-Targeted;

The Future Will Have Deep Pockets;

The Future Will Tell You What You Want.

I reviewed three books in the New York Review of Books, which seemed to me to be complementary.

Together they offer a fresh interpretation of the history of public education and of school choice.

The choice zealots would have you believe that they want to “save poor kids from failing public schools,” but the history of school choice tells a very different story. School choice began as the rallying cry of Southern segregationists, determined to prevent desegregation and integration of their schools.

School choice was their response to the Brown Decision of 1954.

The states of the South passed law after law shifting public funds to private schools, so that white students could avoid going to school with black children.

Libertarian economist Milton Friedman published an essay in 1955 on “The Role of Government in Education” in which he argued for vouchers and school choice. He said that under his approach, whites could go to school with whites, blacks could go to school with blacks, and anyone who wanted a mixed-race school could make that choice. Given the state of racism in the South, his formula would have been translated by white Senators, Governors, and legislatures as a formula to maintain racial segregation forever. They loved his ideas, and they adopted his rhetoric.

The best way to remove the cobwebs in your mind, the ones planted by libertarian propaganda, is to read the three books reviewed here:

Katharine Stewart: The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

Steve Suitts: Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement

Derek W. Black: Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy

The nonpartisan, independent organization called “In the Public Interest” reports on efforts to privatize public services. Its education newsletter is called “Cashing In on Kids.”

Here is its latest updates on the DeVos education agenda:

Welcome to Cashing in on Kids, an email newsletter for people fed up with the privatization of America’s public schools—produced by In the Public Interest.

Not a subscriber? Sign up. And make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Sure, Betsy DeVos resigned. But, as Marianna Islam, director of programs and advocacy for the Schott Foundation, says, “Betsy Devos has not really left until all of her harmful policies are overturned and policies that advance racial equity are put into place.” Retweet this

And now other news…

Which federal agency has funded more charter school facilities than any other? The U.S. Department of Agriculture. At least according to Chicago-based Wert-Berater, LLC, the self-described “leading” company in facilitating the charter school industry’s lucrative real estate sector by providing “feasibility studies.” WBOC

Is the charter school industry on the skids? Journalist Jeff Bryant looks at the charter school industry’s rate, particularly in North Carolina. “Much of the rationale for the perceived need for charter schools often seems to boil down to marketing.” AlterNet

Pro-charter money goes to California governor recall effort. The right-wing charter school backer, John Kruger, has given $500,000 to an effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). GV Wire

Georgia lawmakers eye vouchers. Georgia state lawmakers will be taking up the issue of private school vouchers in their new session. “Proponents could limit efforts to expanding Georgia’s current special needs scholarship program benefitting students with disabilities. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but failed in the House.” AP

Texas too. A voucher bill has been introduced into the Texas legislature. “Do we really have time to rehash this?” tweeted Charles Luke of the Coalition for Public Schools. “The legislature has only voted vouchers down repeatedly for 25 years!”

New Hampshire takes the money. New Hampshire’s governor and executive council have accepted controversial funding for the expansion of charter schools in the state. In Depth NH

Following the money. Pennsylvania’s online charter schools have used federal COVID-19 relief funds to purchase technology and cleaning supplies and send Target gift cards and phones to families. The Times-Tribune

And the good news…

Local Indiana council supports charter school ban. Indiana’s Gary City Council has unanimously backed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools in support of state legislation being introduced by a local lawmaker. Chicago Tribune

Pennsylvania school district speaks out. School district officials in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County have spoken out on charter school funding. “Recently the United States Department of Education awarded a five-year $30 million grant to Pennsylvania Brick and Mortar Charter Schools to increase their academic success. All the while, many Pennsylvania Public Schools are cutting programs in order to continue to pay for charter school costs, some even becoming financially distressed due to this burden.” Skook News

With only a few days left in Trump’s term of office, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos resigned. She says she objected to his rhetoric in inciting the insurrection of his devoted loyalists. This is certainly an anti-climax. DeVos had to clear out anyway, but by resigning now she avoids the painful decision about forcing Trump to resign by the terms of the 25th Amendment. Whether she resigns or stays is irrelevant. Whether she uses her position to force the ouster of a malevolent, incompetent president does matter. She opted out.

