Education Opportunity Network

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Trump And DeVos Have A Deceptive Scheme To Push School Vouchers

Since President Trump picked Betsy DeVos to be his new U.S. Secretary of Education, there’s been lots of speculation in the media that his administration, with his secretary out front, would push for a school voucher program that would allow families to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a sum of money they could use to pay for tuition to send their kids to private schools, even ones that are religion based.

Others scoffed at that notion, arguing that getting a voucher program passed through Congress would be too difficult.

But if new reports out this week are credible, and they appear to be, a school voucher program is indeed on the president’s agenda – only it’s not being called that. There are reasons for the deception, and it’s important for progressives to understand how to frame Trump’s scheme before the public debate starts.

As Poltico reports, “The Trump administration is considering a first-of-its-kind federal tax credit scholarship program that would channel billions of dollars to families from working-class households to enable their children to attend private schools, including religious schools.”

What is a tax credit program for education, and why is it just another name for vouchers?

As Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa explains, “Tax-credit scholarships allow individuals and corporations to claim a tax credit of some kind, in exchange for a donation to an organization that provides scholarships to children. So, unlike vouchers, they don’t involve the government directly providing financial support to parents for school choice.”

But what makes tax credit scholarships the same as vouchers?

In his 2008 book, Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center, coined the term “neovoucher” to explain how tax credit programs accomplish the same thing as vouchers, only in a more convoluted way.

In a blog post for the Washington Post, Welner explains, tax credit scholarship programs are a “money-laundering mechanism” that inserts into the transaction a third party – often called a school tuition organization (STO). Instead of taxpayer money being distributed directly to parents as vouchers, credits are issued by the state when tax deductible donations go to an STO. That credit then becomes scholarship money for parents to pay for private school tuition.

So whether the plan is for tax credits or vouchers, in either case, public funding is redirected from public schools to private institutions, and the impact on funding available for public education is the same.

There are reasons for the Trump administration’s deception.

As Welner notes in another blog post for the Post, “Generally speaking, Americans know what vouchers are. Cleveland and Milwaukee have had conventional voucher plans for decades.” Welner should have added Washington, DC to that list of long-standing voucher programs as well.

So the track record for vouchers is well known. And it’s not particularly good.

As education historian Diane Ravitch writes, despite years of offering vouchers to parents, “those school districts are among the lowest performing in the nation on national tests. … When the taxpayers’ precious dollars are divided among two or three sectors, none of them flourishes.”

Further, the general public generally has rejected vouchers every time they’ve been put to a test at the ballot box. Ravitch notes, “When Ms. DeVos and her husband Richard led a movement to change the Michigan state constitution to permit vouchers for religious schools in the year 2000, the referendum was defeated by 69-31%. Even in deep red Utah, the public rejected vouchers overwhelmingly in 2007. Florida was the last state to reject vouchers, in a 2012 vote deceptively named the Religious Freedom Act; it was defeated by 58-42%.”

So to circumnavigate the lousy track record of vouchers and avoid the problem of their widespread public disapproval, school privatization advocates have devised education tax credit programs. But be aware, just as these programs have the same essential ends in mind as school vouchers, they also have the same devastating impact on public schools.

As veteran education journalist Valerie Strauss explains on her blog at the Post, in the 17 states that offer some kind of education tax credits, there are numerous examples of how the programs harm public schools and help spread fraud and abuse in public education systems. Strauss points to a tax credit scholarship program in Florida that sparked “a cottage industry of fraud” and a more recent report from Florida about a “school for students with autism that received money from two tax credit programs in Florida that was abruptly closed after its leaders were charged with Medicaid fraud.”

Numerous studies by education tax credit advocates claiming these programs save money have been thoroughly refuted. And the evidence they drain public education funding continues to mount.

Arizona has perhaps the nation’s most extensive and generous education tax credit program. The program has led to an enormous outflow of funding from public schools.

As an Arizona news outlet reports, the state allows qualified parents to set up “empowerment scholarship accounts” that are funded by STOs to provide families with debit cards worth about $5,200 a year to use on tuition at private schools, many which are religion based. However, as the reporter notes, public schools in Arizona get about $4,200 per pupil from the state, so each $5,200 debit card costs the state general fund an additional $1,000 for every child who leaves a public school for a private or religious school.

Despite the drain on Arizona public school coffers, lawmakers in the state want to expand the tax credit program to include more families, a move that would lead to an additional $24 million cost to taxpayers annually and potentially many millions more, according to the Arizona Republic.

So should Trump’s ideas for a tax credit scholarship program develop into a proposal, and the details become clearer, just remember a school voucher program by any name is still a school voucher program. And it should be dead on arrival in Congress.

