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An Interview With Yohuru Williams about Betsy DeVos

October 15, 2017

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.

6 Comments
  1. Jack Covey permalink

    Devos’ comments celebrating on-line learning / virtual charter schools bear scrutiny.

    In her speech Friday night (October 13, 2017), she again shamelessly shilled for those virtual schools and does so in almost every speech that she gives, (without ever revealing her own financial motives for doing so … READ ON).

    In contrast, even the most pro-charter folks — such as the gang over at Fordham and elsewhere — have been out there are condemning on-line, or virtual schools as scandals and failures that have severely tarnished the charter brand as a result of their being the subject of countless exposes in the media.

    They point out that the repeated public relations disasters associated with on-line schooling do far more harm than good when it comes to expanding *“brick and mortar”* charter schools. Calls are regularly put forth by charter advocates to expose, crack down on, and close these virtual schools.

    Here’s a taste of that bad PR for on-line charter schools from HBO’s John Oliver:
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    (15:24 – )

    (15:24 – )
    JOHN OLIVER: ” … because we haven’t even mentioned on-line charters yet. They serve 180,000 students, and even if they just get the average $7,000-per-student, that’s over a BILLION dollars in taxpayer money going to cyber charters annually. And some have an attendance system you would not f—ing believe.

    NEWS REPORT: “Sometimes kids aren’t counted *ABSENT* until they have failed to log on for five days in a row, and some are NEVER required to attend class, but the state still requires the schools to report attendance, so most just report *’100%’*, even though that’s not what’s really going on.”

    JOHN OLIVER: “That’s just crazy. You’re basically giving kids a box containing video games, pornography, and long division, and claiming:

    ” *’100% of them chose the right one.*’ ”

    “… one major study found that, compared to kids in traditional public schools, students in on-line charters lost the equivalent of 72 days of learning in Reading, and 180 days in Math during the course of a 180-day school year…

    “And *’180 – minus – 180 is’ *— as those kids might put it — *’3.’*

    “And charter advocates will tell you that even they are concerned about on-line schools … ”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    … and on it goes.

    However, Devos breaks with cyber charter critics within the corporate ed. reform tent, and when giving a speech, strangely always makes a point of sticking up for virtual schools, typically including a supportive anecdote celebrating virtual schooling. Such an anecdote has a specific child’s or a now-grown person’s name attached.

    Again, this is despite the fact that the overwhelming evidence that shows such a positive story is the rarest *man-bites-dog* exception to the rule. Studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of children who are receiving on-line education “in the quiet of his own home” (to quote Devos) or at some on-line school site are doing miserably. Indeed, results indicate that it’s as if those children had not attended a single day of school for the year (or more) that he or she has spent in such a school.

    Here’s Devos touting those schools, including another outlier anecdote, in her speech on Friday:

    (cue the heart-tugging violin score)
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    BETSY DEVOS:

    *“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.”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    Hmmm … what gives? What is motivating Devos to be *“in this fight”* to celebrate, defend and expand these manifestly failing virtual schools?

    (And now… *DUM-DUM-DUM *… *The Big Reveal*)

    Well, it turns out tha the DEVOS IS *“in this fight”* BECAUSE DEVOS AND HER HUSBAND INVEST HEAVILY AND OWN STOCK IN *K-12, Inc*, THE MOST PROMINENT (and notoriously corrupt) VIRTUAL CHARTER SCHOOL COMPANY.

    When questioned about this by writer at POLITICO, Devos’ spokeswoman declined to answer.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/08/education-betsy-devos-online-charter-schools-poor-results-243556

    (CAPITALS mine)
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    POLITICO:

    *“Expanding educational choices for families is a longtime passion for DeVos, a firm believer that parents know best. She and her husband INVESTED IN VIRTUAL POWERHOUSE *K12 Inc.* BEFORE SHE BECAME SECRETARY.*

    ” … *While the virtual charter schools are nonprofit, many have ties to for-profit companies that aggressively push the schools’ interests. Two virtual school management companies alone, *K12 Inc.* and *Connections Education*, have spent $1.8 million to lobby Pennsylvania lawmakers since 200, Ed Week reported last year.*

    *“K12 is the company DeVos and her husband have an ‘investment interest’ in, according to paperwork released in 2006 by her husband’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in Michigan. A DEVOS SPOKESWOMAN DID NOT RESPOND TO QUESTIONS about the size of the investment, which is NOT LISTED AS CURRENT IN HER FEDERAL DISCLOSURE FORMS.”*
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    In addition, some of Devos’ reasoning for promoting virtual charter schools stems for her acute contempt for secular traditional public schools (“brick and mortar” schools), particularly those in rural areas. In such a situation where a student opts to leave a traditional public school to attend a virtual school, the rural district (or whatever district) is compelled to pay for a student’s education at one of these schools, in order to honor that parent’s *“choice.”*

    The district, of course, loses that student as well as the money to educate him/her, while still being stuck with the massive fixed costs of operating a school. This, of course, has the domino effect of raising class size, firing teachers, cutting special classes/programs, abandoning a rich curriculum, etc. This, in turn, contributes to a downward death spiral, making that school less desirable for parents, who might then seek a different *“choice”* — be that a charter school, or a voucher-funded public school — for their child’s schooling.

