NYTimes Op Ed Writer Offers Evidence of Voucher Failures in Detroit, a City that Bought DeVos’ Ideas
Tulane Economics professor Douglas Harris researched the impact of the kind of deregulated free market voucher system advocated by Betsy DeVos, and the results were not pretty. In an op ed essay that appears in today’s NYTimes, Mr. Harris writes:
As one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system, (Ms. DeVos) is partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country…
Consider this: Detroit is one of many cities in the country that participates in an objective and rigorous test of student academic skills, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The other cities participating in the urban version of this test, including Baltimore, Cleveland and Memphis, are all widely considered to be among the lowest-performing school districts 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…
And what, exactly, did Ms. DeVos do in Detroit?
She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.
Ms. DeVos and her like-minded businesspeople love operating enterprises without government regulations. If it weren’t for Government regulation places like Trump University and fly-by-night virtual schools and charter chains might have folded on their own. But if there weren’t any regulations at all and no consumer protection whatsoever those who operate the low performing schools could “…do poorly and still continue to enroll students” so long as they are able to find students interested in enrolling. But that isn’t too hard to do when no other schools want toped in your neighborhood.
But while Mr. Harris may have done research that condemns Ms. DeVos appointment, he fails to understand how ESSA might provide her with the means to spread her gospel of deregulation and privatization. He writes:
Fortunately, even if she is confirmed, the low level of federal funding devoted to education will limit the new administration’s ability to pursue these policies. Also, any real expansion of unregulated vouchers will require action both by state governments and by Congress.
The low level of funding is also accompanied by a fairly high degree of regulation as it stands now, and one of the crucial regulations, as noted in earlier posts, is whether the federal funds can be used to supplant local and state funds or must supplement those funds. IT is VERY clear where Ms. DeVos will land on that issue, and it is the complete opposite of where the Obama administration is now. It is also evident that the federal government can send a strong signal to states on whether they will intervene if a state decides to institute a voucher plan that directs funds away from public schools toward sectarian and/or deregulated for profit schools. Additionally, the federal government plays an important role in the oversight of for-profit post-secondary schooling… and area of regulation Mr. Trump is well aware of and happy to de-fang. Mr. Harris, I fear, is very wrong about the damage Ms. DeVos could inflict were she nominated. I remain convinced that should she be appointed along with Mr. Trump’s AG nomination we will see a marked decline in the opportunities for poor minority children across the nation.