The Washington Post reported:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted her resignation Thursday, citing the president’s role in the riot on Capitol Hill.
“There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me,” she wrote in a letter to President Trump. The behavior of the “violent protestors overrunning theh U.S. Capitol” was “unconscionable,” she wrote.


“Impressionable children are watching all of this, and they are learning from us. I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good judgment and model the behavior we hope they would emulate,” she wrote. “They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday.”


She said her resignation is effective Friday. The resignation, she said was “in support of the oath I took to our Constitution, our people, and our freedoms.”


DeVos had been one of Trump’s most loyal and longest serving Cabinet secretaries, and also one of his most controversial, despised by many on the left. In recent days, though, even as Trump disputed the election results, DeVos acknowledged that Joe Biden had defeated him.


DeVos joined several other Trump administration officials who quit with less than two weeks left in Trump’s term, in protest of the violence that unfolded Wednesday.


Earlier in the day, Elaine Chao — who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.)—also resigned as transportation secretary, saying she was “deeply troubled” by what had happened at the Capitol. In addition, Mick Mulvaney quit his job as the U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland.

DeVos’s sensibilities were not offended by the separation of children from their families at the border. She was not offended by his effort to pressure the president of Ukraine to give him dirt on Joe Biden. She was not offended by his destruction of the independence of the Justice Department or his politicization of every other Department, including her own. She was not offended by his racism, sexism, xenophobia. She was not offended by his persistent lying about everything. She was not offended by his flagrant lies about losing the election, and his refusal to concede his loss more than two months after the election.

She happily served this morally and ethically bankrupt man.

But she bails out rather than stand up to her duty to vote to oust him by the terms of the 25th Amendment, which requires a vote of the Vice President and the Cabinet to remove him.

If you have a few minutes to do some research, you might wonder about the connections among these three links:

First is from the extreme rightwing group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by DeVos, Charles Koch, and major corporations. ALEC has 2,000 members who are state legislators. They get a free trip every year to a posh resort, where ALEC gives them model legislation to introduce in their state to promote the libertarian, anti-regulation, anti-government agenda.

Second is an article in the conservative journal Education Next about “reimagining civic education for the digital age.” It promotes the organization iCivics, a digital platform to teach civics.

Third, read about the award by the Trump Administration’s National Endowment for the Humanities and Betsy DeVos’s U.S. Department of Education of $650,000 to the curriculum and advocacy group iCivics and several university partners, to design a “roadmap” to guide teachers, publishers, and state officials on how to create integrated history and civics content.

The Trump administration, we know, is very concerned about instilling patriotism. Here is their ALEC-approved program for teaching civics. Frankly, I had forgotten that the NEH still existed.

You know the old line, “Failure is not an option.” Well, we have federal education policy built on the idea that failure doesn’t matter. Failure is not only an option, it is the only option. No Child Left Behind failed; the same children who were behind were left behind. Race to the Top was a failure; no one reached “the top” because of its demands. Common Core was a failure: It promised to close achievement gaps and raise up fourth grade test scores; it did not. Every Student Succeeds did not lead to “every students succeeding.” At some point, we have to begin to wonder about the intelligence or sanity of people who love failure and impose it on other people’s children. Testing, charter schools, merit pay, teacher evaluation, grading schools A-F, state takeovers, etc., fail again and again yet still remain popular with the people who control the federal government, whether they be Democrats or Republicans.

Peter Greene sums up the problem with his usual wit and insight: Democrats need a new vision. They need to toss aside everything they have endorsed for at least the past 20-30 years. The problem in education is not just Betsy DeVos. The problem is the bad ideas endorsed by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Will Biden and Cardona have the wisdom and the vision to understand that?

