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Betsy DeVos and Her 2015-16 School Choice Yearbook

On November 23, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Betsy DeVos for US secretary of education.

DeVos is zealous for school choice, and it seems that she is particularly fond of private school choice.

Below is her foreword for the choice organization, American Federation for Children (AFC) Growth Fund’s 2015-16 school choice yearbook. DeVos was the AFC Growth Fund chair:

As a result of the work of education advocates across the country and the education revolution we’ve created, our nation’s education system is changing. The antiquated, top-down model of education in this country that originated in the 1800s in order to “educate the masses” is beginning to transform to a student-centric model that respects every child’s unique learning style.

This change has come about through victories and some setbacks, with moments of pause and moments of great change, but the momentum continues to shift in our favor. Educational choice is an essential part of the solution to our nation’s education challenges, including the greater issue of education inequality in America. The idea that no child should be defined or limited by his or her ZIP code or family’s income is deeply rooted in our movement’s commitment to social justice. Every parent should be free to choose the best educational environment for their children and low-income and minority children are too often the ones without choice. The only way to truly improve and innovate our nation’s system and help these students is through educational choice. The public is recognizing that true choice will break open our nation’s closed education system, encouraging innovation and education entrepreneurs to develop new ways for children to learn and reach their full potential.

Today there are 50 private school choice programs in 25 states plus the District of Columbia. Last year alone, four states enacted their first school choice programs, and a total of eight new programs were signed into law. Additionally, half of all states passed at least one private school choice bill out of one chamber of their respective state legislatures.

With an education system that’s 200 years old, and an entrenched establishment, change can be slow, but great progress continues to be made. There’s a monumental transformation underway as more and more parents rise up, speak out and demand access to educational choices for their children.

Thank you for your steadfast support and resolve to educate America’s school children, and thank you for joining me in the education revolution!

Betsy DeVos, Chairman

DeVos’ yearbook is 59 pages long. However, it falls short of critically appraising the programs it features. There are lots of stats (numbers of students enrolled in a variety of choice programs and in what states; total funds expended), and there are the criteria for a variety of choice programs.

There is even an accountability checklist but no discussion of the implication of the results, including the finding that only 10 out of 22 voucher programs (45 percent) are required to produce proof of financial viability, or that only 13 out of 22 (59 percent) are required to produce annual financial reports, or that only 9 out of 22 (41 percent) require public reporting of results.

There is no accountability checklist for charter schools. However, there is a declaration that presumes certain charter schools are models of innovation that are the road maps to the elysian fields of Higher Test Scores and College Readiness. An enlightening excerpt:

By almost all accounts, the U.S. education system is failing its students. On standardized tests, when compared with peers worldwide, American students continue to fall in the middle of the pack. …

While proponents of the status quo may point to rising graduation rates, the fact is our nation’s education system is not preparing its students. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that 60 percent of first-year college students are not fully prepared for their college courses. Much of the mediocrity found in our nation’s education system can be attributed to its antiquated approach. Over the last 150 years, a great deal has evolved, including transportation, communication and the economy— everything except for education. The system is still modeled on the outdated Prussian education method that was implemented in the 1800s in order to educate the masses, something we have surely moved beyond.

While the U.S. education system has flatlined, there are still excellent schools offering innovate teaching methods to students; cutting-edge and impressive schools like KIPP Public Charter Schools, Success Academy Charter Schools in Harlem, Hope Christian Schools in Milwaukee, Cristo Rey Schools, Acton Academy and the new AltSchool in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York.

All of these schools have two things in common:

  1. They challenge the status quo, offering a modified way to teach students.
  2. They’re currently only available to a few students, either due to lack of capacity or the cost of tuition.

School choice, whether it’s in the form of a voucher, tax credit scholarship, education savings account, course choice, virtual school or public charter school, disrupts the status quo and offers parents the ability to choose an innovative option that best suits their child’s academic needs.

The status quo in education will not innovate on its own. There’s no incentive, and a transformation of the system threatens those who benefit from the existing monopoly in public education.

As the success and momentum for the school choice movement continues to grow, the ability to attract innovators in education will also grow. As more entrepreneurs view the U.S. as a system open to innovation, the options available will continue to evolve and create an education system that will truly put students first.

Of course, the growth of innovation is ideologically-rooted conjecture. There are no stats on how many students were stranded by charter schools that closed midyear. No stats on how many public schools had to absorb how many of those stranded students regardless of the funding availability.

No stats on the messiness that confronts a polished ideology.

No stats on how many students attending voucher schools chose to return to public schools. No stats on how many voucher schools actually rated lower than public schools in the vicinity.

No research on program quality.

There are, however, news snippets about choice as well as featured choice cheerleaders.

But no discussion of evidence that parents are really doing the choosing, or that their choices are worth the choosing, or that there is any downside to the “innovation” introduced by the likes of Success Academies or KIPP.

Certainly no discussion of student attrition at such innovative schools.

There is also no discussion of the breakdown in choice, including the impact of mid-year school closures on students, parents, and community; no discussion of sham schools, or the impact of private schools’ being able to say no to the choice idea (and leaving choice only to lower-end or storefront voucher schools, for example).

There is no discussion of students who fall through cracks in decentralized choice systems.

And there is no discussion about how many parents who choose to homeschool would not choose a state- or federally-run voucher program because they do not want the government to interfere in their children’s schooling– and are therefore critical of the portability of funding that DeVos espouses.

There is also no discussion of the impact of choice upon the public school system in a country in which every state has compulsory education requirements.

There is no discussion of the bottom-feeding nature of online charter schools.

This yearbook offers no solid evidence that choice “fully prepares” students for college courses.

