The Democrats DeVos Dilemma
As noted in an earlier post this morning, one of the dilemmas many Democrats face is that they bought into the “reform” narrative that made it acceptable to replace “failing public schools” with deregulated privatized for-profit charter schools… and now that those deregulated privatized for-profit charter schools are also “failing” it opens the door for “reasonable dialogue” on the kinds of radical solutions Ms. DeVos is proposing— like vouchers. As exhibit A I offer the talking points Ms. DeVos released prior to her hearing yesterday, which are full of assertions that Arne Duncan could have made. I’ve highlighted and underlined only those portions of her testimony that would be contrary to the kinds of “motherhood” statements Mr. Duncan would have offered:
- “My greatest educational influence in life was a public school teacher named Elsa Prince (her mother).”
- “We recognized that other parents were not able to make similar decisions about their children’s education, based on their income or the zip code in which they lived.”
- “I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve.”
- “Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child, and they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, religious, or any combination thereof.”
- “I will be a strong advocate for great public schools.”
- “Every child in America deserves to be in a safe environment that is free from discrimination.”
- “Our nation’s schools are filled with talented, devoted professionals, who successfully meet the needs of many, many children.”
- “We need to embrace new pathways of learning…Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post high school and have access to high quality options.”
- “President-elect Trump and I know it won’t be Washington, D.C. that unlocks our nation’s potential, nor a bigger bureaucracy, tougher mandates or a federal agency.”
- “For me, it’s simple: I trust parents, and I believe in our children.”
With the exception of Ms. DeVos insertion of “religious” schools on her list of alternatives to “one-size-fits-all” schooling, these words could have been spoken by Arne Duncan or any Democrat appointee for Secretary of Education and would have received approving nods from the gallery. And her prepared remarks also included a series of statements that could have been ripped from the Democrat “reform” playbook:
Every student in America dreams of developing his or her unique talents and gifts.
Every parent in America dreams of a future when their children have access to schools with the rigor, challenges, and safe environments that successfully prepare them for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.
And every teacher in America dreams of breaking free from standardization, so that they can deploy their unique creativity and innovate with their students.
Our nation’s schools are filled with talented, devoted professionals, who successfully meet the needs of many, many children. But even our best schools don’t work for all. This isn’t the fault of teachers, but a reality that all students are unique, learn differently, and excel at their own pace.
Students also face new challenges today. In particular, our high school graduates are having increasing difficulty accessing affordable higher education. Escalating tuition is pricing aspiring and talented students out of college. Others are burdened with debts that will take years – or even decades — to pay off. There is no magic wand to make the debt go away, but we do need to take action. It would be a mistake to shift that burden to struggling taxpayers without first addressing why tuition has gotten so high.
For starters, we need to embrace new pathways of learning. For too long a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. The old and expensive brick-mortar-and-ivy model is not the only one that will lead to a prosperous future. Craftsmanship is not a fallback – but a noble pursuit.
Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post high school and have access to high quality options. President-elect Trump and I agree we need to support all post-secondary avenues, including trade and vocational schools, and community colleges.
Of course, on every one of these issues, Congress will play a vital role.
If confirmed, I look forward to working with you to enact solutions that empower parents and students, provide high quality options and spend tax dollars wisely.
We will work together to ensure the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented as Congress intended — with local communities freed from burdensome regulations from Washington. And I look forward to working with Congress and all stakeholders to reauthorize the Higher Education Act to meet the needs of today’s college students…
For me, it’s simple: I trust parents, and I believe in our children.
These are excerpts from her opening statement, many of which are derived from her talking points… and had Mr. Trump selected a public school superintendent or university president who shares these views— and there are some out there— the nominee would have glided through, But Ms. DeVos has other flaws beyond her willingness to spend federal dollars on religiously affiliated schools. Her multi-million dollar donations to state and US legislators, her robust support for anti-public education “think tanks”, her investments in for-profit schools, her donations to charities that advocate “conversation therapy” for gay students, her unwillingness to support an expansion of spending on child care or post-secondary education… each these is a show-stopper for public education advocates.
I think the Democrat party should be grateful that Mr. Trump’s nominee lacks any record of overseeing a large bureaucracy, has spent money in ways that raise ethical questions, and has views on LGBT students and vouchers that are well outside the mainstream. Because if President-elect Trump had nominated a candidate who advocated an expansion of privatization accompanied by more regulatory oversight the Democratic party would be hard pressed to push back given their most recent appointees to that position. MAYBE before the next election cycle the Democratic party will devise a game plan that can differentiate itself from the “reform” narrative. For example, they might adopt a narrative that emphasizes the devastating impact of poverty and racism on the opportunities of hundreds of thousands of children. If the Democrats do not develop a counter-narrative to the “reform” narrative now in place, public education as we knew it before NCLB— with locally elected board oversight and local control over policies regarding schools— will disappear…. and in it’s place we’ll have corporate boards who manage charter chains with an eye on shareholder value.