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:
- They challenge the status quo, offering a modified way to teach students.
- 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.