In short, this yearbook includes no evidence to DeVos’ assumption, “Educational choice is an essential part of the solution to our nation’s education challenges, including the greater issue of education inequality in America.”

However, she has been nominated as the country’s secretary of education, and, with Trump’s blessing, she will be in the position to promote vouchers above all. Her platform will apparently be centered upon developing a program to entice states to bend to her private-school-voucher-favored ideology. She will dangle federal money before state governors, and she will entice them to pony up state and local money to in some way match the her federal enticement amount in order to expand and promote vouchers.

She will likely offer no yearbook examining the downside of her voucher expansion goals, and she certainly will not examine the fact that public school problems do not happen in isolation from problems evident in the communities in which they are situated.

But it sure would be nice if she stepped outside of her ideology, if only for a moment.

Therefore, in such a spirit, Betsy, here’s an assignment for you:

Provide detailed evidence to critically appraise the following opinion:

“Educational choice is an essential part of the solution to our nation’s education challenges, including the greater issue of education inequality in America.”

Publicize the resulting response in the form of a downloadable report as a pinned post on your Twitter page, and make it available by January 20th, 2017.

Look at me, giving DeVos a critical thinking assignment.

Makes me come across like a public school teacher.

Your call, Betsy.

betsy-devos-4  Betsy DeVos


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

A Challenge for Campbell Brown’s The 74: Publicize Your Detailed History

In June 2015, former CNN anchor and anti-union, corporate reform pusher Campbell Brown officially launched The Seventy Four, which she describes as follows:

I am excited to announce the launch of a project I’ve been working on for some time now. As profiled in The Wall Street Journal today, The Seventy Four, a non-profit, non-partisan news site about education, is now a reality.

There are 74 million children under the age of 18 in the United States. And the unfortunate reality is that for many of these children, the public education system is broken.

Our mission at The Seventy Four is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children the education they deserve.

Visit our website at

When Michigan billionaire and democracy wrecker Betsy DeVos was nominated as US secretary of education, Brown was all in, as one might expect: DeVos is among the funders of Brown’s Seventy Four.

Brown wants the public to believe that her Seventy Four is an unbiased news source. On November 30, 2016, Politico reported that Brown decided to limit her role in covering DeVos on the Seventy Four because they “are friends”:

CAMPBELL BROWN STEPS BACK FROM COVERAGE: Campbell Brown, editor-in-chief of The 74, is “recusing herself” from her website’s news coverage of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. That’s according to a note from Romy Drucker, CEO of The 74, which will post online today. The note comes after reporters and activists in the last week have raised questions about Brown’s ties to DeVos and the ethics of covering her in The 74, which Brown maintains is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news site. Critics have labeled the site as advocacy journalism.

“We’ve received some inquiries about The 74’s relationship with Betsy DeVos,” Drucker’s note says. “In particular, her family foundation’s philanthropic donations to the site, our disclosures of any possible conflict of interest, and our standing policy on editorial independence. While we typically allow our article disclosures to stand by themselves, the current situation is unexpected and unprecedented — and deserves further transparency and explanation.”

Brown and DeVos are friends, and Brown sits on the board of DeVos’ school choice advocacy group, the American Federation for Children. (DeVos resigned as chair last week after accepting Trump’s Cabinet offer.) In 2014, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation helped launch The 74 with a two-year grant — the amount of which wasn’t disclosed to Morning Education. “The final disbursement of those funds, in the first quarter of 2016, means that the foundation is only an active donor through the end of this year,” Drucker’s note says. “Obviously, given Ms. DeVos’s potential role in the federal government, The 74 will not be seeking additional funding for 2017 or beyond.” The website receives funding from a number of other education reform organizations like the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has also funded education reporting at the Los Angeles Times. Last year, the American Federation for Children also sponsored a summit held by The 74 for Republican presidential candidates.

Brown has also recused herself from covering New York’s Success Academy Charter Schools because she sits on the board. Drucker writes that The 74 will continue to post disclosures on articles that mention DeVos or the American Federation for Children. In a recent op-ed for The 74, Brown defended DeVos as Trump’s pick for education secretary. But when asked if she’d consider serving alongside her friend in the Trump administration, Brown said, “Absolutely not. Definitively.”

What is interesting is that The Seventy Four will not disclose the amount of DeVos’ contribution even as Seventy Four CEO Romy Drucker tries to downplay the mysterious contribution by saying that the final payment from DeVos to The Seventy Four (nonprofit name: The 74 Media, Inc.) is set to be paid before 2016 ends.

Drucker also states that since DeVos will be US secretary of education, The Seventy Four will not seek future funding from her foundation. However, DeVos will not be sitting on the board of her foundation while she is US ed secretary, so there really is no “obviously” about the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation not spending their money whithersoever they will, including at The Seventy Four.

The Seventy Four will not disclose the amount of the DeVos contribution, but “obviously” The Seventy Four will take no more DeVos money.

Not enough transparency from an organization that wants the public to trust it as a credible news source.

Even so, what is interesting about the direction that Brown’s The Seventy Four is taking is that it seems to have some legitimate journalists who are willing (an apparently able) to produce articles critical of corporate reform. (To my surprise, I have found myself retweeting 74 writer Matt Barnum of late.)

Of course, the problems for legitimate journalism at The Seventy Four involve the corporate reform bent of site’s list of funders (which includes Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Broad and Walton Foundations, hedge funder Daniel Loeb, Oxycontin’s Jonathan Sackler, and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund); its corporate-reform-enmeshed board of directors— and its connection with polarizing Campbell Brown herself.

Brown’s history is inextricable with anti-union, neighborhood-public-school antagonism.