For four years, Democrats have had a fairly simple theory of action when it came to education. Something along the lines of “Good lord, a crazy lady just came into our china shop riding a bull, waving around a flamethrower, and dragging a shark with a head-mounted laser beam; we have to stop her from destroying the place (while pretending that we have a bull and a shark in the back just like hers).” 

Now, of course, that will, thank heavens, no longer fit the circumstances. The Democrats will need a new plan.

Trouble is, the old plan, the one spanning both the Clinton and Obama years, is not a winner. It went, roughly, like this:

The way to fix poverty, racism, injustice, inequity and economic strife is to get a bunch of children to make higher scores on a single narrow standardized test; the best shot at getting this done is to give education amateurs the opportunity to make money doing it.

This was never, ever a good plan. Ever. Let me count the ways.

For one thing, education’s ability to fix social injustice is limited. Having a better education will not raise the minimum wage. It will not eradicate poverty. And as we’ve just spent four years having hammered into us, it will not even be sure to make people better thinkers or cleanse them of racism. It will help some people escape the tar pit, but it will not cleanse the pit itself.

And that, of course, is simply talking about education, and that’s not what the Dems theory was about anyway–it was about a mediocre computer-scorable once-a-year test of math and reading. And that was never going to fix a thing. Nobody was going to get a better job because she got a high score on the PARCC. Nobody was ever going to achieve a happier, healthier life just because they’d raised their Big Standardized Test scores by fifty points. Any such score bump was always going to be the result of test prep and test-taker training, and that sort of preparation was always going to come at the expense of real education. Now, a couple of decades on, all the evidence says that test-centric education didn’t improve society, schools, or the lives of the young humans who passed through the system.

Democrats must also wrestle with the fact that many of the ideas attached to this theory of action were always conservative ideas, always ideas that didn’t belong to traditional Democratic Party stuff at all. Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire talk about a “treaty” between Dems and the GOP, and that’s a way to look at how the ed reform movement brought people into each side who weren’t natural fits. The conservative market reform side teamed up with folks who believed choice was a matter of social justice, and that truce held until about four years ago, actually before Trump was elected. Meanwhile, in Schneider and Berkshire’s telling, Democrats gave up supporting teachers (or at least their unions) while embracing the Thought Leadership of groups like Democrats for Education Reform, a group launched by hedge fund guys who adopted “Democrat” because it seemed like a good wayto get the support they needed. Plus (and this seems like it was a thousand years ago) embracing “heroes” like Michelle Rhee, nominally listed as a Democrat, but certainly not acting like one. 

All of this made a perfect soup for feeding neo-liberals. It had the additional effect of seriously muddying the water about what, exactly, Democrats stand for when it comes to public education. The laundry list of ideas now has two problems. One is that they have all been given a long, hard trial, and they’ve failed. The other, which is perhaps worse from a political gamesmanship standpoint, is that they have Trump/DeVos stink all over them. 

But while Dems and the GOP share the problems with the first half of that statement, it’s the Democrats who have to own the second part. The amateur part.

I often complain that the roots of almost all our education woes for the modern reform period come from the empowerment of clueless amateurs, and while it may appear at first glance that both parties are responsible, on closer examination, I’m not so sure.

The GOP position hasn’t been that we need more amateurs and fewer professionals–their stance is that education is being run by the wrong profession. Eli Broad has built his whole edu-brand on the assertion that education doesn’t have education problems, it has business management problems, and that they will best be solved by management professionals. In some regions, education has been reinterpreted by conservatives as a real estate problem, best solved by real estate professionals. The conservative model calls for education to be properly understood as a business, and as such, run not by elected bozos on a board or by a bunch of teachers, but by visionary CEOs with the power to hire and fire and set the rules and not be tied down by regulations and unions. 

Democrats of the neo-liberal persuasion kind of agree with that last part. And they have taken it a step further by embracing the notion that all it takes to run a school is a vision, with no professional expertise of any sort at all. I blame Democrats for the whole business of putting un-trained Best and Brightest Ivy Leaguers in classrooms, and the letting them turn around and use their brief classroom visit to establish themselves as “experts” capable of running entire district or even state systems. It takes Democrats to decide that a clueless amateur like David Coleman should be given a chance to impose his vision on the entire nation (and it takes right-tilted folks to see that this is a perfect chance to cash in big time). 