    Furthermore, those in charge of rural districts further point out that, as a result of attending virtual schools, the education outcomes of those virtual students are disastrous and dreadful — again, it’s as if those virtual students never attended any schooling at all. Students returning to the *”brick and mortar”* school typically have to repeat an entire year, or years.

    In short, everybody EXCEPT the money-motivated operators of *K12, Inc.* and of other virtual school companies — i.e. the parents, the students, the community / taxpayers, etc. — are worse off, while those virtual charter school owner and operators are raking in huge salaries and profits. Of course, investors in these virtual charter school companies, such as Devos and her husband, are also making out like bandits.

    The virtual schools’ owners, operators, and the investors are those schools’ only beneficiaries, while everyone else — again, students, parents, the school community, taxpayers, etc. — gets screwed.

    Devos, of course, ignores all this, and argues that virtual schooling is just fine and dandy.

    In a letter to a senator during Devos’ confirmation hearing, she even claims that virtual schools are superior to traditional public schools, especially to the ones *“in rural areas”,* run by those backwater rube administrators, and staffed by backwater rube teachers.

    Without providing any evidence to make such an outrageous claim, Devos says that rural schools’ personnel and facilities lack *”the capacity to provide the range of courses or other educational experiences for students.”*

    On the contrary, Devos claims to Senator Murray, having a child *”sit in the quiet of his own home”* all day at a computer, of course, somehow does manage to provide all *”this the range of courses or other educational experiences for students”*:

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    POLITICO:

    *“It’s also a message that* (Devos) *reiterated during her confirmation process.*

    ” ‘High quality virtual charter schools provide valuable options to 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,’ *DeVos wrote to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).*

    *“Rural school leaders, however, have been among the most vocal critics of virtual charters, and they raise questions about the quality of their education.*

    *“Amanda Hetrick, superintendent of the Forest Area School District in Tionesta, Pennsylvania, said too often the kids are unsuccessful in virtual charters.**

    “ ‘Then they come back to us, and they’ve lost a year because they are a year behind. They haven’t done well. They haven’t passed,’ *she said.*

    *“Hetrick said her district recently paid for one student to attend his senior year at a virtual charter school three times.”*
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    This above information is something that a questioner at Devos Harvard appearance could have used when he or she got to the mic during the Q & A portion of the event.

    When Devos was asked by one male questioner if, since becoming Secretary of Ed, Devos has been personally profiting from her promotion (while Secretary) of “choice” options,(including virtual schools), Devos lied and denied doing so. She further dissembled by saying that she has been donating so much money to the cause of “choice’ over the years that her involvement in “choice” has led to a net financial loss for her and her family.

    For more detail on this — including the exact quotes from both the questioner and from Devos — and an embedded YouTube video of this exchange, go here:

    https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2017/10/01/video-betsy-devos-conversation-at-harvard/

    And as for anyone still buying into Devos’ certainty that cyber charters — the ones that she’s conveniently getting richer off of — have, compared to traditional public schools, a better *”capacity to provide the range of courses or other educational experiences for students”* …

    Well, I suggest to those people that they watch that John Oliver clip … one … more … time …

    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    (15:24 – )

    (15:24 – )
    JOHN OLIVER: ” … because we haven’t even mentioned on-line charters yet. They serve 180,000 students, and even if they just get the average $7,000-per-student, that’s over a BILLION dollars in taxpayer money going to cyber charters annually. And some have an attendance system you would not f—ing believe.

    NEWS REPORT: “Sometimes kids aren’t counted *ABSENT* until they have failed to log on for five days in a row, and some are NEVER required to attend class, but the state still requires the schools to report attendance, so most just report *’100%’*, even though that’s not really going on.”

    JOHN OLIVER: “That’s just crazy. You’re basically giving kids a box containing video games, pornography, and long division, and claiming:

    ” *’100% of them chose the right one.*’ ”

    “… one major study found that, compared to kids in traditional public schools, students in on-line charters lost the equivalent of 72 days of learning in Reading, and 180 days in Math during the course of a 180-day school year…

    “And *’180 – minus – 180 is’ *— as those kids might put it — *’3.’*

    “And charter advocates will tell you that even they are concerned about on-line schools … ”
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

    • YES. The truly pertinent point about those who loudly champion online learning is that the process makes some investors/educational-money manipulators RICH.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Certainly hoped that you were at the Conference. This Interview is a wonderful in its candor.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Thank You for My Birthday Present: NPE Conference Attendance! | deutsch29
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