Indeed, there is not enough transparency regarding The Seventy Four’s history, including its connection to another of Brown’s nonprofits.

For the remainder of this post, I examine some of Campbell Brown’s nonprofits. I should not have to dig and do this. If the Seventy Four wishes to be regarded as a legitimate news site, it should clearly detail its history. The problem for The Seventy Four is that detailing its history (including its financial history) only raises questions regarding the site’s ability to be truly unbiased.

Here we go.

In June 2013, Campbell Brown formed the lobbying nonprofit, Parents’ Transparency Project (PTP), and registered it in Delaware. It reported total revenue of $1.2 million for June thru December 2013 and had one major expense of $1.1 million:

PTP is apolitical (Schneider’s note: supposedly meaning “non-political”) watchdog group whose mission is to bring transparency to the rules, deals, and contracts negotiated between our state and local governments and the teachers’ unions, and to help parents get a clear understanding of how the education bureaucracy works. PTP used media to generate public pressure against the DOE, the UFT, and city and state government of New York to be transparent and accountable in their procedures, contracts, and legislation affecting our students and their school system.

In October 2013, Mother Jones published an enlightening article on Brown’s PTP, which supposedly aimed to cleanse New York classrooms of union-protected sexual predator teachers. An excerpt:

Early one morning in July, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, pen in hand, notes fanned out in front of her. Viewers might have mistaken her as a fill-in host, but Brown had swung by 30 Rock in her new role as a self-styled education reformer, a crusader against sexual deviants in New York City public schools and the backward unions and bureaucrats getting in the way of firing them. “In many cases, we have teachers who were found guilty of inappropriate touching, sexual banter with kids, who weren’t fired from their jobs, who were given very light sentences and sent back to the classroom,” Brown, the mother of two young sons, explained.

Brown was there to plug her new venture, the Parents’ Transparency Project, a nonprofit “watchdog group” that “favors no party, candidate, or incumbent.” Though its larger aim is to “bring transparency” to how contracts are negotiated with teachers’ unions, PTP’s most prominent campaign is to fix how New York City handles cases of sexual misconduct involving teachers and school employees—namely by giving the city’s schools chancellor, a political appointee, ultimate authority in the process. …

Brown’s group paints the unions as the main obstacles to a crackdown on predators. Yet Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, says that the union’s New York City chapter already has a zero-tolerance policy in its contract, and that AFT only protects its members against “false allegations.” New York state law also mandates that any teacher convicted of a sex crime be automatically fired. It is the law, not union contracts, that requires that an independent arbitrator hear and mete out punishment in cases of sexual misconduct that fall outside criminal law. The quickest route to changing that policy may be lobbying lawmakers in Albany, not hammering teachers and their unions.

Brown did not want to lobby lawmakers in Albany. Instead, she pretty much closed PTP shop in 2014 in order to create another nonprofit.

According to the PTP 2014 tax form, PTP began 2014 with the $88,000 left over from 2013. Turns out PTP paid $30,000 of that $88,000 to Brown’s next nonprofit, the Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ).

Brown began PEJ in December 2013 under a different name, All Kids Matter, Inc., and incorporated it in Delaware. In February 2014, she changed the name to Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ).

In March 2014, Brown filed for nonprofit status for PEJ under a New York City address. Brown reported that she expected PEJ to raise $3 million in grants and contributions from 12-19-2013 to 11-30-2014; $4 million from 12-01-2014 to 11-30-2015, and $5 million from 12-01-2015 to 11-30-2016.

Brown included the following description of PEJ’s purpose on the nonprofit application:

Inspired by the work of similar impact litigation around the country, the Applicant will seek to use the litigation process, combined with a public communications campaign, to reform harmful education laws and regulations that prevent our schools and school districts from providing all students with an excellent education. Through its public communications campaigns, the Applicant will seek to build relationships with families, community stakeholders and organizations — with the goal of forming effective working coalitions that will increase pressure on lawmakers and other decision makers to reform our educational system.

The Applicant’s initial focus will be on defending human and civil rights of children in New York State public schools. More particularly, the Applicant will help fund and support litigation challenging New York State education laws that operate to keep grossly ineffective teachers in public school classrooms. The Applicant hopes to be able to build on its initial activities in New York and to expand its activities into other states around the country.

In all events, the litigation promoted, supported or engaged in by the Applicant will be undertaken to benefit the general public. For example, in selecting rights to be defended, the Applicant will consider whether the litigation will have a substantial impact beyond the interest of the specific named plaintiffs. In addition, the selection of cases will be made by the Board, which is unrelated to, and independent of, any commercial entity retained by the Applicant. The Applicant does not expect to receive financial support from any of the persons being represented.

The Applicant will not, itself, provide legal representation to others, although it will institute and support litigation in order to defend children’s human and civil rights.

The “similar impact litigation” that inspired Brown’ s PEJ likely includes the case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, which was considered a victory for organized labor when the US Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in March 2016 over unions’ collecting fees from nonmembers when nonmembers benefited from union advocacy, and the teacher tenure lawsuit, California’s Vergara case, which the California Supreme Court decided in August 2016 not to hear. Thus, the ruling on appeal (which was in favor of California teacher job protections) was allowed to stand.

As of this writing, Brown’s PEJ has filed lawsuits in New York, Minnesota, and New Jersey. In October 2016, a Minnesota judge tossed out the Minnesota suit for not connecting student test score outcomes with the state’s tenure laws. According to PEJ, the parents in the PEJ-backed MN lawsuit “are preparing to appeal.”