2/16/2017 – DeVos’s Stumbles Right Out Of The Gate Are Nothing To Laugh About

THIS WEEK: What DeVos Did … Choice Causes Segregation … School Integration … Voucher Disaster … Trump’s Muslim Ban


DeVos’s Stumbles Right Out Of The Gate Are Nothing To Laugh About

By Jeff Bryant

“Betsy DeVos’s … stumbles right out the gate reveal disturbing characteristics of her leadership … Given her lack of experience … it’s perhaps understandable DeVos would not be very knowledgeable about policy ideas that have helped educators transform schools … But what’s most concerning is that she doesn’t seem the least bit interested in those policy ideas … DeVos … portends a near future of ideological warfare over basic education justice in the country.”
Read more …


Betsy DeVos Is Coming For Your Children


“Unlike, say, Ben Carson and Rick Perry, who are totally ignorant of housing and energy policy and have no relevant experience in their new fields, DeVos is highly qualified to implement her vision – children using vouchers to attend Kiddie Cato Institutes in the back of churches, more or less – for America. After all, she’s done it before … The frightening thing about DeVos, though, is less how dystopian her ideas are than how successful she’s been at imposing them. She’s had her way with Detroit … Detroit went from a public school system with an overlay of healthy alternatives to a mess of unregulated choice where the alternatives have begun to swallow the system whole. This is what DeVos wants to bring to America.”
Read more …

Schools In The Nation’s Capital Are Embarrassingly Segregated

The Huffington Post

“The city’s school segregation problem has been exacerbated by school choice policies like the ones currently championed by President Donald Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. Charter schools in D.C. are overwhelmingly black. The city’s small voucher program ― which allows kids to attend private schools using taxpayer money ― is designed to serve low-income children, but has actually underserved black kids, the report says. … The benefits of desegregated schools are well-documented … Racially mixed schools are proven to benefit both white students and students of color.”
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The Promise Of Integrated Schools

The Atlantic

“Two recent reports offer the latest research to point to hopeful trends as more school districts pursue integration – with promising benefits shown for students of color and their white peers in racially diverse classrooms … In 1996 … just two school districts nationwide … used socioeconomic status as a factor in student assignment policies … Today, 91 school jurisdictions deliberately blend affluent and less-advantaged children, totaling over 4 million students, about 8 percent of K-12 public-school enrollment … Racially integrated schools improve education for students of all races and accomplish one immeasurable advantage: helping youth challenge stereotypes and their implicit biases toward people of different races and ethnicities.”
Read more …

Chile’s School Voucher System: Enabling Choice or Perpetuating Social Inequality?

New America

“Chile implemented a universal school voucher program 1981, as part of a series of free-market economic reforms ushered in by Dictator Augusto Pinochet, who rose to power in a 1973 coup d’état … Chile’s voucher program has been widely studied and largely found to have exacerbated inequality, reduced public school enrollment and minimal to no impact on student achievement … Voucher systems are no cure for the inequities that plague our education system.”
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How The Immigration Controversy Could Drive Up The Cost Of College

The Hechinger Report

“Scores of U.S. schools have come to rely on international students to keep their budgets in the black … That could make [Trump’s] immigration order much more disruptive to higher education than has previously been understood. More than one million international students studied at U.S. colleges and universities last year … Those students added an estimated $35 billion to the U.S. economy … Students from the seven countries in the travel ban alone bring in more than $700 million … Several colleges and universities are already reporting drop-offs in international applications.”
Read more …

DeVos’s Stumbles Right Out Of The Gate Are Nothing To Laugh About

The Trump administration’s national security scandals may have obscured Betsy DeVos’s rough start as the new Secretary of Education, but her stumbles right out the gate reveal disturbing characteristics of her leadership.

Unfortunately, the least significant gaffe is the one that has gotten the most notoriety so far. As Politico reports, “In quoting civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, the Department of Education on Sunday sent out a tweet misspelling his name as “DeBois.” And then it sent out an apology that misspelled the word ‘apologies'” as “apologizes.”

What’s even more embarrassing: The misspelled shout out to Du Bois took place during Black History Month.

As part of a presidential administration that’s already distinguished itself for prominent typos in President Donald Trump’s tweets and on official White House releases, it’s perhaps not surprising that DeVos and her team would also be sloppy on social media. But she is head of the Department of Education. The public mocking is to be expected.

Nevertheless, there are gaffes, and then there are disturbing omens of what may be in store for the nation’s schools under the Trump-DeVos regime.


