Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

Steve Hinnefeld, an Indiana blogger, reviews Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and finds that it resonates with his own experience in Indiana.

He writes:

“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” focuses on a fundamental debate on the nature of schools. Education, the authors argue, is best treated as a public good that belongs to everyone.

“Like clean air, a well-educated populace is something with wide-reaching benefits,” Berkshire and Schneider write. “That’s why we treat public education more like a park than a country club. We tax ourselves to pay for it, and we open it to everyone.”

The alternative: education as a private good that benefits and belongs to those who consume it. In that increasingly influential view, families should choose schools – or other education products and services — the same way they choose restaurants or where to buy their shoes, with little concern for anyone else.

The threats they describe are not a wolf but a veritable wolfpack: conservative ideologues who want to reduce taxes and shrink government, anti-union zealots, marketers bent on “selling” schools, self-dealers making money from ineffective virtual-school schemes and technology enthusiasts who envision a future in which algorithms replace teachers.

That may make the book sound like a polemic; it’s not, at least in my reading. The authors offer a fair and accurate reading of opposing views and acknowledge that public schools aren’t perfect. All too often, they admit, public schools have excluded or failed students of color, immigrants, religious minorities, students with disabilities and others…

I remember, in the late 1990s, being surprised when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said it planned to push for vouchers. Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the Indiana House. Just a few years earlier, a well-organized voucher push led by prominent business officials fizzled out.

But, as Schneider and Berkshire document, voucher supporters have played a long game, carried forward by groups like Indianapolis-based EdChoice and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, with a GOP supermajority in the legislature and Mitch Daniels in the governor’s office, Indiana approved vouchers. The program started small but grew to include over 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious, and over 36,000 students. Now there’s talk of expanding it further – or possibly of adopting education savings accounts, one of the “neo-voucher” programs that Schneider and Berkshire describe.

There is reason to hope, he writes, but also reason to be alarmed and vigilant.

Betsy DeVos made the goal of school choice clear: Shift public dollars away from public schools and transfer them to privately managed charter schools, online schools, for-profit schools, home schools, and vouchers for religious schools. She never supported public schools. Her actions emboldened her followers in Red States to make a full frontal attack on public education. Please share this information on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Alert your friends and colleagues. The attack on public education rolls on, despite the overwhelming evidence that charter schools do not get better results than public schools unless they cherrypick their students, and voucher schools get worse results, while most avoid accountability and transparency.

The Red State governors want to fund failure, instead of adequately and equitably funding their most important responsibility: the public schools.

In this article, Carol Burris–with research assistance of Anthony Cody and Marla Kilfoyle–of the Network for Public Education reports on the action in the states to advance privatization of public funds.

It is school choice week. Across the country, conservative state legislators are sponsoring “school choice” bills that would divert public funds to charter schools, online schools, and/or private and religious schools and homeschools.  

The 2020 election resulted in gains for Libertarian Republicans in statehouses who are now aggressively pushing school voucher bills, whether they be through the use of devices such as “Education Opportunity Accounts,” tax credits, or direct subsidies from state tax dollars. These bills would have a devastating impact on the funds available to support public schools struggling through the pandemic.   

But of course, that is the point. Make no mistake. Those proposing these bills are hostile to both the idea and the ideals of district-run public schools.

In addition to new voucher programs, state legislators are also promoting the expansion of charter schools, the imposition of capricious regulations on public schools, and the undermining of their democratic governance.

In Iowa, the Governor has proposed a law that would allow the state board, as well as districts, to authorize charter schools, thus placing charters in school districts that do not want them. A bill under consideration in Missouri would authorize a dramatic expansion of charter schools and make it simple for a small minority of voters to initiate a recall of elected school board members. Kansas legislators are pushing to allow public funds to flow to private schools with little public oversight, and New Hampshire legislators are again pushing a universal voucher program. 

Here is a summary of some of the bills that have been introduced.