The only PEJ tax form available to date is this one spanning 12-01-14 to 11-30-16. It notes that PEJ had almost $2 million in contributions and grants from the prior year (apparently, no tax form was filed for this revenue) and $4.7 million for 2014-15. (As previously noted, Brown expected to raise $3 million in 2013-14 for PEJ and an additional $4 million in 2014-15. So, the combined, 2013-15 total is pretty close to projection.)

The surprise on the 2014 PEJ tax form is PEJ’s largest expense. It was not the New York case ($587,000), nor was it the Minnesota case ($534,000).

By far, the largest 2014-15 expense for Brown’s PEJ was a “special research project”:

The 74 Media (i.e., The Seventy Four). $2.37 million.

From the 2014 PEJ tax form:

74 Media The [PEJ] organization undertook a special research project to explore the landscape of digital media and communications about education. This research included an analysis of key stakeholders and organizations and development of several potential strategies for using digital media to inspire a conversation about education.

In the above “special project” language, Brown does not identify The 74 Media as a nonprofit in its own right, one that she also runs, and that is receiving a $2.37 million grant from arguably-union-busting PEJ. However, this does come up later on the PEJ tax form when The 74 Media is identified as a nonprofit and as PEJ’s sole grant recipient, with the purpose of the grant identified as “fiscal sponsorship & general support.”

The PEJ financing of The 74 Media is not mentioned on The Seventy Four funders page or on its “about” page.

Brown’s The Seventy Four bio includes info about her founding PEJ. But for some reason, the Seventy Four fails to mention its PEJ funding connection at all– and it should.

Furthermore, PEJ’s 2014 tax form indicates that The Seventy Four’s co-founder and CEO, Romy Drucker, worked as a “strategic consultant” for PEJ; she was paid $122,102 for her services.

Drucker’s Seventy Four bio does not mention her PEJ connection.

As previously noted, PEJ paid $2.37 million for “fiscal sponsorship and general support” at some point between 12-01-14 and 11-30-15. According to this application for recognition of exemption, The Seventy Four began January 12, 2015, as Loudspeaker Media.

The organization’s purpose and proposed activities are described as follows:


Loudspeaker Media Inc. (the “Loudspeaker”) seeks to produce and distribute journalism about America’s education system in order to improve education in America. Loudspeaker’s journalism will focus on the challenges and opportunities faced by the nearly 100,000 public schools in our country and the experiences of the millions of American children that attend public schools. Loudspeaker will closely examine major policy issues in K-12 education in our country by producing and distributing local and national stories about education policies and the roles of key stakeholders in America’s education system. Through the production and distribution of journalism focusing on America’s education system, Loudspeaker seeks to raise awareness about the state of education in America and to foster community engagement so that citizens can effect positive changes in America’s education system. A


Loudspeaker will pursue its exempt purposes through the production and distribution of news and opinion content through its website located at (“Website”). The Website will be a platform for all content developed by Loudspeaker’s staff writers and editorial contributors. News and opinion content featured on the Website will focus on local and national issues relating to America’s education system. The Website’s news content will adhere to the highest standards of journalism. The Website’s opinion content will represent different opinions in the field of education.

The Website will include interactive features which allow readers to post comments on articles and submit “letters to the editor” in an effort to encourage dialogue about education issues and allow readers to share their personal experiences with America’s schools.

In addition to the Website, Loudspeaker will actively distribute its content through social media technologies, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.

Loudspeaker will periodically host live events (such as forums and panels) for opinion leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders in the field of education to discuss education policies and the effects of education policies on American families.

Loudspeaker will pursue relationships with other media organizations for the development, distribution, and sharing of Loudspeaker’s content and content created by others that relates to Loudspeaker’s exempt purposes.

An informed understanding of America’s education system is essential to improving education in America. Loudspeaker’s activities will further its exempt purposes by providing information that raises citizens’ awareness about America’s education system and empowers communities to engage America’s education system in order to effect positive changes.


Loudspeaker will fund its activities with the financial assistance of private donors, foundation grants, and the public.

The projected funding of Loudspeaker Media was set at $3.8 million from 01-12-15 to 12-31-15; $4.1 million from 01-01-16 to 12-31-16, and a projected $4.5 million from 01-01-17 to 12-31-17.

From the outset, Brown planned on using PEJ to establish Loudspeaker Media:

Campbell Brown, who is the corporation’s President and also a director, is the founder and a director of Partnership for Educational Justice, Inc., non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization (“PEJ”). PEJ will act as the corporation’s “fiscal sponsor” until the corporation’s exempt-status is approved. The “fiscal sponsor” relationship between PEJ and the corporation will be pursuant to a written agreement duly approved by each organization’s board of directors.

Loudspeaker Media, which was incorporated in Delaware on January 12, 2015, became The 74 Media (The Seventy Four) on May 14, 2015.

According to its registration for charitable organizations, Loudspeaker Media applied for tax exempt status on February 11, 2015 (before it was renamed The 74 Media), and began soliciting contributions on March 27, 2015 (again, before it was renamed The 74 Media).

The 74 Media does not yet have its first tax form available. However, based upon its projected $3.8 million in revenue for its first year and its receipt of $2.4 million from PEJ, it seems that for 2015, The Seventy Four’s principal funder was likely Brown’s blatantly anti-union PEJ.

This brings us back to the issue of The Seventy Four’s trying to promote itself as a credible news source.

Such credibility begins with honest and clear acknowledgment of the organization’s history– which includes details of its financial history and relationships to Campbell Brown’s controversial nonprofit, PEJ.

That detailed organizational history should also include candid examination about how the public is supposed to trust The Seventy Four’s reporting given its history, the corporate reform bent of its board of directors, funders like Betsy DeVos, and of its co-founder, Campbell Brown.