Am I over-simplifying? Sure. But you get the idea. Democrats turned their backs on public education and the teaching profession. They decided that virtually every ill in society is caused by teachers with low expectations and lousy standards, and then they jumped on the bandwagon that insisted that somehow all of that could be fixed by making students take a Big Standardized Test and generating a pile of data that could be massaged for any and all purposes (never forget–No Child Left Behind was hailed as a great bi-partisan achievement). 

I would be far more excited about Biden if at any point in the campaign he had said something along the lines of, “Boy, did we get education policy wrong.” And I suppose that’s a lot to ask. But if Democrats are going to launch a new day in education, they have a lot to turn their backs on, along with a pressing need for a new theory of action.

They need to reject the concept of an entire system built on the flawed foundation of a single standardized test. Operating with flawed data is, in fact, worse than no data at all, and for decades ed policy has been driven by folks looking for their car keys under a lamppost hundreds of feet away from where the keys were dropped because “the light’s better over here.”

They need to embrace the notion that teachers are, in fact, the pre-eminent experts in the field of education.

They need to accept that while education can be a powerful engine for pulling against the forces of inequity and injustice, but those forces also shape the environment within which schools must work. 

They need to stop listening to amateurs. Success in other fields does not qualify someone to set education policy. Cruising through a classroom for two years does not make someone an education expert. Everyone who ever went to the doctor is not a medical expert, everyone who ever had their car worked on is not a mechanic, and everyone who ever went to school is not an education expert. Doesn’t mean they can’t add something to the conversation, but they shouldn’t be leading it.

They need to grasp that schools are not businesses. And not only are schools not businesses, but their primary function is not to supply businesses with useful worker bees. 

If they want to run multiple parallel education systems with charters and vouchers and all the rest, they need to face up to properly funding it. If they won’t do that, then they need to shut up about choicey policies. “We can run three or four school systems for the cost of one” was always a lie, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise. Otherwise school choice is just one more unfunded mandate.

They need to accept that privatized school systems have not come up with anything new, revolutionary, or previously undiscovered about education. But they have come up with some clever new ways to waste and make off with taxpayer money.

Listen to teachers. Listen to parents in the community served by the school. Commit to a search for long term solutions instead of quick fixy silver bullets. And maybe become a force for public education slightly more useful than simply fending off a crazy lady with a flamethrower. 

As a new year begins, and as a new administration prepares to take charge of the U.S. government, our fight to support and improve public education goes on.

The Network for Public Education is and will continue to be the single largest voluntary group advocating on behalf of public schools. We had humble beginnings, starting with a bank account of a couple of thousand dollars and a board of enthusiastic parents and educators. We now have a full-time executive director (Carol Burris) who is helped by three amazing part-time workers.

We are not like the City Fund, which opened its doors in 2018 with $200 million in the bank (thanks to billionaire John Arnold and billionaire Reed Hastings). The City Fund exists to push high-stakes testing and to destroy community-based, democratically-controlled public schools. It has no members; we have about 350,000 who work with us. The “reformers” have tons of money and malevolent intentions.

Last year, we issued two bombshell reports that showed the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which doles out $440 million every year, mostly to corporate charter chains. We discovered and documented–using U.S. Department of Education data–that about 35-40 percent of the federally funded charters either never opened or closed not long after opening. They are the day lilies of American education, and they waste money that should go to support under-resourced public schools.

We published a report about the 1,200 or so charters that double-dipped into CARES funds intended to save small businesses. The charters, whose funding from public sources, never ceased, collected from $1-2 Billion from the Paycheck Protection Program. All of the data are available in public sources, but you have to know where to look to see that some very savvy charters and charter lobbyists cleared huge sums of PPP money (some collected $1 million or more) while public schools each collected only about $134,500.

We will continue to support real public schools, the kind that are publicly accountable to public officials. We will push the Biden administration to regulate or eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program and stop funding failure. We will fight against high-stakes testing and the misuse of standardized tests.

