Home > Uncategorized > New Yorker, NYTimes Articles Suggests One Positive Outcome of DeVos Nomination: The Privatization Movement is Out of the Closet

New Yorker, NYTimes Articles Suggests One Positive Outcome of DeVos Nomination: The Privatization Movement is Out of the Closet

December 15, 2016

In one media outlet after another I am reading articles decrying the direction Betsy DeVos intends to take public education and two recent articles in widely read national media outlets are examples of an awakening that is occurring among journalists. Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker does an excellent job of synthesizing all of the reasons to oppose Ms. DeVos into one essay, and Katherine Stewart’s op ed article from the NYTimes earlier this week links Ms. DeVos educational and theological convictions. Taken together, Ms. DeVos comes through as a true believer in equal measure and conviction in Jesus Christ, the power of technology, and the marketplace.

Ms. Mead’s article focuses primarily on Ms. DeVos firm belief that introducing market forces into public education can solve it’s problems. Like the President elect, she sees the marketplace a a fair and equitable means of sorting the strong from the weak. Like a poorly managed store or badly designed product, a bad school will ultimately close.  And though she espouses a high-minded philosophy about offering choices to all children no matter what zip code they reside in, the reality has played out much differently in Michigan, her home state that has mirrored her approach. Fortunately for those who will be confirming Ms. DeVos there is a place where her ideas have been in place for over two decades: her home state of Michigan… and the results have not been pretty:

How have such DeVos-sponsored initiatives played out thus far in her home state? Earlier this year, the Detroit Free Press published the results of a yearlong investigation into the state’s two-decade-long charter-school initiative—one of the least regulated in the country. Almost two-thirds of the state’s charter schools are run by for-profit management companies, which are not required to make the financial disclosures that would be expected of not-for-profit or public entities. This lack of transparency has not translated into stellar academic results: student standardized-test scores at charter schools, the paper found, were no more than comparable with those at traditional public schools. And, despite the rhetoric of “choice,” lower-income students were effectively segregated into poorer-performing schools, while the parents of more privileged students were better equipped to navigate the system. Even Tom Watkins, the state’s former education superintendent, who favors charter schools, told the newspaper, “In a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.”

Katherine Stewart’s  NYimes article, “Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools” focuses on the relationship between Ms. DeVos’ religious convictions and her approach to “school reform”. The article included this:

At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, she singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to “greater kingdom gain.”

Ms. Stewart documents all of the evangelical churches and foundations the DeVos family and Prince family (Ms. DeVos’ family of origin) have underwritten and sprinkles the column with quotes from pastors and foundation heads that make it clear that any DeVos’ choice plan will include the opportunity for parents to opt out of “government schools” designed to brainwash innocent children with Godless secularism. And Ms. Stewart notes that Mr. Trump has chosen a set of Cabinet nominees who can facilitate the kind of changes Ms. DeVos’ is seeking:

The head of the presidential transition, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is an avid voucher proponent. As governor of Indiana, he expanded a voucher program that now funnels $135 million a year to private schools, almost all of them religious. Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, favors religious tests for new immigrants and objects to chief justices with “secular mind-sets.” The nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is a member of a physicians’ organization aligned with conservative Christian positions on abortion and other issues.

Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, may not appear to be a religious warrior, but he shares the vision of a threatened Christendom.

“I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis,” he said at a conference in 2014. This was “a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”

Both articles conclude on somber notes. Ms. Mead opens her concluding paragraph with this:

Missing in the ideological embrace of choice for choice’s sake is any suggestion of the public school as a public good—as a centering locus for a community and as a shared pillar of the commonweal, in which all citizens have an investment. If, in recent years, a principal focus of federal educational policy has been upon academic standards in public education—how to measure success, and what to do with the results—DeVos’s nomination suggests that in a Trump Administration the more fundamental premises that underlie our institutions of public education will be brought into question.

And what might those “fundamental premises” be? Here are a few that come to mind: the governance of local public schools by elected school boards; instruction that fosters a common understanding of history, science, and mathematics; a funding mechanism that reflects the democratic notion that government will ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity for advancement; and, most importantly, a humanistic belief that all lives matter— that we should look out for each other, especially those who need a helping hand the most.

Ms. Stewart’s essay ends with this:

What is distinctive about the Christian right’s response to this perceived crisis is its apocalyptic conviction that extreme measures are needed. There is nothing conservative about this agenda; it is radical. Gutting public education will be just the beginning.

Despite these predictions of doom and gloom I find one heartening message. Both Mead and Stewart implicitly support the philosophical and governance underpinnings of public education and reject the “reform” agenda that disempowers locally elected governance of schools, supports Social Darwinism, and places a premium on the force of the marketplace. Getting the hidden agenda of reformers out into the open might help reverse the tide of privatization that NCLB laid the groundwork for and RTTT accelerated. And if the public can see that privatization will lead to the gutting of public education and that privatization and gutting of public education is just the beginning of the oligarch’s desire to disempower democratic institutions, we MIGHT be able to restore our democracy before it is too late.



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