It is not enough for Brown to simply recuse herself from writing about DeVos and Moskowitz, and it is not enough for Drucker to try to excuse DeVos funding by saying it will end soon, anyway.

The bottom line: If The Seventy Four wishes to discard the label of “advocacy journalism,” it needs to seriously consider who funds it and who leads it.

It’s a tall order.

However, that detailed history link would be a good start.

campbell-brown-7  Campbell Brown


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Donald Trump, Rebekah Mercer, Betsy DeVos, Milton Friedman, and the Education Business

President-elect Donald Trump’s plan for US education:

School choice.

The voucher.

The charter school.

Forced competition for the neighborhood school.

However, Trump does not have an established history for supporting charters and vouchers. He is new to this bandwagon. Nevertheless, as of August 17, 2016, Trump began clearly supporting school choice.

The timing appears to be tied with the involvement of hedge fund heiress Rebekah Mercer as part of his campaign.

Let’s start with Mercer.

As the September 15, 2016, Daily Beast observes:

Trump’s brand spanking new focus on charter schools coincides with the growing clout of the Mercer family in his presidential campaign. On Aug. 17, The Hill reported that billionaire family—who had previously supported Ted Cruz—was behind major staffing shifts that Trump made. Politico and The Washington Post have also explored the Mercers’ substantial influence on him.

Rebekah Mercer, who runs the family’s charitable foundation and homeschools her four children, is known as a strong supporter of school-choice policies. Her foundation is a generous supporter of the Moving Picture Institute, which has made movies that support the school-choice movement. Their foundation also gave almost $1 million to the Barry Goldwater Institute from 2011 to 2014. That organization is known nationwide for its role in supporting Arizona’s school-choice policy overhauls. Mercer is also a board member of a conservative think tank called the Manhattan Institute, which has drawn ire from national teachers unions for its support of charter schools.

And as the November 21, 2016, Politico reports:

Rebekah Mercer, a 42-year-old who homeschools her young children, rarely visits Trump Tower and has a relatively narrow official portfolio in Trump’s transition effort. Her influence comes instead from her close relationships with the people and groups carrying out the day-to-day work of building Trump’s administration and political apparatus, some of whom have been the beneficiaries of millions of dollars of funding from her family.

Mercer’s influence in Trump’s transition effort — detailed here for the first time — calls into question Trump’s campaign trail boasts that his own fortune, which he used to partly fund his campaign, would make him independent from deep-pocketed donors and special interests he railed against on the campaign trail. …

“It would be difficult to overstate Rebekah’s influence in Trump world right now,” said one GOP fundraiser who has worked with Mercer and people in the campaign. “She is a force of nature. She is aggressive, and she makes her point known.” …

Beyond Mercer’s own direct line to Trump, she played a pivotal role in persuading him to bring into his inner-most circle several close allies whose efforts her family has financed to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, including incoming White House senior counselor Steve Bannon and top campaign officials Kellyanne Conway and David Bossie. …

She has grown it in such a way that it distinguished the Mercers as major players on the right even before they became Trump’s biggest and most influential donors.

Most people contacted for this story refused to discuss Rebekah Mercer for attribution, pointing out that she is intensely private and has scolded people for calling attention to her — even to praise her. Additionally, Mercer is known within the conservative movement for harboring grievances against people with whom she disagrees on tactics or ideology, or who merely rub her the wrong way. …

Noting a campaign profile that said Mercer “exemplifies a new breed of activist donors,” [an FEC] complaint [on which the FEC has yet to publicly act] asserted that the Mercer family’s super PAC was “inextricably intertwined with the Trump campaign.”

Now, let’s go from Mercer to DeVos.

In choosing Michigan billionaire and “activist donor” Betsy DeVos as US secretary of education, Trump has nominated a woman who, like fellow “activist donor” Rebekah Mercer, is extremely rich and uses her money to push school choice. The two are part of a growing group of millionaires and billionaires who form a notable part of the Trump inner circle— and who will undoubtedly drive America in the direction of benefiting the well being and whims of the ultra wealthy. As November 29, 2016, Vanity Fair notes:

As he assembles his Cabinet, Donald Trump appears to be soliciting the consoling proximity of not millionaires, of course, but fellow billionaires. As with Trump himself, the net worth of many of his top advisers and nominees for Cabinet positions is difficult to pin down precisely, but there is no question that many of them are among the wealthiest of the wealthy. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s announced pick for secretary of education, for instance, is the daughter-in-law of the co-founder of the privately held Amway Corporation, the multi-level marketing company. (Forbes has pegged the DeVos family’s wealth at $5.1 billion.)…

…The larger point that Trump has surrounded himself largely with the wealthy remains valid. And that’s without mentioning his three children, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Anthony Scaramucci, the hedge-fund manager, billionaire Rebekah Mercer, and billionaire Peter Thiel, all of whom are on Trump’s transition team. …

…The problem is that working-class Americans stand to lose a lot when billionaires are put in charge of the nation’s executive branch. Running a country is not like running a business.

And yet, via billionaire ed sec Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump will push to run American education “like a business.”

Time for some Friedman.