Arizona 

Over three years, Senate Bill 1041 would increase the amount the state spends on corporate School Tuition Organization vouchers, from $5 million to $20 million. In 2017, tax dollars diverted into deductible voucher “donations” exceeded a billion dollars, providing “donors” with a dollar for dollar tax credits. Senate Bill 1452 expands the state’s ESA voucher. 

In a move hostile toward public schools,  Senate Bill 1058  requires schools to compile and publish a list of every resource used in classrooms the previous year — including online videos, articles, and websites. The purpose of this burdensome requirement is to allow parents to opt their child out if they do not agree with the instructional content. In what is clearly a show of hostility to district public schools, the bill does not apply to private schools, including those whose students receive vouchers, and charter schools have more relaxed rules. 

Florida 

Florida SB 48 aims to merge and expand the multiple voucher programs that already exist into two programs. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “the 158-page proposal would merge the state’s five key school choice programs and make them all state-funded. It would also convert the scholarships into more flexible education savings accounts by merging the state-funded Family Empowerment Scholarship program, an ESA program, with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and the Hope Scholarship Program. Also, it would merge the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities with the Gardiner Scholarship Program under a new name–the McKay-Gardiner Scholarship Program.”

Make no mistake–these are not scholarships in the traditional sense–provided when a needy student receives tuition-help because she has attained high grades. These “scholarships” are all disguised vouchers to private and religious schools, resulting in taxpayers paying for private school education. If passed, this bill would also reduce the frequency of audits to detect fraud from every year to once every three years, increase the yearly growth rate of voucher programs, and via ESAs, expand the use of public funds. 

Georgia 

House Bill 60 is a neo-voucher that would allow students who withdraw from a local public school to take state funding with them to use as a scholarship to a private school. In Georgia, about 50% of school funding comes from the state. This would have a devastating effect on school districts who would likely lose far more than they would save by an individual student’s withdrawal. One of the eligibility criteria for this ESA voucher is that a student’s school not be 100% open for in-person instruction, thus targeting schools whose elected leaders have made decisions about the safety of their school communities.  As with many of these proposals, the pandemic is being exploited to advance a privatization agenda.

Indiana  

 House Bill 1005 would greatly expand the state’s voucher program by allowing families with incomes up to $145,000 a year to participate. That amount is near twice the median income of families in the state and provides taxpayer assistance to families who can already comfortably afford to send their child to a private school. According to an estimate from the Legislative Services Agency, it could increase the number of students receiving state stipends by about 40% in 2021-22.

Some 12,000 students already attending such schools would be eligible for state funding–costing taxpayers $100 million in the first year alone. In addition, the bill would add a new “Education Savings Accounts,” which would be made available to parents with students with special needs. 

 Iowa 

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed SSB 1065, (now known as SF 159) which is being fast-tracked through the state Senate.  This “school choice” bill would:

  • Provide up to $5,200 per student in “state scholarships” for parents to use for private school tuition or homeschooling expenses. 
  • Greatly expand charter schools in the state by allowing applicants to start a charter school by going straight to the state board, bypassing the school district.
  • Allow students to transfer out of their local public schools with a voluntary or court-ordered diversity plan

According to Senator Pam Jochum, this bill is being fast-tracked because, “Obviously, the faster they move it, the less chance there is for push back from the public that’s not happy with this kind of a change because it will take about $54 million and shift it from public education to private.”

Kansas:

House Bill 2068 and Senate Bill 61 are allegedly designed to expand school vouchers in the state via a tax credit program. They are, at their core, an attempt to create a taxpayer-funded invitation to discriminate. 

According to the Kansas School Boards Association, these bills would allow private schools that discriminate in admissions based on achievement, religion, gender, disability, or sexual preference to participate in the tax-credit program. They would neither be required to be accredited nor report student results. 

“Scholarships” created by these tax dollars could be as generous as $8,000.