Perhaps most ominous is the report, from an outlet focused on developmental disability news, that a day after DeVos took her oath of office, content relating to IDEA disappeared from the Education Department’s website. IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is the federal government’s program that guarantees students with disabilities and their parents have access to free education that is appropriate for their needs.

DeVos, recall, had one of her most difficult moments during her rocky confirmation hearing when she became “confused” about enforcing IDEA. While answering a question about the federal program, she promised that under her leadership its enforcement would be “up to the states.”

“Officials said the issue should be no cause for alarm…nothing more than a technical glitch,” according to reporter Michelle Diament. And to be fair, the decision to take down the material likely came before DeVos took office. But Diament also notes, “Last month, nearly every disability reference was removed from the White House website after the Trump administration took over. To date, the online presence of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. contains just a handful of references to disabilities.”

A week later after the disappearance, with no sign of the ” glitch” being fixed, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Patty Murray (D-Mo.) issued a statement demanding that the department explain why content “dedicated to empowering and assisting students with disabilities and their families” had become deactivated and requesting its restoration.

So far, the department hasn’t replied.

DeVos’s Pencil Privilege

Speaking of glitches, DeVos also found herself embroiled in controversy again when, on her first day on the job, she said on her personal social media outlet, in what she must have thought was a safe and funny tweet, “Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? :)”

“Not in the thousands of public schools that can barely afford supplies. Looking forward to you cleaning that lil issue up,” came the first retort, and the tweet thread didn’t get any nicer after that as hundreds of teachers and public school advocates blasted her for the remark.

Why would what the billionaire-turned-bureaucrat thought was likely a harmless comment receive such invective? Anyone taking the reins of the Department of Education, or who just happens to be paying attention, should know the answer to that question.

As many of the teachers responding to her comment reminded her, DeVos should know that schools have become so chronically starved of resources, most teachers have to buy a lot of their own supplies — even pencils. “Virtually all teachers wind up paying out of pocket for supplies,” reports Money magazine, based on the most recent survey asking teachers about their supply purchases. “On average, most spent nearly $500 last year, and one in 10 spent $1,000 or more. All told, a total of $1.6 billion in school supply costs is shifted from parents — or, increasingly, from cash-strapped districts — onto teachers themselves.”

The cost of school supplies has shifted to teachers because education funding in most places in the country is in a funding crisis.

The nation has drastically cut education funding since the Great Recession, and studies show most schools aren’t getting the same level of funding they got in 2008. Further, schools that often need funding the most, because they serve low-income and other children that cost the most to educate, often get the least.

But it’s quite likely DeVos — who grew up in privilege, married into even greater wealth and attended private schools filled with students with similar backgrounds — may not actually know what it’s like in the schools where most American parents send their children. Especially since she lives in a massive compound on 100 acres of lakefront property. She and her husband Dick DeVos own three vacation homes in Windsor, Florida along with other vacation residences.

Taking Refuge on the Right

As a sign that the controversy she continues to stir may be getting to her, DeVos sought refuge in a media circle she likely feels more comfortable in.

As Education Week reports, “In her first print and radio interviews since taking the helm,” DeVos turned to — not to outlets that her detractors are apt to listen to, nor to journalists that could be described as “neutral” — but to the safe womb of right-wing media in her home state of Michigan.

For her first interview in print media, DeVos chose an opinion page editor from the Michigan-based Detroit News, which endorsed her for secretary. For her first radio interview, she chose Paul W. Smith, a conservative talk show host in Detroit who also occasionally substitutes for Rush Limbaugh.

The most telling thing about both interviews is DeVos’s reaffirmation of the ideology that has been the focal point of many of the concerns about her.

When asked by Detroit News deputy editorial page editor Ingrid Jacques about what she hopes for her legacy as Secretary, DeVos replies that what she wants most is to ensure her leadership has “allowed students across this country, particularly those who are today struggling most, to find and go to a school where they are going to thrive in and grow and become everything they hope to be.”

In her radio interview with Smith, DeVos states her goal is to ensure that all schools “meet the need of every child that they serve, and in the cases that they don’t, parents and students should have other alternatives.”

DeVos seems to have little to say about what she intends to do to improve the schools we already have. Her emphasis on encouraging parents and students to “find” new schools and creating those “alternatives” is why critics of DeVos continue to worry she is all about abandoning existing schools and replacing them with what she prefers to see instead.

Ideological Warfare?

Given her lack of experience with public education and its governance, it’s perhaps understandable DeVos would not be very knowledgeable about policy ideas that have helped educators transform schools our children are already in.

But what’s most concerning is that she doesn’t seem the least bit interested in those policy ideas either.