Trying to force American education into a capitalist mold fits well with the idea of school choice. Indeed, the father of vouchers, Milton Friedman, was an economist. In my book, School Choice: The End of Public Education?, I examine Friedman in chapter four. In short, here is some of what I learned about Friedman in writing my book:

  1. Friedman published his famous 1955 essay promoting vouchers, The Role of Government in Education, at the same time that several Southern states were using vouchers to preserve and reinforce racial segregation.
  2. His ideas about voucher usage beg for a bloated government bureaucracy that feeds both for-profit and nonprofit education entities.
  3. He did not address the possibility that the for-profits, nonprofits, or even the government might serve themselves at the expense of defrauding parents and students.
  4. He assumed that parents could add their own money to subsidize a basic voucher amount, but he did not address the fact that such subsidy could separate students into tiered levels of “haves” and “have nots.” In other words, educational inequity is an unaddressed byproduct of Friedman’s 1955 voucher conception.
  5. Friedman assumed that the government would adequately finance some “minimal level of education” via vouchers. (In other words, he did not address the possibility that the voucher amount would be insufficient might therefore appeal to only more fiscally able families.)
  6. He assumed that parents would want to take part in a voucher program.
  7. He believed in the “efficiency” of “competitive private enterprise” in education “as in other fields.”
  8. He viewed compulsory education as hindering choice In other words, he viewed “private enterprise” education as superior to “a government administered system” of schools.
  9. Friedman presumed that via private enterprise schooling, not all students would be educated, or that private enterprise would be held to the obligation to educate all children. (In other words, the schools would not be bound to educate all.)
  10. In his 1970 article in the New York Times, entitled, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” Friedman discounted any employee behavior that does not garner profits. Whereas he acknowledged that some entities, such as schools, are not profit-driven, he did not account for the fact that for-profit (and even nonprofit) schools could/ would indeed be profit-driven; that they could view students as either profit increasers or profit decreasers, and that social responsibility could (and would) be pushed aside at some “choice” schools for the sake of making money.

Milton Friedman was an economist, and his view of education cannot be extracted from his view of the superiority of the free market and of “effective competition.”

Preserving and promoting the neighborhood school was not Friedman’s goal.

It is not President-elect Donald Trump’s goal.

It is not Trump mega-funder, Rebekah Mercer’s goal.

It is not billionaire school choice purchaser Betsy DeVos’ goal.

And so, the fight for the neighborhood school continues.

We simply have no choice.

donald-trump-3  Donald Trump

rebekah-mercer  Rebekah Mercer

betsy-devos-3  Betsy DeVos

milton-friedman  Milton Friedman


school caution sign


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Trump First Offered Jerry Falwell, Jr., US Secretary of Ed Job

The Associated Press reported the following on November 26, 2016:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says President elect-Donald Trump offered him the job of education secretary, but that he turned it down for personal reasons.

Falwell tells The Associated Press that Trump offered him the job last week during a meeting in New York. He says Trump wanted a four- to six-year commitment, but that he couldn’t leave Liberty for more than two years.

Falwell added that he did not want to uproot his 16-year-old son.

In June 2016, Falwell and his wife met with Trump at Trump’s office in New York. Falwell tweeted a pic, which happened to include a framed Playboy cover in the background, as the Blaze reports:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., became the subject of some controversy Tuesday afternoon, when he tweeted a photo of him and his wife with Donald Trump.

The seemingly harmless photo, taken in Trump’s lavish New York office, garnered the attention of several Twitter users because, upon closer examination, there is a years-old framed Playboy magazine peeking around the shoulder of Falwell’s wife, Becki.

It is likely much of the criticism aimed at Falwell was about more than just the photo. Many have slammed the university president for his decision to back Trump, who is known for his brash — and often offensive — language, from his disparaging comments about women to his criticism of the Mexican-American judge presiding over the Trump University cases.

Regardless, it didn’t take long for observers to call attention to the cover.

The November 26, 2016, San Francisco Chronicle briefly examines the unsettling effects of a Trump candidacy and Falwell’s endorsement of Trump. However, the article does not mention Falwell’s declining Trump’s offer to make Falwell US secretary of education, which the Associated Press reported the same day.

According to the Associated Press, Falwell considers the person who did accept Trump’s ed sec offer, controversial Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, an “excellent choice.”

jerry-falwell-jr  Jerry Falwell, Jr.


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Why DFER’s Shavar Jeffries Must Support Ed Sec Betsy DeVos

On November 17, 2016, the corporate reform pseudo-Democratic organization, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) President Shavar Jeffries released a statement strongly discouraging any Democrat from accepting the position of US secretary of education under President-elect Donald Trump, purportedly because ed reform is a progressive idea and Trump is not progressive, as Jeffries notes in the following DFER-posted excerpt:

“The policies and rhetoric of President-elect Trump run contrary to the most fundamental values of what it means to be a progressive committed to educating our kids and strengthening our families and communities. He proposes to eliminate accountability standards, cut Title I funding, and to gut support for vital social services that maximize our students’ ability to reach their potential. And, most pernicious, Trump gives both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our children, causing incalculable harm not only to their sense of self, but also to their sense of belonging as accepted members of school communities and neighborhoods.

“For these reasons, no Democrat should accept appointment as Secretary of Education, unless and until President-elect Trump disavows his prior statements and commits to educating the whole child and supporting the communities and families they depend on.”

On November 23, 2016, Trump selected Michigan billionaire and Republican charter and voucher pusher, Betsy DeVos, as his nominee for ed secretary. That same day, DFER’s Jeffries released the following statement congratulating DeVos on her nomination:

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

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

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

Note that Trump has disavowed no previous statements (Jeffries’ condition for no Democrat accepting an ed sec nomination). Still, it seems that Jeffries believed congratulations were in order for Republican DeVos.

Interestingly, Jeffries makes no mention of Trump’s push for vouchers and DeVos’ decidedly pro-voucher bent. On the contrary, he “applauds” DeVos commitment to charter schools.

