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Betsy DeVos Comes Clean: A Fiction

One of US ed sec Betsy DeVos’ preferred phrases is “let me be clear.” She has used the phrase in numerous speeches/public responses (see here and here and here and here). However, I wonder what DeVos would say if she actually decided to be clear concerning her motivations in promoting two stock DeVosian ideas: 1) decision making *left to the states* and 2) hyperindividualism in school choice (i.e., that an education “system” is somehow a falsehood, an artifact of centuries past, or somehow in conflict with what is “best for each child”).

What if Betsy allowed America’s middle class behind the veil of her public words? How would such a speech read?

Below is my take on that very idea: Clear Betsy.

Without further adieu, let the dance between fiction and reality begin.

First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for coming because I appreciate yet another opportunity to campaign in a manner that ultimately promotes my favorite minority, the one to which I belong: America’s elite among elite, those possessing the top .1% in American net worth.

One way to understand my elitist motivations is to study the history and positions of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Of course, I would have preferred that ALEC be kept from public awareness, which it was for almost four decades. However, the unfortunate truth is that those without the interests of corporate America in mind destroyed that beautiful ALEC secrecy in 2012.

The ALEC end game is to supplant federal control over states with corporate control. We prefer to promote this idea as federalism, or state control. The reality is states are ripe for control, and that control might as well come from moneyed interests– the .1%– rather than the federal government.

The beauty in promoting “state control” is that those outside of the top .1% (or, let’s be generous, outside of the top 1%) hear the term “state control” and equate it with “local control.” Though I occasionally mention local control, I do not ultimately advocate for local control. You will not hear me give a speech in which I advocate replacing state control with local control. Local control is too close to you people, and, as such, corporate interests become more difficult to serve because it is the state legislators (and therefore, statehouses) that ALEC corporations control, not usually the local politicians.

Besides, we lose the ability to hide our ALEC intentions behind federal scapegoating if we do not center our pseudo-local arguments on state control, and the best way to fool the public is to divert attention from the corporate control we desire by actively campaigning for federal control over states as the ultimate problem.

On the food truck of state control, local control is the condiments.  I know about food trucks because I have seen them, and I have seen the condiments, as well.

As for my constant focus on the individual when it comes to school choice: Such a diversion is necessary in order to keep you people from forming and relying upon collectives.

Anyone outside of the .1% does not stand a chance against us individually; we can bulldoze such outsiders easily via our vast financial resources.

But when you people join together and pool your resources, well, that presents more of a problem. Not only do you begin to challenge us via your resources (one of which constitutes your very selves as a work force for our beloved corporations); your numbers draw attention to issues, attention that frankly slides the veil just a shade too far back from our self-serving motives.

That is why I hate unions. Now, it does not serve me to state so directly, so I instead prefer to appeal to the ideal of American individualism– an ideal, as I already mentioned, easily subdued.

As easy as leading one sheep away from the flock and into a dark wood in which one wolf awaits.

The single sheep who believes that one-on-one with a single wolf makes a fair match comes to a similar end as the single middle-class worker who believes his individuality equips him to effectively negotiate the terms of his employment with a single corporate magnate.

An individual worker who does not know his place can be replaced with little to no interference in production.

Though the sheep-wolf analogy breaks down if one considers that an entire flock of sheep poses no threat to a single wolf, a collective of middle class workers can pose a threat to corporate power– thus the need to fragment middle-class (and lower-class, for that matter) unity.

The same lack of individual power holds true of school choice. Break up the collective by first convincing parents that their individual voices drive school choice.

In reality, the so-called “empowered” parent has no power to make a school work for his or her child. However, convincing parents to Look Out for Number One, in turn, destabilizes the financial well-being of the community school (which I like to call outdated, just to push parents even further along the hyper-individualistic path), which, in turn, ideally leads to the freeing up of all of that public money to end up where it should be: under private sector control.

Once the money hits the private sector, it becomes easier to funnel upward, and as that money makes its sure way into the bank accounts of corporate America, the power of the .1% is strengthened regardless of the state of the American economy, with you people increasingly dependent upon us.