In fact, her other favorite talking point is to refer to public education as a “status quo” needing to be assailed from the outside, as if she believes changing public education is something that needs to be done to it, not with it.

That DeVos views education more so through this political lens — a lens bequeathed to her from her background of privilege and wealth — rather than the lens of wise public policy portends a near future of ideological warfare over basic education justice in the country, for example, over whether the rights of students with disabilities are upheld.

From what we’ve seen of Betsy DeVos so far, that’s the most disturbing sign of what’s to come. Even if she can’t spell.

2/9/2017 – Progressives Lost The Vote On DeVos But Won Something Else

THIS WEEK: Why Dislike DeVos … Closing USDoE … Ending ESSA Rules … School Segregation … Civics Education


Progressives Lost The Vote On DeVos But Won Something Else

By Jeff Bryant

“Betsy DeVos may have won her contest in the Senate to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education, but her opposition wasn’t the only thing that went down to defeat that day. For decades, federal education policies have been governed by a “Washington Consensus” that public schools are effectively broken … and the only way to fix them is to apply a dose of tough love and a business philosophy of competition from charter schools and performance measurements based on standardized tests … That consensus appears dead … But what looks like the death of a political consensus on education could be the beginning of something else.”
Read more …


How Betsy Devos Became Trump’s Most Controversial Nominee


“Vice President Mike Pence broke a Senate tie to confirm Betsy DeVos, 51-50, as the next education secretary … So the thousands of Americans who called their senators begging them to vote against DeVos, in the end, aren’t going to get what they want … But that doesn’t mean the opposition failed utterly… DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor with scant experience with traditional public schools, has sparked an overwhelming response from activists … Americans don’t usually get this worked up about education. But DeVos might have struck a chord because education is a subject that many people take personally – and one that affects even white, upper-middle-class people.”
Read more …

GOP Lawmaker Proposes Abolishing Department Of Education

The Hill

“On the same day the Senate confirmed President Trump’s secretary of Education pick by a historically narrow margin, a House Republican introduced legislation to abolish the entire department Betsy DeVos will lead. Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie’s bill is only a page long, after merely stating the Department of Education would terminate on Dec. 31, 2018.”
Read more …

House Republicans Move To Scrap Rules On ESSA, Teacher Preparation

Education Week

“Republican lawmakers in Congress are moving to do away with regulations from the Obama administration regarding accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act and teacher preparation … If these regulations are overturned, President Donald Trump’s administration would be prohibited from issuing ‘substantially similar’ regulations on these two issues if there isn’t a new law signed … These moves by GOP lawmakers don’t immediately end those ESSA accountability and teacher-prep rules. However, they signal that the Republicans are preparing to do away with them.”
Read more …

How Segregated Schools Built Segregated Cities

City Lab

“We’ve gotten used to explaining the segregation we see in our schools by pointing to the segregation we see in our neighborhoods … That explanation has it backwards. In many cities across the U.S., public schools were the first and nearly always the most effective of the tools white residents had to police the boundaries of their neighborhoods. Often, it was school segregation that created neighborhood segregation, not the other way around.”
Read more …

Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be a Trump-Era Priority

Mother Jones

“American public schools … were founded to maintain a pluralistic democracy and protect citizens against the tyranny of the majority. Advocates for the public education system argued that the unique American experiment wouldn’t work without it – that schools were the most effective mechanism for instilling civic values… Courses in civic studies were common in American high schools …   All that changed most notably in the 1980s, when, in addition to earlier cuts in civic studies, policymakers began shifting the focus from social studies toward easily testable subjects like math and reading … In 2011, all federal funding for civics and social studies was eliminated.”
Read more …

Progressives Lost The Vote On DeVos But Won Something Else

Betsy DeVos may have won her contest in the Senate to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education, but her opposition wasn’t the only thing that went down to defeat that day.

For decades, federal education policies have been governed by a “Washington Consensus” that public schools are effectively broken, especially in low-income communities of color, and the only way to fix them is to apply a dose of tough love and a business philosophy of competition from charter schools and performance measurements based on standardized tests.

Since the 1990s, this consensus among Democrats and Republicans has enforced all kinds of unproven “reform” mandates on schools, and by 2012, as veteran education reporter Jay Mathews of The Washington Post noted that year, the two parties were “happily copying each other” on education.

“Democrats have in recent years sounded – and acted – a lot like Republicans in advancing corporate education reform, which seeks to operate public schools as if they were businesses, not civic institutions,” writes Valerie Strauss, the veteran education journalist who blogs for the Washington Post. “By embracing many of the tenets of corporate reform — including the notion of ‘school choice’ and the targeting of teachers and their unions as being blind to the needs of children – they helped make DeVos’s education views, once seen as extreme, seem less so.”

