Tag Archives: Betsy DeVos

Don’t Confuse Her With Evidence….

Students at one of America’s historically Black colleges recently booed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who had (inexplicably) been invited to deliver the graduation speech. Many of the graduates also turned their backs when she spoke.

This behavior was rude–but it was understandable.

Like most of Trump’s Cabinet, DeVos is manifestly unfit for public office. She is an ideologue in the Pence tradition; a theocrat with a rigid and limited worldview who has demonstrated a lack of engagement with, let alone understanding of, the issues that face the department she’s been tapped to head.

DeVos has been a “Betsy One-Note,” focused on voucher programs that despite misleading rhetoric, actually replace public schools with religious ones. She insists that private schools do a better job, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. As the New York Times recently reported,

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education was a signal moment for the school choice movement. For the first time, the nation’s highest education official is someone fully committed to making school vouchers and other market-oriented policies the centerpiece of education reform.

But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.

Voucher advocacy has gradually become part of GOP ideology, and as Republicans have assumed power in the states, voucher programs have expanded–especially in Indiana. That expansion has allowed researchers to make comparisons that had been less reliable when there were fewer schools to compare, and the results of that research began to emerge in late 2015.

Here are some of those research findings–conclusions that would make an intellectually honest educator revisit her preconceptions:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

It is important to note that these results come from voucher proponents as well as voucher skeptics. As the Times article noted,

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

DeVos has been an outspoken opponent of even minimal efforts to regulate schools that accept vouchers, but it has become clear that such regulation is necessary and salutary:

The new voucher studies stand in marked contrast to research findings that well-regulated charter schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have a strong, positive impact on test scores. But while vouchers and charters are often grouped under the umbrella of “school choice,” the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to public authorities. The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.

If DeVos has seen these studies or addressed their findings, I haven’t seen it reported.

Betsy DeVos is certainly entitled to live in her own alternate universe. What she isn’t entitled to is a public position that allows her to inflict considerable damage on the rest of us.

If You Can’t Laugh…

Credit where credit is due: Trump and his sorry crew have been an absolute boon to satirists and other creative folks. (If you haven’t seen Melissa McCarthy channeling Sean Spicer on SNL, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. But it isn’t just SNL, Colbert, The Daily Show, et al–Andy Borowitz and other print comics have also been on a roll.)

Even Facebook friends have shared great one-liners. My current favorite is a comment about Trump’s cabinet picks: “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.”

Fundraisers and protests have also become more creative. There were the ubiquitous “pussy hats” of the women’s march, of course, but the snark extends to a recent fundraiser invitation I received.

The fundraiser will benefit the Tri-State Alliance, an LGBTQ/AIDs organization in southern Indiana. (I’ve known the Executive Director for many years, and I can attest that it is a wonderful organization.) The organization’s webpage describes its mission.

The Tri-State Alliance (TSA) is the primary social service and educational organization that serves the diverse gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities of Southwestern Indiana, Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois. TSA works to educate our own community through a monthly newsletter and guest speakers, engages the media on relevant LGBT issues, and trains other public/social service organizations through a speakers bureau and diversity education.

TSA coordinates the regional LGBT Youth Group, HIV prevention targeting the gay community, and Lesbian Health Project services. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight-supporting allies who volunteer for TSA continue to serve the region’s LGBT community and its changing needs.

The fundraising “hook” for this event is its invitation to “Buy Todd Young’s Vote”–a play on the obvious quid pro quo of Young’s expected vote for confirmation that Betsy DeVos’ “bought” with her donations to Young. As the very clever invitation puts it,

Betsy DeVos and her family have donated $72,900 to the campaign of United States Senator Todd Young.

Incidentally, despite all evidence to the contrary, Senator Young thinks that Betsy DeVos would be a great choice to lead the Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos has never set foot in a classroom, did not send her children to public school, cannot distinguish between proficiency and growth, and thinks that guns should be allowed in schools in the event of grizzly attacks. That fictitious grizzly is about as qualified as Ms. DeVos to run the Department of Education.

If Betsy DeVos can buy Senator Young’s vote, we should be allowed to do the same.

If, of course, Senator Young does not wish to accept any funds raised*, all money will be donated to the Tri-State Alliance Youth Group, an LGBTQ Youth Group based in Evansville Indiana.

*or if this tongue-in-cheek fundraising page somehow constitutes a bribe, despite being eerily identical to the actions of Ms. DeVos.

Of course, if Senator Young had any sense of propriety–or shame–he would recuse himself from a vote on DeVos, whose display of profound ignorance during her Senate hearing was both revealing and embarrassing.

Since a sudden eruption of  integrity from Senator Young seems unlikely, I think it would be fitting if the Tri-State Alliance raised an equal or greater amount for young LGBTQ Hoosiers.

You can send contributions here.

 

The Coming Assault on Education

I have noted previously that Trump’s choice for Education Secretary is Betsy DeVos, a dedicated proponent of school privatization. The depth of her commitment to vouchers is matched only by the shallowness of her educational experience and training (she’s never taught nor does she have a degree in education).