Kentucky 

House Bill 149 would create a new “Education Opportunity Account” program that would allow participants to divert their tax dollars into accounts to be used as voucher funds for private or parochial school tuition.   

Missouri 

There is only one intent of Senate Bill 55–to destroy public education in Missouri. It was pushed through the Senate Education Committee last week. This mega bill began as two Senate bills to create vouchers and expand charters. They were then loaded onto SSB 55 at the last minute, which included provisions hostile to public education that have never even had a public hearing. According to the Missouri School Boards Association, the bill now includes:

  • School Board Member Recall: Requires an election to recall a school board member if a petition is submitted signed by at least 25% of the number of voters in the last school board election. It would also restrict members of the state board of education to one term.
  • Education Scholarship Account/Vouchers: Creates up to $100 million in tax credits for donations to an organization that gives out scholarships for students to attend a home school or private school – including for-profit virtual schools.
  • Charter School Expansion: Authorizes charter schools to be opened in an additional 61 school districtslocated in Jackson, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties or in cities of 30,000 or more and allows charters opened in provisionally and unaccredited districts to remain open even after the school district regains accreditation.
  • Direct Access to Virtual Charter Schools: Allows students enrolling in MOCAP (The Missouri CourseAccess and Virtual School Program) full time to apply directly to the vendor, thus pushing the resident school district and professional educators out of the process.

New Hampshire

House Bill 20 would create a universal voucher program entitled “Education Freedom Accounts,” which would take state dollars from monies allocated to support public schools and give them directly to parents to use for private school tuition, homeschooling costs, and other education-related expenses. The per-student amount would range from $3,786 and $8,458 based on eligibility and costs.  

Conclusion

During her 2019 appearance at the Education Writers Association, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos attempted to re-define the very definition of what public education is. 

“Let’s stop and rethink the definition of public education,” she said. “Today, it’s often defined as one type of school, funded by taxpayers, controlled by government. But if every student is part of ‘the public,’ then every way and every place a student learns is ultimately of benefit to ‘the public.’ That should be the new definition of public education.” 

According to DeVos’s definition, public education, as we know, it is “government education”, while the term public education is used as a substitute for the word “learning.” Take your child to a museum—by DeVos’s reasoning, that is “public education.” Teach them how to ride a horse, or how to storm Congress to air your grievance—according to this definition that would be “public education” as well. 

This is not just rhetoric—it is at the heart of the right-wing Libertarian philosophy that believes that parents should be fully in charge of where and what children learn. The bills that are being pushed in statehouses across America represent that philosophy.

Persuading Americans to buy into such a radical concept took years of work. Joseph P. Overton, an electrical engineer, was senior vice president of the right-wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy in the 1990s until he died in 2003. The Mackinac Center is located in Michigan, Betsy DeVos’s home state. Overton is most known for creating the Overton Window—a means by which to analyze and rebrand extreme policies to make them more acceptable to the public. According to Overton, only those policies identified as “in the window” are politically possible. Therefore, if one wishes to make the unacceptable or unthinkable acceptable, the solution is to shift the window.   

According to Mackinac, the example Overton often used to illustrate the window’s movement is the changed public perception of school choice. In the 1980s, advocating for charter schools was politically dangerous. As charters became more acceptable, so did school choice, which in turn allowed conservative politicians to advocate for homeschooling, private school tax credits, and charter expansion. 

And here we are today. What was once unthinkable–the dismantling of our nation’s public schools–is now a real possibility. 

It is up to those who believe in the promise of public education to join together, recognize these legislative attempts for what they are, and defeat them before it is too late. If we do not act, there may be choices, but democratically governed public schools will not be one of them.

Adam Laats, a historian of education and history at Binghamton University, explains why Betsy DeVos was stunningly ignorant and indifferent to the nation’s public schools. She didn’t care about them and considered it to be a waste of time to learn about them. And he adds some lessons from America’s past that illustrate the dark fears that conservatives express about public schools as sinister places where children are indoctrinated to leftist ideology.