That is, if we can continue to successfully cripple that collective.

So, now you know the truth of it all. I think I can safely speak for ALEC in general when I say it is nothing personal, just the right of privilege.

If you were in my place, I’m sure you would understand.

Thank you; enjoy your food trucks, and God bless corporate America.

betsy devos 10  Betsy DeVos

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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 two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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

 

Not Two Months Into School Year, NJ Charter Sends “Special Announcement” About Immediately Dumping Students

School started for students at the M.E.T. Charter School in Newark, NJ, on August 29, 2017, which happened to be the day after the school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

On October 19, 2017, M.E.T.S. sent the parents of its 9th and 10th graders this “special message” that their so-called school-choice “empowerment” was being immediately overridden by the vague determination of M.E.T.S. to immediately send all 9th and 10th graders back to the Newark Public Schools.

Of course, this profound, “special announcement” jolt– delivered by an “interim lead administrator”– is being framed as responsible, caring, and smooth:

Newark 9th & 10th grade special announcement

                                                                                                                                        10/19/2017

Dear M.E.T.S. Parents and Guardians,

 Yesterday at our monthly Board of Trustees meeting, our board reviewed the current climate at our Newark campus, located at 909 Broad Street. After very careful consideration and with the best intentions of each of our students the decision was made by the board to work with Newark Public Schools to have our 9th and 10th grade students placed within the school district and discontinue our 9th and 10th grades here at our Broad Street location. Additionally, the decision was made to close the Newark location of M.E.T.S. Charter School at the conclusion of the 2017-18 school year.

This decision was an extremely difficult one, as the faculty and staff at M.E.T.S. cares deeply about each of our students and their success both in school and in the future beyond high school. The M.E.T.S. Newark campus cannot in good conscience say that it is currently equipped to provide the highest level of education to the number of students currently enrolled. High school is such a vital time in a young person’s life, and it would be a detriment to our students to not find a truly appropriate placement for them.

We have been working very closely with Newark Public Schools in order to help facilitate a smooth transition for each and every 9th and 10th grade student which would minimize any loss of instructional time and allow your child to get back to their studies as soon as possible. Next week we will be having an information session with representatives from Newark Public Schools where parents of our 9th and 10th grade students are invited to meet with an enrollment specialist to discuss the placement process and next steps. We want to ensure an easy transition to another educational environment for our students.  The first information session will take place on Monday from 5:30PM – 7:00PM.

Should you have any questions or concerns prior to the information session, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thank you,

Madelyn Dullea

Interim Lead Administrator

Many school choice advocates either ignore or excuse this nonsense.

Choice cheerleader US ed sec Betsy DeVos has yet to address it. She pushes choice in the name of parents knowing what’s best for their children, yet she never admits that there are no guarantees that ribbon cutting equals operational stability and competence or that parents cannot force the charter school that they chose to keep two grade levels of students even for a full school year.

She also has yet to thank a local public school for receiving students who find themselves all too often in an immediate charter school lurch.

This foolishness is good for nobody, least of all developing humans.

hanging by a thread

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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 two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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

K12 Hackers Exploiting School Data Systems

We live in an age in which much information is being gathered on individuals, including K12 students. Of course, information is power, and concentrating information in a single place (i.e., student cumulative files online for entire schools, districts, and even states), offers quite a temptation for both insiders and outsiders to gain access and exploit for personal gain.

Such appears to be the case in some K12 schools and districts, as the US Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid notes in this October 16, 2017, advisory:

Posted Date: October 16, 2017

Author: Tiina Rodrigue, Senior Advisor for Cybersecurity, Federal Student Aid

Subject: ALERT! – CyberAdvisory – New Type of Cyber Extortion/Threat

Summary
Schools have long been targets for cyber thieves and criminals.  We are writing to let you know of a new threat, where the criminals are seeking to extort money from school districts and other educational institutions on the threat of releasing sensitive data from student records.  In some cases, this has included threats of violence, shaming, or bullying the children unless payment is received.

