Skip to content

Betsy DeVos’ Mother Taught at a Public School That Is Now Closed

March 31, 2017

In her US Department of Education (USDOE) bio, US ed sec Betsy DeVos advertises that her mother was “a public school teacher”:

Secretary DeVos has been involved in education policy for nearly three decades as an advocate for children and a voice for parents. She is especially passionate about reforms that help underserved children gain access to a quality education.

DeVos’ interest in education was sparked at an early age by her mother, a public school teacher.

DeVos tries to use this sketchy history about her mother as “a public school teacher” to establish credibility as a supporter of traditional public education.

Of course, the fact that DeVos offers no additional details is at once suspicious. She does not offer info on the subject that her mother, Elsa Zwiep, taught. She does not include the number of years that Zwiep taught.

She does not even name the public school.

On March 31, 2017, I published a post in which I sought answers to the above issues.

The short of it is that Zwiep taught for a few years at Longfellow Elementary School in Holland, Michigan, after receiving her bachelors degree in sociology in late 1953 from Calvin College. Zwiep began teaching mid-year in 1953-54 and apparently concluded her public teaching stint within a few years, likely by the time DeVos was born in 1958.

It is difficult for DeVos to gain any credibility as a supporter of traditional public education by disclosing the details above. The public teaching experience belongs to her mother, not her. Zwiep’s experience in the public school classroom was relatively brief; DeVos did not grow up with a mother who was actively teaching public school. DeVos did not attend public school. Her mother did not earn a degree in teaching, and she did not embark on a career in the public school classroom.

And there is one more complication:

The school at which Elsa Zwiep taught, Longfellow Elementary School, closed at the end of the 2006 school year.

It was 100 years old.

From on March 07, 2006:

Longfellow Elementary School
Holland, Michigan
(formerly Maple Grove School)

100 Years and Gone!

The original school was built in 1906 and was given the name Maple Grove School.  It was located on 24th Avenue near Central Street.  In 1916, the Holland Public School Board decided that all the school buildings be named for an historical figure.  Maple Grove was renamed Longfellow Elementary School after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In the 1960’s an addition was built around the original structure.  In the 1990’s a gymnasium and other classrooms were added.  It later became a 4-5 Focus School.

There is a Longfellow Tree which displays photos of the staff as far back as 1906.  A centennial celebration had been planned.

The Holland Public School Board of Education has made the decision that this school will close as of the end of the 2006 school year due to budget constraints.

Longfellow Elementary was not the first Holland, Michigan, elementary school to close in the 2000s, and it was not the last. As the May 31, 2009, Holland (Michigan) Sentinel reports in the article, “End of School Year Brings End to Historic Holland Elementaries”:

Wednesday marks the end of an era for Holland Public Schools as the school year comes to a close.

After a century of schooling generations of Holland children, the dismissal bell rings for the last time at the venerable Van Raalte School. Built the year before Henry Ford’s Model T went into production in 1908, the grande dame of public education in Holland will close for good on Wednesday, along with three other elementary schools.

Schools built during the manufacturing boom years waxed and waned with the fortunes of the automotive industry. This is the last page in a slow chapter of contraction — the result of changes in funding and educational philosophy.

To get a sense of how much public education has changed in Holland in the last decade, consider this. At the end of the 2000-01 term, Holland Public Schools had nine schools serving elementary-age students: Harrington, Holland Heights, Jefferson, Lakeview, Lincoln, Longfellow, Maplewood, Van Raalte and Washington.

When the new school year starts next fall, only two of those nine — Holland Heights and Jefferson — will continue in that role….

…The demise of the traditional neighborhood school in Holland was the almost inevitable result of chronic budget pressures in a district that has lost more than a quarter of its enrollment to white flight, school choice and economic contraction. Ultimately, the school board had little choice. [Emphasis added.]

So you see, DeVos cannot possibly draw attention to Longfellow Elementary School in her US Dept. of Ed. bio. To do so would directly confront (and indict) her peddled philosophy that school choice is always good– and that school choice has no negative consequences.

DeVos never discusses a downside to charter and voucher expansion. But here we have school choice playing a role in killing the very elementary school at which her own mother taught.

Can’t include that in any bio. Too real.

Know what else is real?

There will be no Betsy DeVos photo-op at the elementary school at which her mother briefly taught.

There will be no parents attempting to block her entrance to Longfellow Elementary School.

School choice helped shut it down a decade ago.


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?.

both books

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

  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    A good conclusion to your narrative about DeVos and desire to create some public school connections from very thin evidence, but lots of hot air.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s