At Cobo Hall for a photo op, Betsy DeVos dismisses the idea of visiting nearby Detroit public schools

The national championships of the FIRST Robotics Competition were just held in Detroit, and Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration’s completely unqualified Secretary of Education, having successfully started the process of dismantling the Department of Education’s civil rights infrastructure, was on hand to have her photo taken with the participating high school students… Well, to their credit, the folks at our local NBC affiliate sent a news crew to ask the anti-public education zealot about her disastrous appearance on 60 Minutes, where she admitted to having never so much as visited an underperforming school in her home state of Michigan, to see firsthand what she, as Secretary of Education, might be able to do to help. DeVos, as you might expect, had someone jump in to kill the line of questioning, but not before telling the NBC reporter that she had no intention of walking to one of the nearby Detroit public schools… Here, for those of you with strong stomaches, is the video.

And, here, by way of context, are my notes from this past March, on the exchange on 60 Minutes between Leslie Stahl and Betsy DeVos.

Stahl, noting the work that DeVos has done over the past several decades to increase the proliferation of unaccountable, for-profit charter schools across our state, asked, “Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?,” to which DeVos replied, “I don’t know, overall, I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.” Our least qualified Secretary of Education in American history then went on to say that she hasn’t visited the “really bad schools” in Michigan, or, for that matter, given much thought as to how to improve them. Stahl, hearing this, replied, “Maybe you should,” to which a clearly overwhelmed DeVos responded, “Maybe I should, yes.”

So, a few days ago, in Detroit, DeVos had a perfect opportunity to visit underperforming Michigan schools, and make good on her quasi-promise. She, however, chose not to. It’s not a surprise. [If I’d overseen the dismantling of public education in Michigan, I don’t think I’d want to directly confront the reality of it either.] But I think it’s important to note.

Here, for those of you who might not appreciate just how terrible DeVos is, and how much damage she’s doing as Secretary of Education, are excerpts from two of my past posts about her.

WE SHOULD HAVE STOPPED BETSY DEVOS WHEN WE HAD THE CHANCE [November 27, 2016]:

On behalf of the people of Michigan, I apologize… Not only were we one of three states credited with making Donald Trump, the least qualified presidential candidate in American history, our President-elect, but, as it turns out, we might also be responsible for ending public education as we know it. You see, we, the people of Michigan, had a chance to stop Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos from dismantling our public schools, but we didn’t do it. And, now, unless something unexpected happens, it looks as though she’s going to be replicating the failed policies that she championed in Michigan across the entire nation as our next Secretary of Education.

While DeVos has absolutely no qualifications for the job, she does have money, and she’s proven again and again that she’ll use it to get what she wants. As she said in a 1997 op-ed for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee.” She then when on to add, “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” And, with this as her objective, DeVos, with her $5.1 billion net worth behind her, has wreaked havoc in Michigan, funding successful legislative efforts to efforts to, among other things, “restore religious freedom” by keeping gay couples from adopting and stop Michigan cities from passing living wage ordinances. But her real passion is in the realm of education reform, where she’s worked tirelessly to ensure that Michigan is the most anti-public education state in the union, funding campaigns to remove all caps on charter schools, while, at the same time, guaranteeing virtually no oversight.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said of DeVos yesterday: “Her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers – which take away funding and local control from our public schools – to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps.

“She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education,” Eskelsen García went on to say. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”

And, for what it’s worth, Eskelsen García isn’t employing hyperbole here. Those of us who live in Michigan have seen it play out firsthand. We’ve seen the ubiquitous billboards for fly-by-night virtual charters offering to educate our kids over the internet. [They give kids laptops and access to an online platform, and just collect the money from the state that would have otherwise directed to a public school.] And we’ve seen our school districts closing once vital neighborhood schools right and left due to the unchecked proliferation of charter schools and a “schools of choice” system that pits neighboring districts against one another, fighting over those “good” students who don’t require things like special education, which can be costly.