These attacks are being actively investigated by the FBI, and it is important to note that none of the threats of violence have thus far been judged to be credible.  At least three states have been affected.

How to Protect Yourself
The attackers are likely targeting districts with weak data security, or well-known vulnerabilities that enable the attackers to gain access to sensitive data. This may be in the form of electronic attacks against school/district computers or applications, malicious software, or even through phishing attacks against staff or employees.

IT Staff at Schools / Districts are encouraged to protect your organizations by

  • conducting security audits to identify weaknesses and update/patch vulnerable systems;
  • ensuring proper audit logs are created and reviewed routinely for suspicious activity;
  • training staff and students on data security best practices and phishing/social engineering awareness; and
  • reviewing all sensitive data to verify that outside access is appropriately limited.

What to Do if This Happens to You 
If your organization is affected by this type of attack, it is important to contact local law enforcement immediately. It’s not mandatory, but if you are an affected K12 school, please contact us at privacyTA@ed.gov so that we can monitor the spread of this threat. Additionally, the PTAC website contains a wealth of information that may be helpful in responding to and recovering from cyber attacks.

While this new threat has thus far been directed only to K12, institutions of higher education should know that they are required to notify the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) of data breaches via email pursuant to the GLBA Act, and your Title IV participation and SAIG agreements.  Additional proactive tools for institutions of higher education are available at our Cybersecurity page on ifap.ed.gov.

On October 17, 2017, CNN published an article on the issue:

The U.S. Department of Education is now warning teachers, parents, and K-12 education staff of a cyberthreat targeting school districts across the country.

So far, at least three states have been targeted by the extortion attempt from hackers asking schools to give them money or the group will release stolen private records, according to the department. …

Bradshaw, the superintendent of schools in Columbia Falls, Montana said a hacking group broke into multiple school servers and stole personal information on students and possibly staff. He said after the threatening messages came, hackers asked for ransom.

In the Columbia Falls situation, law enforcement has concluded that the threats derive outside of the United States. Though law enforcement does not believe those issuing threats of violence have the capacity to act on those threats, law enforcement has apparently stopped short of confirming that the perpetrators have no personal information of k12 students and, possibly, staff– which means that it is possible for such personal information to be in the hands of hackers willing to use it to continue to threaten, torment and embarrass both individuals and institutions.

Of course, when someone sends a threatening message to a school, the administrators of that school must take the threat seriously. Even if a threat is empty, it still disrupts the school environment and promotes an atmosphere of fear.

And here is the zinger, from CNN:

According to Mary Kavaney, the chief operating officer of the Global Cyber Alliance, school environments often don’t have a lot of technology resources dedicated to security, but have some of the richest personal information on people, including social security numbers, birth dates, and, potentially, medical and financial information.

Kavaney’s observation certainly begs two outcomes: Federal and state governments should conscientiously trim the amount of data collected on students, and fewer millions should be spent on annual testing and more millions spent on upgrading school cyber security programs.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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 two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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

Two Creative Works from My Students

On Monday, my senior English students were assigned a creative writing exercise in which they were to write a brief children’s story about the importance of one’s choices, including how one’s choices affect not only the individual but also others.

Today, students formally presented their work to the class.

Below are two stories that I particularly enjoyed, reproduced here with the permission of the student writers. Rhyming was not a requirement of the assignment; however, both of the pieces below happen to rhyme.

storytelling 3

The first is by Kaya:

Choices

There once was a girl named Kim.
She moved to a city she had never been.
Today was her first day in the fourth grade.
She brought her favorite cake that her mom made.

All throughout the day, she hung out with her new friend Lake;
he loved the way her mom baked.
From then on, they hung out every day
All the way until May.

During June, Kim and Lake were up watching the moon.
In the kitchen, on the counter, Kim saw a ring that glistened.
When Lake was not looking, she slipped it in her pocket
until she got home and put it in her jewelry box next to a locket.

The next day, Lake called and asked if she had seen a ring.