We will demand a suspension of federally mandated testing this spring and turn our energies toward removing the federal mandate for annual testing, which has manifestly failed to provide equity or excellence. We will remind the public that tests do not reduce achievement gaps; they are measures, not remedies. Mainly, they measure family income. Why waste hundreds of millions of dollars measuring family income?

Yes, knowledge is power, and we generate the knowledge you need to fight for public schools as the democratic institution that they are.

We welcome your financial support. Whatever you want to give, we are grateful.

Please donate here.

Whether you can afford $5, $20, $50, $100 or more, please give.

Rick Hess conducts an “exit interview” with Betsy DeVos, which was published at Education Week. Rick is a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which is funded in part by DeVos.

DeVos came to Washington to destroy public education, and she failed. She bitterly dismisses the “entrenched interests” and bureaucrats who frustrated her ambitions to turn billions of public dollars over to religious and private schools and to extinguish teachers’ unions altogether. During her confirmation, she was unable to answer direct questions about education policy, and she was ultimately confirmed only when Vice-President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote. This had never happened before. In poll after poll, DeVos was characterized as the most unpopular member of Trump’s Cabinet. She did her best to skewer the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, to abandon college students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, to divert COVID funding to elite private schools. Fortunately, most of the changes–maybe all of them–will be reversed by the Biden administration. Here is a fun fact that DeVos doesn’t mention: She is right that the number of voucher programs has grown, but she fails to point out that fewer than 1% of American students use vouchers. Nor does she mention that most independent voucher studies find that students in voucher schools are worse off than their peers in public schools. When a 2017 evaluation of the voucher program in D.C. reported that the students in voucher schools actually lost ground, DeVos didn’t care. She said: “When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” Nonetheless, in this exit interview, DeVos continues to promote voucher propaganda, and Hess doesn’t challenge her.

Here is an excerpt:

Rick: Back in 2017, your confirmation process was remarkably contentious. Looking back, what did you take from that and how did it affect your approach to the role?

Secretary DeVos: It confirmed my belief that entrenched interests were going to do their best to protect the status quo, their power, and their jobs no matter what. It gave me a clear-eyed look at the uphill battle I knew we would face as we pivoted the federal focus away from adults’ interests to what’s best for kids.

Rick: You came to your position as an outsider—how has that mattered?

DeVos: Like I’ve said before, I didn’t know all the things you “can’t do.” So I came in with fresh eyes and a laser focus on rethinking the way we approach all aspects of work at the department.

Rick: What surprised you most about the job?

DeVos: A couple of things. First, that the bureaucracy is even more bureaucratic than any of us could have ever imagined, and it takes longer to get anything done than I could have ever imagined. Second, seeing firsthand just how difficult it is for people in Washington to see beyond what is and imagine what could be. Third, and importantly, I am consistently inspired by what parents will do for their kids’ educations. I’ve met single mothers driving Uber in addition to holding two other jobs just so their children can learn in schools that work for them. I’ve met parents who didn’t wait for permission to home school their children nor did they wait for their schools to open this past spring, establishing their own learning pods and microschools so their children could continue learning. I suppose I’m not surprised by the ingenuity of America’s parents, but I am inspired by them and their students.

Rick: For you, what’s one anecdote that really captures what it’s like to be secretary of education?

DeVos: I remember talking with a group of young African American students in a school where they were benefiting from the Milwaukee voucher program and looking outside at a sea of middle-aged white protestors who apparently thought those students didn’t deserve that opportunity. I think that’s a pretty good microcosm of what my experience in office was like.

Rick: What was the most useful preparation you had to be secretary?

DeVos: I’ve dedicated more than 30 years of my life to fighting for students, starting in my community, then throughout Michigan and in states across the country. I know what parents want and need for their children’s educations because I am one and because I’ve fought alongside them to have the same choices and opportunities for their kids that I had for mine. People also forget this is ultimately a management job, not a teaching job. Among other things, you run one of the nation’s largest banks. Having actually led large organizations was very important preparation.