In reporting on Jeffries’ statement on the DeVos appointment, education historian Diane Ravitch offers the following observations:

Note that the DFER statement does not mention vouchers, which is DeVos’ most cherished goal, nor does it acknowledge that DeVos paid out $1.5 million to Michigan legislators to block ANY oversight of charter schools. Nor does it refer to Michigan’s for-profit charters, which are 80% of all charters in the state. Nor does it make any mention of public schools, which enroll 94% of all public school children (excluding those in religious and independent schools, which are about 10% of the total).

The reformers are in a pickle. They can’t claim fealty to Trump, because they pretend to be Democrats. But Trump has embraced the reformer agenda, lock, stock and barrel. This statement is one way of handling their dilemma: embrace DeVos–a figure who finances the far-right and wants completely unregulated, unaccountable choice, and simultaneously chide Trump for his hateful rhetoric. Pretend to be Democrats while saluting her. Search for any gift she ever made to a real civil rights group to offset the tens of millions the DeVos has invested in rightwing groups that are hostile to equity.

So, let’s get down to it. Why would Jeffries acknowledge the DeVos appointment at all?

Well, because DFER already has a relationship with both a DeVos’ nonprofit as well as a DeVos-chaired nonprofit– a financial relationship.

Big surprise.

First, a smidge of DFER background is in order:

“Democrats for Education Reform” is not the name of any registered nonprofit. DFER is a political committee that stemmed from a nonprofit originally named Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee, which dissolved in 2007, with its assets going to the 501c3 nonprofit, Education Reform Now (ERN) and the political committee, DFER. Also in 2007, ERN (the 501c3 behind DFER) added a lobbying nonprofit (a 501c4), named Education Reform Now (ERN) Advocacy. (This history is captured in these nonprofit tax forms: ern-ad-comm-2006-990 and ern-ad-2007-990).

Moreover, regarding the fact that ERN is the nonprofit behind DFER, one can see on ERN’s 2014 990 tax form, ern-2014-990. Jeffries is identified as the organization’s president. Too, ERN, ERN Advocacy, and DFER all share the same address: 325 Gold Street, Brooklyn.

Thus, DFER is ERN/ ERN Advocacy.

Let’s bring Trump ed sec DeVos into this mix:

DeVos’ American Federation for Children (AFC) is also a lobbying nonprofit (501c4), just like ERN Advocacy. According to AFC’s 2010 990 tax form, afc-2010-990, AFC was formerly known as Advocates for School Choice (perhaps that name was a bit too progressive-sounding).

If one considers the mission statements of the two organizations, ERN and ERN Advocacy dance around the supposedly “progressive” idea of choice even as AFC gets right to it:

ERN mission statement from its 2014 tax form (linked above):


Next, the mission of ERN Advocacy (see its 2014 tax form: ern-ad-2014-990):


And, finally, AFC’s mission (from tax form linked below) is much more openly “choicy”:


However, lest one think that AFC and ERN Advocacy are peas of opposing pods, consider the ERN Advocacy “program accomplishments” noted on its 2014 tax form:




Thus, ERN Advocacy’s (and, by extension, ERN’s and DFER’s) usage of the term “ed reform” incorporates “school choice.”

AFC wants school choice. ERN wants school choice.

As for the money: DeVos is a DFER patron, so to speak:

In 2010, AFC gave ERN Advocacy $40,000 for “community organizing,” and in 2014, AFC gave ERN Advocacy another $40,000, this time for “educational choice support in AZ and WI.” (See AFC’s 2010 and 2014 tax forms: afc-2010-990 and afc-2014-990).

But there’s more.

DeVos also chairs the nonprofit, Alliance for School Choice (ASC). In 2010, ASC gave ERN Advocacy $10,000 for “general support,” and in 2014, ASC granted ERN Advocacy $55,000 for “general support for efforts in WI and AZ.” (See ASC’s 2010 and 2014 tax forms here: asc-2010-990 and asc-2014-990.)

Democrat Jeffries cannot come down hard on Republican DeVos, even if Trump is rude and crude and both she and Trump plan to lure states into their Race for the Voucher vision.

Well-connected Right-winger DeVos is a “progressive” funding source, which really means only one thing:

When it comes to school choice, there really is no “progressive.” DeVos as a DFER funding source mocks any attempt at such distinction.

shavar-jeffries  Shavar Jeffries


betsy-devos-3  Betsy DeVos


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

On Thanksgiving 2016, Let’s Enjoy Some Music.

On this Thanksgiving, I would like to share some of my favorite music with my readers. When I was a preteen, I used to enjoy listening to records, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with a friend around the corner, Jerry Ducote. We would listen, talk, and eat cookie dough. (It never occurred to me to eat cookie dough until Jerry introduced the idea to me one day while listening to records.)

So many years later, I forego the cookie dough and listen via Youtube on my laptop.

One of my all-time favorite recordings is the Lennon Sisters signing the 1965 Toys hit, “Lover’s Concerto.”

Their voices blend so well that I understand why Lawrence Welk was immediately interested in them when his son brought the sisters home to sing for his father.

Of course, I had to listen again while writing this post.

The next song is french conductor Paul Mauriat’s 1968 instrumental remake of Andre Popp’s “Love Is Blue”:

Another favorite instrumental is bandleader Percy Faith’s 1960 hit, “Theme from a Summer Place”:

These instrumentals remind me of my Aunt Louise’s house, which she and my Uncle Gus built in 1977 in Kenner, Louisiana, and which had a central stereo system. (Cutting edge technology: The house also had central vacuuming.) My aunt would often play easy listening during the day while working or reading.

I think one of the best voices of all time belonged to the British singer, Dusty Springfield. Of all of her songs, her 1966 English remake of an Italian love song, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” is my favorite, both for the song and for how the song showcases Springfield’s vocal talent:

I own the complete collection of Springfield’s recordings; the liner notes describe how tired she was at having to do so many takes of the song when she recorded it.