Kim lied and said she had not seen such a thing.

Later that day, Lake came over;
he appeared as though he had a huge burden on his shoulders.

He explained that the ring was a sentimental piece
given to his mother from his dead niece.

His mother wept until she slept.
Her heart was broken over this missing token.

Seeing Lake and his family so distressed she finally confessed.

Lake was baffled.
He appeared as if his heart was raffled.

He took the ring and stormed out.

All Kim could do was pout.

She knew she just lost her friend
and she didn’t know how she would fend.

They never were friends again
And Kim was heartbroken
over what they could’ve been.

storytellling

This second piece comes compliments of Liz, who cautions that it is a tale for older children:

The Dark Place

The moon hung low across the sky,
In a quiet town does this story lie.
In a house, not big or small,
Was a boy named Tom who did not like rules at all.

His parents were kind, though they laid down the law;
Their constant nagging made rebellion his flaw.
“Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t stuff your face;
if you do, you’ll be dragged to the Dark Place.”

Of course, Tom knew it wasn’t real,
so he never took their words as a big deal.

So on this night, he felt a need;
He’d sneak out the house to see where the woods lead.
Slowly undoing the lock, the window opened quietly,
he couldn’t be caught.

Across the road, not making a sound,
Tom made his way through the small town.

He walked with pride; he’d down his best;
now he stood at the edge of the forest.

The night was empty,
not even a cricket was chirping,
but in the shadows, he saw a figure lurking.

“Come visit my world, where fun will never end.”

Tom was silent, for this was something strange indeed,
but after a moment had passed, he cast aside his parents’ heed.

“I’ll play with you,” he started to say, “but only if you promise
I’ll see the light of day.”

The figure smiled, it’s eyes were burning,
“But isn’t the night so much better than morning?
Just one game, how’s that for a deal?
If you win, you go home; if you lose, I get a meal.”

Sad to say that night Tom’s journey ended.
A deal’s a deal, and there’s no way to bend it.

Powerful work.

storytelling 4

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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 two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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

Thank You for My Birthday Present: NPE Conference Attendance!

On August 03, 2017, for my 50th birthday, I asked my readers to help me fund my trip to the Fourth Annual Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference, held in Oakland, California, on October 14 and 15, 2017.

The pleasant result of that campaign was that readers funded several hundred dollars above what was necessary for my conference expenses.

As I attended the conference this weekend, I was so thankful to those who gave me this conference as my birthday gift. It was wonderful refresher. I was able to stay in the Marriott Oakland City Center, the place of the conference, in my own room, and with no auxiliary responsibilities related to the conference, or beyond the conference, such as trying to coordinate meetings associated with writing my books, for example.

Time for a quieter year.

My only goal was to enjoy listening to, learning from, and interacting with other public education activists from around the nation. Yohuru Williams and I formed a casual alliance and attended sessions together (a pleasure); I was able to enjoy time with other friends, in both conference sessions and leisurely activities, including spending some post-conference time dining and chatting with education activist friends and even riding the San Francisco trolley while reminiscing about Rice-A-Roni (“The San Francisco Treat!”)

While at the conference, I also began writing posts on the event. I have at least three more to come, so stay tuned. However, for now, I just wanted to be sure to express my heartfelt gratitude for those who bore the cost as a gift of great kindness to me.

I had a blast.

Diane and me

with Diane Ravitch. My thanks to Linda McNeill for this pic.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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 two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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

An Interview With Yohuru Williams about Betsy DeVos

Yohuru Williams and I both attended the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Network for Public Education (NPE), held in Oakland, California.

Williams is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also a committed, passionate advocate for the preservation of American public education.

Yohuru Williams 2  Yohuru Williams

Williams gave a powerful keynote speech at NPE on October 14, 2017; once the audio is available, I plan to transcribe and post his speech. Until then, feel free to peruse Williams’ accompanying Power Point presentation.