Rick: If you had to point to just one, what’s the single data point that really illuminates your thinking about American education?

DeVos: Half of lower-income 4th graders are below-basic readers, according to the most recent Nation’s Report Card. If the system is failing to teach the most basic of skills to the most vulnerable of students, how can anyone defend it? Worse yet, for the past quarter century, there has been no meaningful change in test scores, yet as taxpayers, we spend more and more for education each year. And by too many measures, these gaps are even widening. Perhaps the largest gap is between American students and their international peers. We’re not in the top 10—in anything. That’s not because our students aren’t capable; it’s because “the system” is culpable for failing them. And, if I could point to a couple more data points, there are currently millions of kids on charter school wait lists, and 3 out of 4 parents who say, if given the opportunity, they would choose a different school than their assigned one for their child. Parents are making clear what they think the solution is to the system’s failures.

Rick: What’s one thing that advocates and reformers should understand about federal education policy which they may not already?

DeVos: It needs your voices. Reformers rightly focus on the states, which are in control of education, but ignoring Washington comes with peril. Remember, a different president and secretary most certainly would have implemented the Every Student Succeeds Act in significantly more controlling ways.

Rick: What would you regard as your most significant accomplishment in office?

DeVos: Hands down, it’s changing the national conversation around what K-12 education can and should be. The concept of school choice is more popular across racial, ethnic, and political lines than ever before. I’m also proud of the team’s work on the historic Title IX rule which codified into law protections for all students.

Rick: And what would you say is your biggest regret?

DeVos: In four years, we set out to change the course set by the past 40 years of the department’s history. Though we’ve made remarkable progress, as long as there are students stuck in schools that do not meet their needs, the work is not yet done. I believe that all children have unlimited potential and promise, and so every single one of them deserves the opportunity to find their educational fit. I regret that we didn’t push harder and earlier in the term.

Rick: Throughout your tenure, your emphasis has been on expanding educational choice for students and families. How would you evaluate your record on this score?

DeVos: My team and I have worked very hard to advance education freedom—or school choice, as most know it. This idea, which President Trump rightly calls “the civil rights issue of our time,” is on the march across the country. Students in more states have more opportunities to pursue the education that’s right for them today than when I first took office. Consider the bold expansions in North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Tennessee, and even in Illinois. Right here in D.C., participation in the school choice program is now 50 percent higher than it was four years ago, and there is still massive unmet demand. We’ve changed the conversation at the federal level, too. Our proposal for Education Freedom Scholarships is the most ambitious in the nation’s history, and now there are more than 120 co-sponsors in Congress and more than 50 Senators who voted for Sen. McConnell’s COVID relief package who are helping us champion the idea.

Steve Nelson was head of school at the Calhoun School. He is now in retirement. He writes frequently about the need for child-centered education.

“RESIST!”  Bernie Sanders? AOC?  Malcom X? Saul Alinsky?

No, this was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s plea to Education Department staffers as she ends her term in office. As reported in The Hill, she specifically implored them to “Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what’s right for students.”  DeVos evoking the language of progressive activism is rich – almost as rich as DeVos herself.

She has gotten scant attention in the chaos of these last days.  It seems unjust to allow her to go so quietly from the party.  It is only in the shadow of Bill Barr, Scott Pruitt, Michael Flynn, Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson, Stephen Miller and many others that DeVos’s breathtaking awfulness would go uncelebrated.

I am here to right that wrong.

As with other Trump appointees, her most luminous qualification for the position was absolute disdain for the mission she was tapped to lead.  She had demonstrated  decades of hostility toward public education and her antipathy has continued unabated on the job.

Her educational “philosophy” is built on several premises that have informed her life’s work. 

Her education activism and support of reform are, in her words, “a means to advance God’s Kingdom.”   She has proclaimed that “the system of education in the country . . . really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run.”  To this end she has been a tireless advocate for voucher programs which allow parents to use tax dollars for their children’s enrollment in religious schools.  In Florida, for example, 80% of vouchers, to the tune of $1 billion, go to religious schools, where evolution is just theory, gay students are unwelcome and every course is offered through a Christian lens.

