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One Day After DeVos Calls Jim Crow “Choice,” Trump Moves HBCU Assistance from USED to WH

March 1, 2017

During her January 17, 2017, Senate confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos said that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be left up to the states and then admit that the “confused” the fact that IDEA is a federal law.

I watched in disbelief at her publicly displayed ignorance of an education law that is part of Teacher Training 101.

Such a moment clearly illustrates that DeVos has lived her life in a Michigan-billionaire, Dutch Reformed Church bubble, effectively divorced from even basic knowledge of a public school system that she is now in charge of on a federal level.

Add to that her well-established ideological drive for school choice, particularly vouchers, but also charter school expansion. Moreover, since her position is ideologically driven, DeVos has both directly and indirectly financed school choice without being touched by the fact that both charter schools and vouchers are fraught with problems, including failing to consistently outperform the traditional public schools to which they are supposed to be superior.

When she flubbed IDEA, I didn’t think DeVos could do worse.

I take it back.

On Monday, February 27, 2017, DeVos issued a statement in which she attempted to spin the Jim Crow origins of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) into a “pioneer[ing] of school choice.”

On February 28, 2017, Greg Toppo of USA Today notes that DeVos’ combined ignorance and school-choice opportunism went over poorly:

Critics responded by pointing out that, at the time of their founding, HBCUs didn’t provide more choice for African-American students — they provided the only choice.

Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities called DeVos’ statement an “(E)mbarrassingly ahistorical alternative-fact-du-jour,” while Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law noted that HBCUS arose “not by choice” but because of Jim Crow-era racism. …

Slate called DeVos’ assertion “one of the more bonkers statements you will ever see a 21st century politician make, somehow twisting an attempt to bring up her pet issue of school choice into praise for the segregated higher education system of the Jim Crow South.”

In her remarks on Tuesday, DeVos tried to rectify the gaffe, noting that traditional schools “systemically failed to provide African Americans access to a quality education — or, sadly, more often to any education at all.”

She also tweeted that HBCUs were “born not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War.”

DeVos told the college leaders that she would work closely with the schools “to help identify evolving needs, increase capacity, and attract research dollars,” among other measures.

However, it seems that DeVos’ will be relieved of “working closely” with them; according to Toppo, on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, Trump removed HBCUs from DeVos’ USED jurisdiction:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday moved to create closer ties with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), issuing an executive order that moves assistance to the 100 schools from the U.S. Education Department to The White House.

But don’t believe that Trump has actually begun listening to HBCU leaders. Continuing from Toppo’s USA Today article:

Dillard University President Walter M. Kimbrough said Monday’s last-minute plan for the Oval Office visit included “very little listening to HBCU presidents.” Kimbrough said he and his colleagues were granted just two minutes apiece to speak, “and that was cut to one minute.” In the end, he wrote, just seven of a planned 15 or so speakers got an opportunity to speak.

If Trump really wants to smooth over DeVos’ Jim Crow blunder, he needs to give HBCU leaders time to talk. Otherwise, his efforts appear to be little more than a photo op that was botched by his profoundly unqualified US secretary of education.

(Addendum: I wonder if the “last minute” Trump photo op might have been an impromptu means of quickly ending DeVos’ botched encounter with the HBCU leaders. Perhaps it was also only a Trump-desired photo op. Food for thought.)

betsy-devos-18  Betsy DeVos

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Want to read more 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?.

both books

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

13 Comments
  1. Martin X permalink

    I’m no fan of DeVos, but I think her comments regarding HBCUs have been misconstrued. What I think she was trying to say is that they arose due to necessity, filling a need that was created by segregation. She envisions school choice will have the same effect.

    I also think that her comment regarding IDEA was that she wished it had been left up to the states, but it wasn’t.

    There is enough wrong with DeVos’ ideas that there’s no real need to interpret everything she says in the worst possible light. It comes across as just partisan bickering.

    • If she understood that IDEA is a federal law, she could have said as much by way of clarification. However, what she said was, “I must have confused it.”

      AS for her HBCU speech, that was eggshells out of the starting gate. If she possessed such insight before her speech, she would have given a speech that clarified it. Instead, she is left trying to clean up her poor choice of words after the fact. Her speech came across as an attempt to use whatever is offered as an opportunity to sell her pet project.

      • YES. I think many keep trying to see into her psyche and find a thoughtful interest in protecting all children when, in reality, like Trump her only interest is in promoting what SHE personally understands/wants.

  2. Toppo quoting The Betsy (has the same ring as The Edsel) “. . . systemically failed to provide African Americans access to a quality education — or, sadly, more often to any education at all.”

    Um, no, it wasn’t the schools that did that, it was the politicians who passed the public school “separate but not equal” laws and then didn’t provide the necessary resources. To blame the “failure to provide African Americans access” was a political failure not the doings of the schools and teachers themselves.

  3. Lisa B permalink

    Everything is a photo op for Trump…a C rated television actor wannabe.

    • Zorba permalink

      Yes. He still thinks the presidency is a huge (or maybe “yuuuuuge”) reality TV show.
      As well as a way for him to make a lot more money.

  4. The whole visit result was pure shameful on the part of the WH. To restrict them from speaking negated the reason for the visit, so it really did amount to nothing more than a photo.

  5. Erich Martel permalink

    Maybe to keep HBCU colleges alive as Trump/DeVos move to shut down USED and thereby make African-Am voters more “dependent” on Trump’s good will. ???

    • Zorba permalink

      I don’t think that Trump has thought that far ahead. Maybe some of his advisors and Republican Members of Congress, but not Trump himself.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. One Day After DeVos Calls Jim Crow “Choice,” Trump Moves HBCU Assistance from USED to WH – Telephone Engineers Warrington
  2. Mercedes Schneider: Why Did Trump Move HBCU Funding from US Ed to White House? | Diane Ravitch's blog

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