I also asked Williams to participate in a brief written interview centered on US ed sec Betsy DeVos, whose extreme, right-wing agenda directly threatens sustainability of the traditional, community public school. Below is our complete exchange.

Schneider: What do you consider the major threat of the placement of B DeVos as US ed sec?

Williams: There are essentially two major problems with Betsy DeVos. The first is her overall lack of qualification for the position. The second is her open hostility to public schools. We have never had an Education Secretary in the history of the United States History who has exhibited such hostility toward public schools.

Schneider: What do you perceive to be DeVos’ “Achilles heel”?

Williams: Secretary DeVos’ Achilles heel might very well be her singular focus on school choice as the panacea for what she and other Education Reformers have problematically labeled as a “failing system of education” in America. Her arrogance may very well prove her undoing.

Schneider: Arrogance?

Williams: By arrogance I mean her deep sense of entitlement and privilege and her inability to see beyond her own experience.

Schneider: In your keynote, you pointed out DeVos’ selectively quoting John F. Kennedy (JFK). Please elaborate.

Williams: She chose to selectively quote from JFK at the Kennedy School perhaps to try and make the case that one of the most celebrated Democrats of the 20th Century widely regarded, even if problematically, for his role in advancing Civil Rights for African Americans, would have agreed with her on the role of government in Education. The problem is she failed to read the rest of the statement. In fact, most of what JFK said was a repudiation of the core values of school choice and privatization that DeVos seeks to advance. His words would have supported the young people protesting her speech more than her privatizing schemes.

**Note: Below is the content of Williams’ Power Point slide referencing the JFK speech above:

Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people.

Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Today, we need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to take arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as the basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.

The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.

–John F. Kennedy made this statement in 1950 as a young congressman from Massachusetts.

 

Schneider: DeVos delivers speeches in which she sounds like she is constantly campaigning for school choice. Realistically, what audience could she win?

Williams: This is a difficult question. In the short term I think she will win over those who are predisposed to accept the narrative about failing schools and the myth of school choice as the best solution. Once people are exposed to the truth however, I believe that there will be push back. The fear is that this will not come soon enough and the damage will be extensive and difficult to overcome.

Schneider: Is DeVos more of a Republican Party asset or liability? Will they pay for her in 2018?

Williams: Definitely a liability, however I am not sure how much more she can help or hurt the party based on the actions of the President. Public Education, unfortunately remains at the bottom of most people’s priority list in terms of issues, which is and of itself an issue.

Schneider: What is one chief benefit for public education of having Betsy DeVos as US ed sec?

Williams: I love what Diane Ravitch said today. Secretary DeVos has definitely focused attention on everything that is wrong with Corporate Education Reform and people may finally be taking note of the real danger that privatization poses to public education.

People are indeed taking note.

My thanks to Williams for his time and insights.

Calling all teachers and friends of public education:

Connect with like-minded individuals nationwide and be encouraged in the fight. Consider attending NPE’s next annual meeting (specifics TBA).

NPE

___________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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 two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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

Betsy DeVos’ WA Speech: More Food Analogies

On October 13, 2017, US ed sec Betsy DeVos spoke to the Washington Policy Center (WPC), a right-wing think tank that supports charters and vouchers and therefore strongly supports the likes of DeVos as “the nation’s leading proponent of school choice.”

DeVos delivered a speech that included many of what has become her stock speech components, including 1) pushing state-level reform without mentioning the role she and other moneyed individuals are playing in purchasing states, for example, by funding campaigns of legislators and ballot initiatives in line with their millionaire/billionaire preferences; 2) offering shallow, market analogies in which choosing a school is like purchasing food; 3) featuring an individual story in which choice worked while failing to address the incredible fraud and mismanagement that all too often accompanies sending public funds out of public scrutiny, and 4) selling the deceitful view that focus on funding the individual student with the goal of sending that funding away from traditional public education will not undo traditional public education and thereby damage the stability of collective society.

DeVos never addresses the whole story. And apparently, she is mostly running short on fresh ways to deliver her slant. Mostly.