But with the election of President Donald Trump and the ascension of DeVos to secretary, that consensus appears dead.

“She would start her job with no credibility,” Education Week quotes Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington. “A vote for Betsy DeVos is a vote for a secretary of education who is likely to succeed only in further dividing us on education issues.”

“The DeVos vote reflected the tribal, dysfunctional, polarized nature of our politics,” writes Woodrow Wilson Center senior scholar Linda Killian in USA Today. “It is a harbinger of things to come.”

But what looks like the death of a political consensus on education could be the beginning of something else: an opportunity for progressives to press a new education agenda. Here’s what should they do.

Build On ‘The Perfect Storm’

Public education advocates have long been exasperated with progressives.

“When will ‘progressives’ defend public education?” fumed education activist Anthony Cody nearly two years ago. Cody – who helped organize the largest public protest event in support of public education to date and co-founded the Network for Public Education whose membership recently passed the 300,000 mark – lamented that while big money, astroturf groups such as Democrats for Education Reform continue to present the left as a partner of charter schools and corporate reform, progressive organizations generally remain silent on the issues.

These organizations “need to wake up,” Cody argued.

Well, consider them awake.

The DeVos nomination motivated an array of progressive groups to engage in the unprecedented outpouring of opposition to her. Similarly, civil rights organizations, that often differ with public education activists on charter schools and school vouchers, led a strong effort to oppose DeVos.

“DeVos’ nomination was simply the perfect storm for progressives and members of the resistance to seize upon,” observes Lucia Graves at The Guardian. “The voter outrage was the triumph of grassroots organizing. And that is worth celebrating – despite the outcome.”

Now that progressive organizations are engaged in the fight against DeVos, public school advocates must continue to reach out to them and engage them in the ongoing fight against privatization DeVos will lead. In turn, public school advocates must also be ready to step outside the education silo and take up other causes progressives care about, such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights, that have impacts both inside and outside of schools.

Turn Education Into A Wedge Issue

For years, big money donors have been successful at keeping many Democratic party candidates in the charter school camp. Opposition to DeVos may disrupt that loyalty.

For instance, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has been an ardent supporter of charters and vouchers and has deep ties to the charter school industry, yet he voted against DeVos.

Booker, who many consider a possible presidential contender in 2020, joined DeVos on the board of Alliance for School Choice, when he was mayor of Newark.* In 2012, he gave a speech at a meeting held by the American Federation for Children, the advocacy group DeVos founded and once chaired. Both organizations advocate using taxpayer dollars for charter, private, and religious schools, which DeVos will surely champion. Yet Booker sided with his fellow Democrats against her.

Westcoast billionaire Eli Broad is another prominent Democrat who advocates for school choice but strongly opposed DeVos. “This is more than just one billionaire school activist … going against another billionaire school activist,” Strauss writes in another of her blog posts. “His opposition underscores what has been obvious for some time: that the opposition to DeVos goes far beyond the teachers’ unions.”

Of course, not all Democrats who’ve been supportive of the corporate reform movement made strong public statements in opposition to DeVos.

As reporters for Education Week note, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who once received praise from DeVos for his support for charter schools, was reluctant to publically criticize her during her nomination.

Cuomo recently announced his intention to abolish the cap that limits the number of charter schools in New York City, despite Mayor Bill De Blasio’s strong opposition – a proposal Secretary DeVos will certainly praise. Given the Democratic party’s total antipathy for DeVos, public school advocates can now easily pivot from opposing DeVos to opposing Cuomo and smear him with her negative brand.

Sensing an opportunity to do just that, the Alliance for Quality Education, a public school advocacy group that frequently battles the governor, issued a statement opposing Cuomo’s recent education proposals, including lifting the charter cap, immediately after DeVos was confirmed. It stated, “Betsy DeVos is a disastrous choice that spurred massive public resistance to her nomination. In New York State it is time for resistance to focus on Governor Cuomo … Just as New Yorkers have been leaders in the fight to resist Trump and dump DeVos, we will now fight back against Cuomo and his attacks on public education.”

Press For Positive Change

Resistance is all well and good. But my colleague Richard Eskow is correct when he writes, “In today’s political climate, ‘opposing’ – or worse, merely ‘withstanding’ – isn’t enough. It will take a countervailing force for change to stop Trump and the Republicans.”

What’s the countervailing force public school advocates need? Progressive Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives recently answered that.

As Politico reports, on the same day of the final vote on DeVos in the Senate,  Democrats in the House issued a new Progressive Education Agenda. The agenda was drafted by California Democratic Representative Mark Takano and endorsed by the House Public Education Caucus.