The strange career of Betsy DeVos has been only the latest instance of this long legacy of conservative educational activism. Even before she became Trump’s education secretary, she harangued conservative audiences that public schools were nothing but a “dead end.” It wasn’t merely that public schools offered worse academics, DeVos warned. In a speech in late 2020, DeVos articulated some of her guiding beliefs about the dangers of public education. Public schools, DeVos suggested, threatened to yank children from the loving care of their homes and churches and wipe away “every distinctive feature of families.” Instead of sustaining and reinforcing the religious beliefs of conservative Christians, DeVos agreed, public schools would only cram “uniform guidance” down every student’s throat.

By injecting toxic strains of fear and suspicion into every dialogue, DeVos poisoned educational politics from the very top. Her strategy of attacking public education helps explain why she was so successful in keeping her seat in Trump’s Cabinet. President Trump himself harped on the same refrain...

The odd tenure of Betsy DeVos doesn’t make much sense in traditional terms. She was a department leader who despised her department, a spokesperson for public education who didn’t have any idea what to say. In more normal political times, it would have been impossible for her to keep her job. However, in the poisonous atmosphere of Trump’s White House, DeVos fit right in. Like her boss, she did not deal in facts and figures, in policies and plans. Instead, she drew on the long tradition of right-wing fright campaigns.

Why didn’t she bother to learn anything about public education? Because she knew her success lay elsewhere. As conservative activists have done for generations, Betsy DeVos only needed to attack a figment of the conservative imagination. She did not need to know what went on in real schools, because she only needed to resurrect a cartoonish misrepresentation, a bogeyman that had long haunted conservative nightmares.


If you live in Missouri, get active to stop this dangerous effort to destroy your public schools!

Dear Friend,

If you love your public schools you need to drop what you are doing and get to work.

There is only one intent of Senate Bill 55–to destroy public education in Missouri. It was pushed through the Senate Education Committee early this morning and may go to the Senate floor for a vote as early as next week. 

1. Call your state senators NOW and ask them to support public schools by OPPOSING Senate Bill 55. You can find your Senator and their phone number by going here

2. Click here and send an email in opposition to Senate Bill 55 NOW.

3. Share this link with friends and family who live in the statehttps://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-senate-bill-55/

Below is the notice we just received from the Missouri School Boards Association information that provides background on the bill.

“The Senate Education Committee jammed through a mega bill on Thursday that will be heard on the Senate floor soon. Senate Bills 23 and 25 started out creating voucher schemes and expanding charter schools but were loaded up on SB 55 at the last minute with a long list of provisions hostile to public education that have never even had a public hearing. The bill now includes:

  • School Board Member Recall: Requires an election to recall a school board member if a petition is submitted signed by at least 25% of the number of voters in the last school board election.
  • Education Scholarship Account/Vouchers:Creates up to $100 million in tax credits for donations to an organization that gives out scholarships for students to attend a home school or private school – including for-profit virtual schools.
  • Charter School Expansion: Authorizes charter schools to be opened in an additional 61 school districts located in Jackson, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties or in cities of 30,000 or more and allows charters opened in provisionally and unaccredited districts to remain open even after the school district regains accreditation.
  • Turning MOCAP into Virtual Charter Schools: Allows students enrolling in MOCAP full time to apply directly to the vendor and cuts the resident school district and professional educators out of the process.
  • Home school students allowed to participate in MSHSAA activities. Districts are prohibited from belonging to MSHSAA unless home schooled students are allowed to participate in district athletics and activities governed by MSHSAA.
  • Limiting State Board of Education: Restricts members of the state board of education to serve only one full term.”

Read more on these issues here.

Please send your email, make your calls and thank you for all you do. 

Carol Burris

Executive Director

Network for Public Education

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.