DeVos has also taken to promoting a new, demeaning phrase: “sycophants of the system.” She uses it for the second time in this WPA speech.

Below is the text of her WPE speech. And, yes, she does include a food analogy, but she had the sense to avoid mentioning any certain type of food vendor. She also does not address the fact that restaurants can shape their clientele according to the menu they choose, the prices they set, and the dress code they require. And like many businesses, restaurants can reserve the right to refuse service.

Betsy also mentions being bored in school. (I wrote about her boredom here.) She never attended a traditional public school. Thus, she was bored with the choice her parents made, an admission that undermines her own school choice argument.

Enough from me. When she speaks, Betsy is bluefin tuna in a barrel.

Thank you, Ami, for that introduction and for what you do to advocate for our kids and their futures. And thank all of you for the work you do to improve the lives of Evergreen Staters.

You know, my job may be in a place that’s called Washington, but please know that I prefer to be in this Washington. In fact, I was delighted to welcome one of your own into my family just a few years ago. A young man from Mukilteo married my daughter and he is the proud dad of one of my sweet granddaughters.

From Mukilteo to Spokane, your advocacy, your analysis, your activism – what keeps you going day in and day out – helps to improve opportunities for families in your state.

State-based centers like yours are important in shaping policy because you have great ideas and you fight for them. Your fellow member in the State Policy Network, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, has advanced major initiatives in my home state of Michigan.

So it won’t surprise you that I’m no stranger to state-based advocacy; it was a primary focus for 30 years before I entered public service. I’ve been engaged on a whole range of issues, including many you work on here in Washington. But one visit to a school in urban Grand Rapids sharpened my policy focus – and changed my life.

After my husband Dick and I acknowledged our philanthropy could only directly help a limited number of kids, we jumped into the policy arena with the goal of empowering as many students and parents as possible.

Perhaps many of you have a similar story—a defining moment that led to your desire to advocate for reform here in your home state.

Together, you in this room have led the way in challenging politicians in Olympia and helped them craft innovative solutions to today’s problems: in healthcare, taxes, regulations, entitlements, and importantly, education.

States have both a mandate and a responsibility to be the laboratories of democracy our Founders intended.

And, the reason the Founders — and I suspect everyone in this room — believed in empowering states is because states are best equipped to solve the unique problems they face. They’re closest to the people.

You and I know there are different challenges in Washington than in Maryland or Texas.

You’re better able to understand your own circumstances than a central government in a distant capital.

States are also — at least theoretically — more nimble, more responsive and more likely to try a previously untested or unproven solution. One not yet dismissed by distant “experts.”

These are only a couple of the reasons why I believe in a limited federal government, and it’s why I believe in empowering parents.

Those closest to students are best equipped to serve them.

Parents know this. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise school choice reforms are gaining momentum nationwide — they are being driven by families and adopted by the states.

I followed your fight for charter schools here in Washington, and I remember hearing about Austin. His mother only wanted better for him because the school he was assigned to attend — based on his zipcode — did not meet his needs. She enrolled him at Excel Public Charter School in Kent and it immediately launched him on a new, hopeful trajectory.

“He’s gone from being an angry, frustrated boy to a wonderful, responsible young man,” Austin’s mother told a local radio station.

Austin himself appreciated the personalized attention he got at Excel.

“It’s just fun,” he said. “Whenever you’re doing something, even if it’s not supposed to fun, when you’re doing a test, when you’re doing all these subjects, it’s not boring. You never get bored!”

I remember being bored in school, and too many kids are bored today.

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

Austin, Sandeep and others like them—that’s why I’m in this fight. And, I imagine, that’s why you’re in this fight. There are still too many kids—way too many kids—who are trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs.

There are too many parents who are denied the fundamental right to decide the best way to educate their child.

And there are many inside — and outside – our current system who insist it is a government system that is best equipped to educate children.

In fact, not too long ago, the American Federation for Teachers tweeted at me.

The union wrote “Betsy DeVos says public should invest in individual students. NO we should invest in a system of great public schools for all kids.”

