Archive for November, 2016

DeVos Family Values: Money, Power, and Rightwing Politics

November 26, 2016 Comments off

I would make one correction to Diane Ravitch’s concluding paragraph: “In selecting Betsy DeVos for the role of Education Secretary, Trump has chosen an anti-public education billionaire lobbyist.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Two years ago, Mother Jones published a lengthy and excellent article about the DeVos family, how they became billionaires, and how they turned Michigan into a “right to work” state.

They are “the new Kochs,” determined to crush the left, especially labor unions and public education.

“THE DEVOSES sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” says Saul Anuzis…

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NYTimes Op Ed Writer Offers Evidence of Voucher Failures in Detroit, a City that Bought DeVos’ Ideas

November 26, 2016 Comments off

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.

NYTimes Upshot Writer Naively Assumes that Betsy Devos’ Voucher Plan Would Fail

November 25, 2016 Comments off

The following is a letter I dashed of the to NYTimes in response to an article published on November 23 in the Upshot section. It probably won’t be published, but it emphasizes the point that Mr. Carey’s basic premise is flawed:

Kevin Carey’s Upshot article on November 23 dismissed the notion that Betsy DeVos would be able to privatize public schools through vouchers. I believe he is mistaken. ESSA regulations have not been approved as yet, and with Mr. DeVos in control of the Department of Education I foresee a marked reduction in the regulations on the use of the Federal funds. Moreover, with the passage of ESSA, states are given the opportunity to use federal funds in any way they see fit. With 33 statehouses under the control of Republicans it is possible that many state regulations will be similarly loosened. The net result could be the widespread use of vouchers. As for his assertion that “Ms. Devos will also be hamstrung by the fact that her deregulated school choice philosophy has not been considered a resounding success”, I remind Mr. Carey that in the face of hard evidence her party believes climate change is a hoax and many assert that evolution is just a theory. 

My Letter to Senators Shaheen and Hassan, Representative Kuster, and the Valley News

November 25, 2016 Comments off

I need to do something to change the course of history or public education in America… and I fear that this is not an overstatement. Here’e the letter I’ve composed and sent to my legislators and local newspaper:

Mr. Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education signals his intent to change the governance and funding of public education. Ms. DeVos’ vision is to close down “government schools” and provide parents with vouchers to enroll children in schools of their choice, including sectarian private schools and deregulated for-profit charter schools. Parents could use these vouchers, underwritten by tax dollars that would otherwise go toward public schools, to enroll their children in schools that are not overseen by elected school boards and are not subject to regulations developed by State Boards or State legislatures. This “market-based” model would result in greater inequities in opportunities and erode the democratic governance of schools.

Ms. DeVos has no background in public education. She is essentially a billionaire lobbyist who has spent huge sums of money on schemes designed to divert funds from public schools. If she is appointed as Secretary of Education, Ms. DeVos would be able to write and implement federal regulations that would open the floodgates for the expansion of de-regulated for-profit charter chains across the country, thereby diminishing the control of State and local school boards.

Please urge our legislators to forcefully oppose her appointment.

Trump’s Disastrous Education Pick: A Billionaire Heir of Right-Wing Dynasty and Champion of School Privatization Efforts @alternet

November 24, 2016 Comments off

Here’s more on President Elect Trump’s selection for Secretary of Education… and it is even worse than I thought. Ms. DeVos makes Arne Duncan look like John Dewey…. 

Couldn’t be a worse pick.

Source: Trump’s Disastrous Education Pick: A Billionaire Heir of Right-Wing Dynasty and Champion of School Privatization Efforts @alternet

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Trump XII – Trump Just Put Net Neutrality on Death Row

November 24, 2016 Comments off

Two horrific pieces of bad news for those of us who are fighting for equal opportunities. First the appointment of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education, which I posted about earlier today… and this piece on the end of net neutrality, which effectively meant that broadband was a utility available to everyone for the same price. The privatization of public services is about to begin in earnest… and reversing this trend will require a change in our willingness to dig deeper in our pockets to pay more taxes to help those who are disadvantaged.  

Open internet advocates this week expressed concern that Present-elect Donald Trump’s two appointments to his Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transition team spell doom for net neutrality.

Source: Trump Just Put Net Neutrality on Death Row

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Trump XI – Billionaire Charter Underwriter With No Public School Experience Now Secretary of Education…

November 23, 2016 Comments off

Just when you thought the future of public education couldn’t be dimmer, President elect Trump turned out the lights with his nomination of billionaire charter proponent Betsy DeVos as his Department of Education head. Here’s a matter-of-fact description from NPR’s Eric Westervelt of Ms. DeVos’ “credentials” to serve as Secretary of of Education:

President-elect Donald Trump has picked billionaire Betsy DeVos, (is) a Michigan Republican activist and philanthropist who is a strong supporter of school choice but has little experience with public education, as his secretary of education.

DeVos, 58, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and helped push a failed 2000 ballot proposal to amend the Michigan state Constitution to create a voucher system for students to attend nonpublic schools.

DeVos is chairman of The Windquest Group, a Michigan-based investment management company. She is married to billionaire Richard DeVos Jr., the son of Richard DeVos, who co-founded the home care products company Amway.

Trump, in a statement, called DeVos “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.” He added that she would have the leadership ability to “break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back.”

It’s unclear to me whether Ms. DeVos is a billionaire in her own right or if she married an individual who is a billionaire… but that appears to be her pre-eminent qualification for this assignment. Ever the fair and balanced news agency, NPR goes on to report that:

…her appointment signals that Trump intends to make school choice and a voucher plan for low-income families a centerpiece of his education agenda.

School choice plans are controversial because in some cases they can allow families to use public funding for private schools. Critics say choice plans are often underregulated and can amount to profiteering.

As one of those critics who say bad things about deregulated for-profit charters, I know of no instances where for profit charters expressed a desire to adhere to regulations that are imposed on so-called “government schools”… pesky regulations like annual audits, health inspections of facilities, credentialing and background checks of employees assigned to work with children, and keeping track of insignificant data like drop out rates, attendance rates, suspensions, and so on. Based on the NPR report, Ms. DeVos seems to hew to the party line for charter operators:

DeVos has helped make Michigan’s charter schools among the least regulated in the nation. Some 80 percent of the state’s charters are run by private companies.

Any hope of any reforms that might lead to more funding for public education went out the window on November 8, and any hope of any relief from the privatization that plagues public education was lost well before that when the race boiled down to Mr. Trump against Ms. Clinton, who was fully on board with the direction “reformers” were taking public education during the Bush and, yes, the Obama administrations.

Here’s the saddest part of this story: digging out of this huge hole dug for public education over two decades will require a heroic effort. I hope a 2020 presidential candidate emerges in the near future to help lead the way.