They’ve been assuring us for the past 20 years that this unfettered competition will yield better opportunities for our students, but the results just don’t bear that out. [More on that in a minute.] I’d argue, however, that better schools were never the end goal. I think, from day one, the real objective has always been to kill the teachers unions, while, at the same time, funneling public money into the hands of private corporations, which, in turn, contribute to conservative causes and legislators. And, it’s working. While I don’t have current data, between 2012 and 2015, Michigan’s two teachers unions, the MEA and the AFT, lost almost 28,000 members. And, in large part that’s due to the overwhelming growth of the charter school industry, which, according to the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into.” [] More importantly, though, these programs pushed by DeVos and others, just aren’t working for kids.

A recent investigation by the Detroit Free Press, which looked at two decades of charter school records and data from across Michigan, found: “Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them. And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.” And much of the blame lies with DeVos, who not only led, but funded, the charge.

Here, from Chalkbeat, is a great example of DeVos in action: “When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.”

And, that, my friends, is the kind of maneuvering on behalf of the for-profit charter industry that you can expect to see happening across the United States, assuming DeVos is confirmed as Trump’s Secretary of Education… I’m not sure what she paid for cabinet post, but you can be damn sure she’s going to see a return on that investment…

MICHIGAN, THE STATE WHERE BETSY DEVOS HAS FOUGHT THE PAST SEVERAL DECADES TO DEREGULATE THE CHARTER INDUSTRY AND WEAKEN PUBLIC EDUCATION, FINISHES DEAD LAST OF ALL 50 STATES WHEN IT COMES TO STUDENT PROFICIENCY IMPROVEMENT [February 20, 2017]:

Citing the good work she’d done in Michigan, the Detroit News endorsed Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education this past January. The Amway heiress, they told us, based on what she’d accomplished here in Michigan, was a “sound choice” – someone who would “strive to improve education for all kids.” The “hysteria” over DeVos, they said, was “overblown.” The teachers unions, they told us, had been unfairly pushing a narrative that “overlooks the work DeVos has actually done.”

Well, let’s talk about what Betsy DeVos “has actually done.”

Here’s a headline from today’s Detroit News.

Yes, Michigan, the state where, for the last several decades, Betsy DeVos has worked tirelessly to move taxpayer money away from public schools and into the coffers of unaccountable charter school operators, is now the worst state in the nation when it come to the proficiency improvement of students since 2003.

I’d suggest that we all send this article to DeVos and ask her to explain how this came to pass in the state where she lobbied successfully to remove caps on for-profit charter schools, and fought tirelessly to keep our legislature from imposing any kind of oversight over the industry, but, as we learned during her nomination hearings, she doesn’t even understand how states measure achievement, so I don’t know what good it would do.

University of Michigan professor Brian A. Jacob, who conducted this new study of National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data for the Brookings Institution, said the following when asked why, according to him, Michigan had ranked “dead last in terms of proficiency growth since 2003.”

“I believe that there are a number of factors responsible for Michigan’s weak performance,” Jacob said. “A lack of adequate state and local funding for schools, the highly decentralized nature of governance that makes it difficult for the state Department of Education to develop coordinated reforms, the lack of regulation and accountability in the charter sector, and the economic and political instability that have plagued Detroit and other urban areas in the state.”

I know it’s probably unfair to lay all this at the feet of DeVos, as our Republican legislature and others worked with her to make this happen, but, as others have noted, she really does deserve a great deal of the blame. Here, with more on what DeVos has done to Michigan, is a clip from Politico.

…Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.

Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. Charter-school growth has also weakened the finances and enrollment of traditional public-school districts like Detroit’s, at a time when many communities are still recovering from the economic downturn that hit Michigan’s auto industry particularly hard.

The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies.

“The bottom line should be, ‘Are kids achieving better or worse because of this expansion of choice?’” said Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin, a DeVos critic who also describes himself as a strong charter-school supporter. “It’s destroying learning outcomes… and the DeVoses were a principal agent of that”…

As I’ve said several times in the past on this site, we should have stopped DeVos when we had a chance. And, now, because we didn’t, the whole country is likely to suffer the same fate. As our terrible Governor said a few weeks ago when he endorsed her for the job of Secretary of Education, she’s now going to “make a big difference in the lives of school children… across the nation.” And we’re to blame…

ONE LAST THING:

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2 Comments

  1. Kit
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    What a vile monster this woman is.

  2. Posted April 29, 2018 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I despise Betsy DeVos. She literally bought herself a cabinet position to dismantle public education.

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