The union bosses made it clear: they care more about a system – one that was created in the 1800s – than they do about students. Their focus is on school buildings instead of school kids. Isn’t education supposed to be all about kids?

Education is an investment in individual students, and that’s why funding and focus should follow the student, not the other way around.

But the definitions we have traditionally used when describing public education have become tools that divide us.

Isn’t “the public” made up of students and parents? Isn’t “public money” really their money – the taxpayer’s money?

And doesn’t every school aim to serve the public good? Any school that prepares its students to lead successful lives is a benefit to all of us.

The definition of public education should be this: to educate the public. That’s why we should fight less about the word that comes before “school,” and fight for the students a school serves.

Think about food. Yes, food.

Like education, we all need food to grow and thrive. But we don’t all want or need the exact same thing at the exact same time. What tastes good to me may not taste good to you. What’s working for me right now might not work for me some years from now.

And so, we choose how to get the food that best meets our unique needs.

Now think about how you eat. You could visit a grocery store, or a convenience store, or Pike Place to buy food and cook at home. Or you could visit a restaurant of which there are many types—fine dining, fast food or something in between.

Near the Department of Education, there aren’t many restaurants. But you know what? Food trucks started lining the streets to provide options. Some are better than others; and some are even local restaurants that have added trucks to their businesses to better meet customer’s needs.

Now, if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business?

No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.

Just as in how you eat, education is not an “either, or” decision. Being for equal access and opportunity is not being against anything.

I’m not for or against one type or one brand of school choice. I’m not for any type of school over another.

Sycophants of the “system” would have you believe school choice means vouchers, right? And charter schools.

They say it means private schools, or maybe even religious schools. It means for-profit schools. They say it means taking money away from public schools — no accountability, no standards, the wild west, the market run amuck.

Well, I’ve got to give it to them; they’ve done a mighty fine job setting the scene for that house of horrors in the press.

They did so by trying to paint an indelible line, forcing a false dichotomy: if you support giving parents any option—any say—you must therefore be diametrically opposed to public schools, public school teachers and public school students.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth!

You see, choice is not just another wonky policy debate or a pedagogical theory or a statute written by politicians to be parsed out by lawyers.

The real meaning of choice is that it is every parent’s right to determine how to engage their children in their own life-long learning journey.

States are different, families are dynamic and children are unique.

What choice looks like for one family in here in Washington will be different from what a family in Oregon decides.

In fact, what choice looks like for one child may be different than what it looks like for his or her own sibling!

That’s why I wholeheartedly believe real choice cannot be accomplished through a one-size-fits-all federal government mandate!

That might sound counterintuitive to some, coming from the U.S. Secretary of Education, but after eight months in D.C. – and three decades working in states – I know if Congress tries to mandate “choice,” all we’ll end up with is a mountain of mediocrity, a surge of spending and a bloat of bureaucracy to go along with it.

But D.C. does have an important supporting role to play in the future of choice.

We can amplify the voices of those who only want better for their kids. We can assist states who are working to further empower parents, and we can urge those who haven’t to start.

Today, 26 states and the District of Columbia offer more than 50 different private school choice programs. And while there are similarities, no two are the same. Different states, different needs, different students, different solutions.

Choice is on the march, even in places many thought impossible. A recent statewide survey in California conducted by UC Berkley – yes, that’s right, Berkley – found a majority of Californians favor private school choice for low-income families. That majority blurred party lines, also. These Californians know better than many in D.C. – our children’s futures should not be a partisan issue.

And some of you may have read about the recent victory for families and school choice in Illinois. Yes, Illinois! If it can be done in Illinois, it can be done here.

Yet, there are too many politicians, celebrities, and other elites who say, “no”. What students and parents currently have is good enough. Then, those same politicians and celebrities turn around and write big checks to send their own children to prestigious private schools.

Choice for me, but not for thee.

Let’s end the hypocrisy and, quite frankly, the injustice.

Roll up your sleeves and continue to fight for change. Because it can happen here. Because Washington families want it to happen here.

