Betsy DeVos’ Response to Senator Patty Murray’s Question about Virtual Schools
I have been reading Michigan billionaire school choice champ and US ed sec nominee Betsy DeVos’ written responses to the 139 follow-up questions asked by Senate Health, Education, Labor and pensions (HELP) Committee member, Patty Murray.
On January 31, 2017, the Senate HELP Committee voted 12-11 to send the DeVos nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
Committee members asked DeVos to respond to more than 1,000 follow-up questions to her January 17, 2017, hearing.
At least a couple of the responses submitted in DeVos’ name have already been traced verbatim to other sources– without DeVos having credited such sources. Murray says she will examine DeVos’ responses beyond specifically for any additional, non-cited cut-and-paste prior to a full Senate vote.
Issues of plagiarism aside (for this post, at least), I would like to offer readers a telling DeVos response one of to Murray’s questions, this one about the poor performance of virtual schools (question 21).
Here is an excerpt from DeVos’ response:
I support great schools in all forms– public, private, magnet, home, religious and virtual. Unlike other public schools, charter schools can– and should– be closed when they fail to meet the obligations outlined in their charters. We need to bring traditional neighborhood schools up to the same high-level of accountability as public charter schools.
High quality virtual charter schools provide valuable options for families, particularly those who live in rural areas where brick-and mortar schools might not have the capacity to provide the range of courses or other educational experiences for students. Because of this, we must be careful not to brand an entire category of schools as failing students. For example, the following virtual academies have four-year cohort graduation rates at or above 90 percent:
- Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA): 90 percent
- Nevada Virtual Academy (NVVA): 100 percent
- Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA): 92 percent
- Oklahoma Virtual Academy (OKVA): 91 percent
- Texas Virtual Academy (TXVA): 96 percent
- Utah Virtual Academy (UTVA): 96 percent
- Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA): 96 percent
A few comments:
This is the first time I have read a response supposedly drafted by Betsy DeVos in which she included “public” schools among the list of “great schools” that she supports, and I am certainly hard-pressed to recall any such listing published prior to January 2017 in which DeVos listed public schools first– ahead of the private schools she so ardently champions.
Note also that DeVos appears to believe that public schools cannot be closed if they fail to meet certain “obligations.” True, public schools do not operate via charter, so they cannot fail to meet specifications in a chartering agreement. Nevertheless, public schools have been facing notable threat of closure ever since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was birthed as the bipartisan, test-and punish wonder in late 2001 and was officially signed into law in January 2002.
The idea that public schools need to be elevated to some charter school “high standard” is a gross generalization not grounded in reality, especially given the profound lack of charter school accountability in DeVos’ native Michigan.
Finally, DeVos promotes certain virtual charters as shining examples based upon some supposedly, amazingly high cohort graduation rates. DeVos links to no evidence to support these rates; so, I thought I would take a moment to investigate one: Nevada Virtual Academy, with its 100-percent cohort graduation rate.
I quickly came across this Nevada Virtual Academy board meeting document dated January 26, 2016.
The cohort graduation rate for 2015 was 63.53%. The state average was 70.77%.
Soo, even if that marvelous 100-percent NVVA-attributed cohort graduation rate occurred after 2015 (i.e., in 2016– DeVos does not specify), it would surely be an eyebrow-raiser, not only for its perfection but also for such perfection after NVVA’s established 2011-2015 grad rate lagging the state average.
There are other nuances to the NVVA grad rate which I will not detail here. I will only mention that fewer than half of those who finished at NVVA in 2015 attended NVVA for all four years of high school (35 out of 46 did so, or 76%, in 2015).
What is clear is that DeVos’ promotion of NVVA is hastily thrown together, undocumented, and therefore misleading.
Moreover, even as she argues against generalizing about virtual school performance, she offers the out-of-touch, blanket statement that charter “accountability” represents some standard to which those traditional public schools ought to be raised.
If Betsy DeVos is confirmed as US secretary of education, her office will definitely be amateur hour with an agenda.
By the way, DeVos has issued Tweet #25.
She did not sign it; so, she did not write it:
Believe those words if you will.