The Agenda begins as it should, proclaiming education as a “fundamental civil right in the United States of America” and calling for education approaches that address equity in the public school system and considering “both the instruction our children receive and the conditions they need – in and out of the classroom – to succeed.”

In a complete departure from the corporate reform ideas Democrats have embraced, the Agenda completely abandons the language of competition and performance measurement and instead calls for “defending and investing in our public schools as universally accessible and inherently democratic institutions.”

Among the 6 “policy goals” in the agenda are proposals to expand access to early childhood education, ensure equitable access and resources at all grade levels, and support educators and their training programs.

Certainly, those are positive reforms all progressives can get behind.

Not A Time For Compromise

The torrent of protests that have greeted the advent of the Trump regime is evidence of a popular unwillingness to compromise with the nation’s new leadership.

Is there any reason to believe this unwillingness to compromise doesn’t extend to education?

The Progressive Education Agenda Takano and his colleagues are pushing “reveals the wide gap between progressive Democrats and Betsy DeVos in terms of both education policy priorities and expertise,” states a press release from Takano’s office. Good. The gap needs to be wide.

* Correction: Sen. Booker was on the board of Alliance for School Choice years before he became mayor of Newark. His name first appears on the board of American Education Reform Council, which eventually became ASC, in their 2002 990 form. He became mayor in 2006 and was still on the board of ASC in their 2008 990 tax calendar year.

2/2/2017 – Betsy DeVos Likely To Spread Quack Science Instead Of Teaching The Real Thing

THIS WEEK: Why Fight Over DeVos … DACA At Risk … School Choice Failures … Trump Ban Roils Colleges … Nationwide Education Protests


Betsy DeVos Likely To Spread Quack Science Instead Of Teaching The Real Thing

By Jeff Bryant

“After a rocky confirmation hearing in Senate committee, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, cleared to the full Senate … But now, two Republican Senators who voted DeVos out of committee … say they can’t back DeVos in a full Senate vote … A final vote has been called for next week … Recent revelations in major news outlets should raise alarms about DeVos’s views on science and how they may influence her decision-making … In her charitable giving, her financial investments, and the rhetoric she uses to express her intentions as secretary, DeVos has exhibited a propensity to favor beliefs ground in quack science over the real thing.”
Read more …


Why DeVos Is The Most Polarizing Ed Sec Nominee Ever

The Washington Post

“[Betsy] DeVos is clearly the most controversial education nominee in the history of the nearly 40-year-old Education Department … Opposition to DeVos is less about politics … Her characterization of public education as an ‘industry’ is a core tenet of corporate school reformers, who believe public schools should be run like businesses. Public school advocates see America’s public education system as a civic institution – the country’s most important – that can’t be run like a business without ensuring that some children will be winners and others will be losers.”
Read more …

As Trump Weighs Fate Of Immigrant Students, Schools Ponder Their Roles

Education Week

“Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of K-12 children and the educators who serve them are bracing for upheaval … Many are waiting for word on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-administration policy that has granted temporary deportation reprieves for more than 740,000 young undocumented immigrants. During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to repeal that executive order … Schools in cities like Denver and Nashville are working to reassure students that school is a safe, welcoming place.”
Read more …

Worldwide, School Choice Hasn’t Improved Performance

US News & World Report

“Worldwide, rising populism and identity politics are leading to increased demands from families seeking out specific types of schools that mirror their ideologies. In some countries, this has extended to replacing the public system of schools with government vouchers … Some have argued that competitive incentives induced by school choice will lead to better educational outcomes. However, there is little evidence to support this claim … Where school choice has shown powerful effects around the world is the systematic separation of students by ethnicity, social class and religion.”
Read more …

Colleges Scramble After Trump’s Executive Order Bans Citizens Of 7 Muslim Countries

The Chronicle Of Higher Education

“Colleges across the United States are rushing to respond to the news … that President Trump had signed an executive order suspending admission to the United States of all refugees as well as all citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations. The main message: … Students and scholars, if you might be affected by such an executive order, don’t leave the country … It is estimated that more than 15,000 international students could be affected by the ban.”
Read more …

Teachers And Allies March For Public Education On The Eve Of The Trump Era

Think Progress

“Educators and their allies are mobilizing nationwide to oppose what they consider to be a major threat to public education from the incoming Trump administration … The day before Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, parents, teachers, and students gathered in front of schools in over 200 cities to oppose school privatization and support safe and inclusive spaces for all students … The coalition that helped organize these protests, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) …  has held national protests before … President-elect Donald Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric is also a major focus for the coalition.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos Likely To Spread Quack Science Instead Of Teaching The Real Thing

After a rocky confirmation hearing in Senate committee, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, cleared to the full Senate on a vote that strictly followed party lines. But now, two Republican Senators who voted DeVos out of committee, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska,  say they can’t back DeVos in a full Senate vote. Education Week reporters say a final vote has been called for next week, so her nomination is still up in the air.

