There’s a lot of talk this week of Betsy DeVos’ appointment to Secretary of Education. Who is Betsy DeVos? She’s a billionaire philanthropist with no degree in education, no experience in education, and no teaching experience.Hmmm…. what’s her appeal?
You may be hard pressed to find another person who is more of an advocate of charter school expansions and vouchers. According to the Kate Zernicke of the NY Times,”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” (11/23/16).
Each time a child leaves a public school for a charter, the per pupil spending amount goes with them. Vouchers essentially give the per pupil spending amount to each family to use on private or parochial schools thus allowing taxpayer dollars to pay for parochial education. Many, like DeVos, say this is a good idea because urban schools are failing. This is a generalization. While there are issues facing urban schools that are not issues for their rural and suburban counterparts, taking more money away from urban schools and putting it towards unregulated and sometimes for-profit schools is an unproven response, and threatens public education-often considered the foundation of our democracy.
Longitudinal data is inconclusive as to whether charters fare any better on standardized tests than public schools. Many are currently facing litigation for misappropriation of funds, questionable behavioral practices, and often publish misrepresented graduation rates. Keep in mind, they must show success on order to keep their charter open. They’ll say they have an 85% graduation rate, but that’s 85% of the students who remain after students dropped out or were asked to leave as they were not likely to graduate.
Look at it another way.
Consider a suburban family- likely one or two parents or a care giver home before and after school, able to feed and clothe the children appropriately, have time to read to them, monitor homework, and provide health insurance benefits to ensure wellness. Far too many people wrongly assume those living in poverty don’t value education, but never consider that working two and three jobs doesn’t allow them to be home before school to feed their children, after school to monitor homework, drive to after school sports practices, dance classes, religious classes, or other extracurricular activities. Often these families do not have health insurance to cover wellness or sickness.It’s not because they don’t care, but because they’re working so many hours just to make ends meet, they must choose one over the other. I’ve ever met a family who says they don’t value education.This is simply not true.
A potential Secretary of Education who has never spent a day in a classroom, a staunch advocate for charter schools and vouchers is a frightening prospect. I have spent over 30 years in the public schools-in one capacity or another. I spend a considerable amount of time in urban schools, working with teachers, connecting to communities, and trying to teach pre-service teachers how to teach in urban environments.
I know first hand the damage charters can cause children, and the ramifications to urban schools that would likely face deeper budget cuts. This means cuts to programs and services which are all but guaranteed in the suburbs. Why is it okay to allow charters to open in urban areas, yet none are open in middle and upper class neighborhoods? If you live in the suburbs, how would you feel about a school opening which would take money away from the neighborhood school (think programs and services that would be cut), where students could be hand selected for admission (remember it’s unregulated), be managed by someone with no educational background, and have classes taught by someone who has had no formal education/training in education?
With so many notable scholars, researchers, and educators in this country who have spent their lives advocating for all children, I am frustrated none were considered for this cabinet post. Rather, Eva Moskowitz (see Success Academy Charter in NYC), Ben Carson (yes, the neurologist and former presidential candidate), and Michelle Rhee (remember the debacle in DC Public Schools a few years ago?) were on the short list.
Betsy DeVos is a frightening consideration for Secretary of Education. No experience, no educational background, and she sees the world from a lens only 1% of the country see through. Billionaire philanthropist. Advocate for charters and vouchers. Not appealing.
These are my reflections for today.