Washington’s charter schools and its “Running Start” dual-enrollment program have benefited some students, but there many others who need more options and more opportunities.

Recently, I toured the heartland of our country to visit the teachers, parents and students who are shaping their own futures. We called it the “Rethink School Tour” because I wanted to highlight, and learn from innovative educators who are breaking free of the standard mold to better meet the needs of their students.

Traditional public schools, charter public schools, independent private schools, parochial schools, homeschools – even a high school at a zoo!

They were all different, all with unique approaches. But what they all had in common was a deliberate focus on serving their students — and students and parents chose them.

There was another common characteristic these very diverse schools shared: they all embraced doing right by their students without any politician’s “permission slip” to do so, or more importantly, without anyone in D.C. telling them “no.”

Many in D.C., over the course of many years, have claimed the mantle of “education expert.”

They’ve peddled a panacea for what ails America’s schools. But, the truth is, there isn’t a “cure all”.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Individual solutions will be found in states and local communities, led by families. It will be a whole menu of options.

Families already make choices with their children when it comes to their next steps for education after high school.

They compare options, and make an informed decision.

If you choose to go to Gonzaga, are you somehow against the Huskies or the Cougs? Well, you’re not — except when they’re on the basketball court.

If you decide to go to Seattle University, are you somehow against public universities?

No one seems to criticize those choices. No one thinks choice in higher education is wrong. So why is it wrong in elementary school, middle school, or high school?

Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education, the focus should be on the ends, not the means.

Adults should stop fighting over students, and start fighting for students.

Time and time again, studies have shown more options yield better results, for all students.

The Urban Institute recently looked at Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, one that provides low-income parents the opportunity to send their students to the school of their choice. Florida’s program was one of the first in the nation and today serves more than 100,000 students across the state.

While previous studies have shown increased achievement for scholarship recipients, this study also found a significantly increasedcollege attendance rate. Further, this study demonstrated the longer a student participated in the choice program, the better their long-term educational outcomes.

The data are encouraging, but I didn’t need another research paper to know the program works.

I’ve seen living proof. Some of you may have heard me or President Trump share Denisha’s story. But I think it’s best if she tells you herself.

Who can argue with Denisha’s story? Who can dare to look her in the eye and tell her she didn’t deserve a choice?

Denisha is living proof that choice works.

Every American student deserves the options she had. Every American student deserves to be excited about learning.

That’s what we are working towards each and every day. That’s why we’re committed to rethinking school.

We must challenge all schools to do better. Because even the best school in America needs to continue to improve.

Over the last two days, I’ve seen inspiring examples of schools working to do just that—unafraid to challenge the status quo and to try something different for their students.

Just yesterday, I visited a traditional middle school near San Jose, California, where they’ve implemented an individualized learning platform in their classrooms.

Students are able to learn and advance at their own pace. Those who need additional time on a particular subject get it. Those who are ready to move on, can.

Individualized learning recognizes that no student is the same, and that each child learns in their own way.

When we are focused on the needs of each child, success can then be measured by what they are learning and mastering, not by how long they sit at their desks.

I fully recognize that I—we—represent change. And, change can be scary—particularly for staunch defenders of the current system.

But, what has the current system yielded? Average results for America’s students when compared to their peers around the world.

Middle. Average. Those aren’t words with which I’m comfortable describing America. It’s not the future we should feel comfortable offering anyone.

That’s why we must not be distracted by those who are afraid of change.

We owe it to our children to be fearless.

We owe it to them to be undeterred by the loud voices who say education in America is “good enough” and by those who shout that we should “leave the system alone”.

We owe it to America’s students to rethink school because they deserve a better education and a chance at a better life.

America is too great a country to deny any parent any option and it is too great to deny any student an equal opportunity to pursue a great education.

Let’s continue to fight for students like Austin, and Sandeep and Denisha.

The rising generation represents 100 percent of our future; they deserve 100 percent of our effort.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless our future—America’s students.

betsy devos 6  Betsy DeVos

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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 two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

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