Senators, including the two maverick Republicans, who say they will vote no on DeVos most often say their opposition comes from her lack of qualifications and her poor grasp of policy issues. But there’s lots more to DeVos’s whacky views of education.

Much has been written about DeVos’s deep ties to evangelical Christianity and her commitment to push an education agenda to “advance God’s Kingdom.” But supporters of DeVos insist her religious devotion reflects concerns about children and what’s best for the public and not an intention to “focus on curriculum issues like evolution and creationism,” according to this story in the Washington Post.

But recent revelations in major news outlets should raise alarms about DeVos’s views on science and how they may influence her decision-making on national education policy.

In her charitable giving, her financial investments, and the rhetoric she uses to express her intentions as secretary, DeVos has exhibited a propensity to favor beliefs ground in quack science over the real thing.

Christian-Based ‘Critical Thinking’

One of those concerns is the affinity DeVos has long had for organizations that push “intelligent design,” an idea linked to creationist beliefs that the universe and life must have been created by a superior intelligence.

As Annie Waldman reports for independent news outlet Propublica, DeVos and her family donated more than a $1 million to The Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based Christian legal group that represented a school district being sued because its conservative school board insisted ninth-grade students be taught “the theory of evolution was flawed and that intelligent design was an alternative.”

Waldman also notes donations the DeVos family has made to Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based evangelical group that “produced a religious video series with one episode focused on intelligent design and Darwinian evolution critiques.”

Senators have not asked DeVos many questions about her views on science. However, during her confirmation hearing, DeVos revealed a lot when she responded to a question from Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) who wanted to know if she would oppose education policies based on junk science. Her evasive response conspicuously used the term “critical thinking” which is code word for pushing intelligent design in school curriculum.

As Waldman explains, DeVos and other advocates of intelligent design disguise their religious intentions to undermine evolution as support for “critical thinking” in schools. They insist presenting evolution as science fact is “dogmatic,” and what teachers must do instead is present “alternative views” like intelligent design and require students to sort it out for themselves

Their support for school vouchers, another favorite passion of DeVos’s, also advances religious-based instruction as it diverts millions in taxpayer money to private schools, including religious schools that teach creationist ideas like intelligent design.

DeVos’s use of the “critical thinking” code word coincides with a “new wave of anti-evolution bills” being introduced by state Republican lawmakers across the country, according to The Hill.

“About 70 similar measures questioning evolution have been introduced in states across the country,” the report says, all modeled on the idea that schools should present “alternatives to evolution” in “objective” ways that invite discussion and “critical thinking.”

The devotion DeVos has to junk science isn’t confined to intelligent design.

Biofeedback Cures With Biblical Inspiration

As the New York Times reports, DeVos and her family have invested heavily in a retail chain that claims to use biofeedback to improve “brain performance” and treat depression and developmental disabilities such as ADHD and autism.

As Times reporters Sheri Fink, Steve Eder, and Matthew Goldstein write, DeVos and her husband, Dick, are the chief investors in Neurocore, a business that operates eight centers in Michigan and Florida that claim to “retrain the brains” of “children and adults with ADHD, anxiety, depression, autism and other psychological and neurological diagnose.”

Neurocore’s techniques, the article notes, “are not considered standards of care for the majority of the disorders it treats, including autism,” and the Times reporters consulted “nearly a dozen child psychiatrists and psychologists with expertise in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, [who] expressed caution regarding some of Neurocore’s assertions, advertising, and methods.”

Times reporters note DeVos insists on retaining her investment in the company, “which she valued at $5 million to $25 million,” should she be confirmed. But her commitment to Neurocore may have more to do with something other than her financial investment.

As a Michigan-based blogger reports, Neurocore’s ideas, like many of DeVos’s fascinations, have “Christian fundamentalist roots.”

The blogger, who goes by Miss Fortune, points out the original name of Neurocore was Hope 139 which Fortune calls “a dog-whistle reference to Psalm 139” and Christian fundamentalist beliefs. As evidence, Fortune points to a press release from when Hope 139 debuted that describes the company’s mission to “assist each individual in reaching his or her God-given cognitive potential.”

Fortune notes, “Psalm 139 has been a byword of the anti-abortion movement.” And as further investigation bears out, the Bible verse is often presented as proof that life begins at conception.