Her advocacy for charter schools is built on the second premise: Profit is a divine right and any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum is qualified to give education a shot. In her home state of Michigan this has resulted in a checkerboard of charter schools that fail as often as Trump casinos and where the odds of getting a good education are like playing the roulette wheel.  The shifting of public money to charters has hollowed out the public system in Detroit, for example, where kids of color are often shuffled to and from a half dozen startups and shutdowns in just one school year.  To extend the simile, it’s a bad deal for children.

This manifestation of her “activism” seems very much like the source of her immense wealth:  Amway.  The very American Amway system also allows  any budding entrepreneur who can walk and chew gum to give Amway a whirl. The odds of success are similar to the odds of success for charter startups – meaning very low indeed.  Unless, of course, you are at the top of the pyramid. Every sucker who loses is a gain for the house.  

Amway aside, her business acumen is a bit suspect.  She was a major investor in Theranos, a remarkable scam whose founder is facing felony counts of fraud.  She and her husband are also up to their corrupt ears in another corporate scam, Neurocore, which has been charged for using unapproved (FDA) devices and deceptive (FTC) marketing.  As a kicker, they invested in a Broadway show that closed after three weeks.  Like her patron saint Trump, it’s just so much winning.

I would be remiss if not pointing out that she is, in these respects, an iconic representative of the contemporary Grand Old Party which is committed to the same principles: that we are a Christian nation and that everything done for private profit is de facto better and more efficient than anything done for public good.

A few other highlights:

She supports using federal funds to arm teachers.

She dramatically altered Title IX to give more rights to boys and men accused of sexual misconduct and to significantly limit the authority of educational institutions to support women or use their own discretion.

In her confirmation hearing, she knew nothing about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), saying states should do whatever they want.

She called historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “pioneers of school choice,” seeming to miss that they were the result of segregation and that they were founded because black students had no choices.  It’s like admiring a particularly fine porcelain drinking fountain in Jim-Crow-era Alabama and praising it as a pioneer in hydration choice.

President-elect Biden has selected Dr. Miguel Cardona to replace DeVos.  He is a vast improvement.  For those who continue to work  in the Department of Education, we must say, “Resist!”

Someone wrote an executive order, dated December 28, and signed Donald Trump’s name to it, declaring that the emergency conditions created by the COVID make it vital to use federal funds for vouchers. Don’t waste a minute! Scoop up federal funds and put your child in a substandard voucher school!

We know that Trump didn’t write the executive order because he’s at Mar-a-Lago nursing his grievances.

It appears to have been written by Jim Blew, who works for her and used to work for the Walton Foundation. Even if Trump refuses to concede, DeVos knows it’s over and she will use her last days in office to throw money out the door to find vouchers for private and religious schools.

Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week tweeted that the program Trump wants to use for vouchers is part of HHS, the Community Services Block Grants, and it does NOT make individual grants. Shows how desperate Betsy is to funnel money to vouchers as the sun sets on her days in the Department of Education.

He wrote:

In a new executive order, Trump says he’s authorizing HHS to allow Community Services Block Grant money to fund private school scholarships, homeschooling, and other education services “for use by any child without access to in-person learning.”

Then, in follow-up tweets”

The Community Services Block Grants program “provides funds to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in communities.” Notably, the program doesn’t provide direct grants to individuals.

It’s not immediately clear to me that Trump can do this through an executive order.

The Trump administration tried but failed to get a school choice expansion into the COVID relief package Trump signed yesterday.

Again, I’d pump the brakes before assuming this executive order delivers a major (or any) K-12 choice boost. Plus, Biden is on the way, etc...

It’s worth remembering that folks were reportedly negotiating to get vouchers/some form of school choice into the COVID deal up until the last few hours. I’m not sure if the Trump administration laid any regulatory groundwork for this EO, or if this is a last-ditch gesture.

He concludes his thread by saying that Betsy has pushed hard to get vouchers into the COVID bill.