One more.

Let’s end where we began, so to speak, with “Lover’s Concerto”– this time with the original 1965 hit by New York female trio, the Toys:

And there I shall leave it.

A Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers.


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
–G.K. Chesterton

Trump Ed-Sec Pick Betsy DeVos: Poised to Promote Vouchers above All Else

On November 23, 3016, President-elect Donald Trump announced his choice for US secretary of education: Michigan billionaire voucher advocate, Betsy DeVos.

Much has been written about Trump’s selection of DeVos, including information on her background– and the DeVos substantial funding of the Republican National Committee. As Jane Mayer of the November 23, 2016, New Yorker reports:

“My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

“People like us,” she added archly, “must surely be stopped.”

Mayer continues:

In the 2016 campaign, DeVos continued to spend heavily, but not in favor of Trump, who, she declared, “does not represent the Republican Party.” Evidently, she has changed her mind about that, and he has changed his about the merits of “the donor class.”

Emma Brown of the November 23, 2016, Washington Post has more on DeVos’ push for school vouchers, which is hand-in-glove with Trump’s declared-yet-sketchy intentions to use $20 billion to goad states into expanding school choice in a manner that could be the largest effort to nationalize portability of funding (given that such portability did not make it into the final version of Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA):

Betsy DeVos is hardly a household name, but the Michigan billionaire and conservative activist has quietly helped change the education landscape in many states, spending millions of dollars in a successful push to expand voucher programs that give families taxpayer dollars to pay for private and religious schools.

Now DeVos is poised to spread her preference for vouchers nationwide. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday named her as his nominee for education secretary, a pick that suggests he aims to follow through with campaign promises to expand the movement toward “school choice” — including vouchers and charter schools — in an effort to break up a public education system that he has called “a government-run monopoly.” …

Trump has proposed redirecting $20 billion in federal spending toward a grant program for states to expand vouchers and charter schools. He has also said that he wants to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to persuade states to devote another $110 billion toward vouchers — enough, he has said, for every child living in poverty to have a scholarship of $12,000 toward the school of his or her choice.

Kate Zernike of the New York Times adds information about DeVos’ influence over choice in Michigan– privileged influence that defiantly buys what does not work and faces no direct consequence for the destructive purchase:

Michigan is one of the nation’s biggest school choice laboratories, especially with charter schools. The Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids school districts have among the nation’s 10 largest shares of students in charters, and the state sends $1 billion in education funding to charters annually. Of those schools, 80 percent are run by for-profit organizations, a far higher share than anywhere else in the nation.

The DeVoses, the most prominent name in state Republican politics, have been the biggest financial and political backers of the effort.

But if Michigan is a center of school choice, it is also among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better. As the state embraced and then expanded charters over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average.

And a federal review in 2015 found “an unreasonably high” percentage of charter schools on the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools. The number of charter schools on that list had doubled since 2010, after the passage of a law a group financed by Ms. DeVos pushed to expand the schools. The group blocked a provision in that law that would have prevented failing schools from expanding or replicating.

So, now we have in Trump and DeVos a situation similar to that of Obama and Duncan in 2009: A plan to lure state governors and ed superintendents into accepting federal money in exchange for following some supposed top-down revolution.

For Obama and Duncan, it was Race to the Top, which pushed for common standards and dangled federal money to pay for the associated consortium assessments.

For Trump and DeVos, it will be vouchers/portability of funding.

In other words, vouchers will be the Trump-DeVos version of the Obama-Duncan Common Core and the accompanying PARCC/Smarter Balanced assessments.

ESSA has language in it to prevent the US secretary of education from prescribing certain educational standards and assessments in conjunction with Title I. Moreover, federal promotion of Common Core is specifically excluded by name in ESSA. However, ESSA has no specific language to prevent DeVos from pushing vouchers/portability of funding as the “preferred solution” to address turning around the bottom five percent of schools that all states will have.

Indeed, DeVos will have three ways in which to push school choice: 1) Outside of ESSA as part of Trump’s “Voucher to the Top” (for want of whatever name under which he will choose to package it); 2) As part of ESSA Title I and the manner in which she could pressure states regarding state plans for the “turning around” of the bottom five percent of schools in each state, and 3) as part of ESSA Title IV, Part C, “Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools.”

(Note that the federal government always refers to charter schools as “quality charter schools” in trade mark fashion. The term has nothing to do with actual quality, which seems to be right up DeVos’ alley given her history of actively promoting the expansion of charter schools deemed to be failing.)

One can reasonably expect that under Trump and DeVos, federal charter school funds will not receive proper oversight. Such will be in keeping with charter school funding under both G. W. Bush and Obama. (Ironically, when Trump introduced his choice block grant idea in September 2016, he did so in Ohio at a charter school that was failing by state standards.)

As for Trump’s stating his intention to fund his “Voucher to the Top” (my substitute name) using $20 billion: This amount appears to be linked to nothing definite. Some have speculated that Trump will raid ESSA Title I funding; however, it is not likely that Congress will just toss aside funding Title I and vote to instead send the money to fund a campaigned big idea that Trump could write on the surface of a cocktail napkin.

Title I funding is written into ESSA and is therefore part of the law.

The reality is that Trump’s “Voucher to the Top” financing would come from a source outside of ESSA. Moreover, Trump did not specify that the entire $20 billion would happen in a single year.

Whether Congress allots $20 billion to Trump’s signature voucher push remains to be seen– as does the manner in which donor class ed sec DeVos will likely promote Vouchers Above All Else.

betsy-devos  Betsy DeVos


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.