Politico looked into DeVos’ history and statements, and began a recent article as follows:

The billionaire philanthropist whom Donald Trump has tapped to lead the Education Department once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom.”

Trump’s pick, Betsy DeVos, a national leader of the school choice movement, has pursued that work in large part by spending millions to promote the use of taxpayer dollars on private and religious schools.

In an audio recording obtained by POLITICO, DeVos and her husband (an Amway billionaire) explained that their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform American education. They believe that school choice leads to “greater Kingdom gain”  and that public schools have “displaced” the Church as the center of communities. They’re convinced that school choice can reverse that trend.

Hoosier readers who see the fundamentalist hand of Mike Pence in the choice of DeVos can find confirmation of those suspicions in a Mother Jones article about Pence’s voucher program.

Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools. Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.

In Indiana, Pence created one of the largest publicly funded voucher programs in the country. Initially launched in 2011 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, it was sold as a way to give poor, minority children trapped in bad public schools a way out.

Daniels program was relatively small, and focused on low-income families. Pence dramatically increased and redirected it.

By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students using state-funded vouchers had shot up to more than 32,000 in 316 private schools. But Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church-and-state issues. Almost every single one of these voucher schools is religious. The state Department of Education can’t tell parents which or even whether any of the voucher schools are secular. (A state spokeswoman told me Indiana doesn’t collect data on the school’s religious affiliation.) Out of the list of more than 300 schools, I could find only four that weren’t overtly religious and, of those, one was solely for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, and the other is an alternative school for at-risk students….

Indiana’s choice law prohibits the state from regulating the curriculum of schools getting vouchers, so millions of dollars of the state education budget are subsidizing schools whose curricula teaches creationism and the stories and parables in the Bible as literal truth. Among the more popular textbooks are some from Bob Jones University that are known for teaching that humans and dinosaurs existed on the Earth at the same time and that dragons were real. BJU textbooks have also promoted a positive view of the KKK, writing in one book, “the Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross to target bootleggers, wife beaters and immoral movies.”

Not surprisingly, Indiana children in these voucher schools perform poorly on standardized tests.

The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.

So Indiana taxpayers are subsidizing religious indoctrination with monies that should be supporting the state’s under-resourced public schools. And that’s the model that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos want to replicate nationwide.

Another Disastrous Appointment

If Americans agree about anything, it’s probably about the importance of education. Although there is substantial disagreement on what a “good” education looks like (guiding intellectual enlightenment ? teaching marketplace skills?), it is widely assumed that better education is an important part of any solution to our social ills, especially poverty.

There can be no equality of opportunity so long as disadvantaged children are trapped in substandard schools, especially under-resourced urban schools in majority-minority districts. Education reform efforts are recognition of that reality.

Despite the number of such reform efforts over the past several years, no one has yet developed a magic formula that consistently turns underperforming schools into academic success stories. We do, however, have a lot of experience with reform efforts that haven’t worked—several of which have made things worse.

Which brings me to President-elect Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary.

Douglas Harris, an economics professor at Tulane, has been a proponent of charter schools and a researcher of school reform. Friday, he published a scathing column in the New York Times, titled “Betsy DeVos and the Wrong Way to Fix Schools.”

The choice of Ms. DeVos might not seem surprising. Mr. Trump has, after all, proposed $20 billion to finance “school choice” initiatives and Ms. DeVos supports these ideas. Yet of all the candidates the transition team was apparently considering, Ms. DeVos has easily the worst record.

As one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system, she is partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country….

Detroit is not only the lowest in this group of lowest-performing districts on the math and reading scores, it is the lowest by far…. The situation is so bad that national philanthropists interested in school reform refuse to work in Detroit….Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.

In contrast, Harris points to New Orleans. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the city replaced most of its schools with charters; after a poor start, the state took over a third of them and revamped the system, increasing oversight and preventing cherry-picking of students.

After the reforms, the city’s standardized test scores have increased by eight to 15 percentile points and moved the district from the bottom to almost the state average on many measures. High school graduation and college entry rates also seem to have improved significantly, even while suspensions, expulsions and the rate of students switching schools have all dropped. Detroit and New Orleans represent radically different versions of school choice — and the one that seems to work is the one that uses the state oversight that Ms. DeVos opposes.

Harris notes that New Orleans is also important because it is the only city in the country in which charter school results can be compared to results for school vouchers, the approach Ms. DeVos prefers.

In a study my center released this year, researchers found that the statewide Louisiana voucher program had exactly the opposite result as the New Orleans charter reforms. Students who participated in the voucher program had declines in achievement tests scores of eight to 16 percentile points. Since many of these students received vouchers through a lottery, these results are especially telling.

Ms. DeVos is a long-time financial supporter of the extreme Right, believes schools should teach Creationism, and has been a generous donor to anti-LGBT groups. She is a rich ideologue who has been described as “an enemy of public education.”

Michigan blogger Ed Brayton, who has observed her at close range for several years, is blunt; “Putting her in charge of the Department of Education is like making Al Capone the chief of police.”

This choice is a disaster for schoolchildren—and especially for low-income children.