Why DeVos’s Views On Science Matter

So would DeVos, who in her confirmation hearings, exhibited an acute misunderstanding of the federal government’s role in supporting the education of students with disabilities, promote quack science ideas from outfits like Neurocore to the nation’s schools?

We’ve seen the federal government promote these kinds of completely unfounded ideas before.

Although the Constitution prohibits the federal government from creating school curriculum, the department DeVos may be leading has considerable influence and money to influence science education programs in K-12 schools. The Education Department spends millions to fund over 30 science-related grant programs influencing research and training, instruction for student with learning disabilities, access for special student populations, and STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math).

And while it’s true new federal legislation curbs some of the powers of the education secretary and hands over more responsibilities to states, DeVos would likely be ideologically aligned with a great many conservative Republican governors who have bought into the same bizarre ideas she has.

Last, should she and Trump be successful in their plan to provide states $20 billion for “school choice” programs that include vouchers for religious schools, she may be completely unperturbed to learn, as a consequence of her decisions, some of that taxpayer money is being used to teach students “alternate facts” in science classes.

What Would You Do?

In an op-ed on a popular science news website, Ann Reid and Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education fear Devos as US Secretary of Education would “dilute science instruction in schools.”

They argue, “A few loud voices dismissing science can be enough to intimidate teachers into diluting their treatment of evolution and climate change, permanently short-changing a generation of science learners.

“Put yourself in a teacher’s shoes,” they suggest, and imagine bringing up a subject such as evolution, that is based on factual evidence, and then have it questioned by students – and then potentially by their parents and the district’s school board –  who have heard from political leaders, including the secretary of education, that your lesson plans could use a little more “critical thinking.”

What would you do?

1/26/2017 – How Trump’s Education Scheme Will Screw Rural People Who Elected Him

THIS WEEK: Out Of Touch DeVos … DeVos Backs Quack Science … Obama’s Failed School Policies … Black Students Targeted … School Funding Unfairness


How Trump’s Education Scheme Will Screw Rural People Who Elected Him

By Jeff Bryant

“Rural schools make up more than half of the school districts in America and serve around a quarter of the nation’s students … But rural schools are in trouble. Dropout rates for rural students are significantly worse than in urban districts, suspension rates are higher, school facilities are frequently lower quality, funding is disproportionally lower, and reading proficiency levels are sometimes below statewide averages … None of these problems will be solved by creating more charter schools and using vouchers … That option will only make things worse.”
Read more …


Betsy DeVos’ Big Education Idea Doesn’t Work


“Although DeVos’ exhortations on behalf of parental school choice are familiar to anyone who follows education reform, today she is wildly out of touch with a large part of the movement she purports to represent… she has repeatedly depicted school choice as antithetical to, and necessarily independent from, the government’s role in education … Yet unchecked free markets in education will inevitably put poor families in an even worse position … Substantial research showing that charter schools tend to perform better in states with rigorous vetting of charter operators, helped usher in a new phase of ‘school choice’ in many communities: one in which government agencies or designees play a more aggressive role.”
Read more …

DeVos-Backed Company Makes Questionable Claims On Autism, ADHD

Education Week

“President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the federal Education Department is a major backer of a company claiming its neurofeedback technology can ‘fix’ problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and has ‘proven and long-lasting’ positive effects on children with autism… DeVos sat on Neurocore’s board from 2009 until November … As part of her divestiture plan … DeVos and her husband will maintain an indirect financial interest in the company … between $5 million and $25 million … It’s worrisome that the country’s new education secretary nominee would remain closely tied to a company that has apparently made exaggerated and misleading claims about its service.”
Read more …

Obama Administration Spent Billions To Fix Failing Schools, And It Didn’t Work

The Washington Post

“One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results … Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money … than in schools that did not … Some education experts say that the administration closed its eyes to mounting evidence about the program’s problems in its own interim evaluations, which were released in the years after the first big infusion of cash.”
Read more …

Black Students More Likely To Be Arrested At School

Education Week

“Black students are arrested at school at disproportionately high levels … One reason may be that black students are more likely than students in any other racial or ethnic group to attend schools with police … Nationwide, black boys are at the highest risk, three times as likely to be arrested at school as their white male peers. And African-American girls fare little better: They are more than 1.5 times as likely as white boys to be arrested.”
Read more …

School Funding Remains Unfair For Most Students Across The Nation

Education Law Center

“Public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity for success in school … Many states with low funding levels … invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems … Students in certain regions of the country face a ‘double disadvantage’ because their states have low funding levels and do not increase funding for concentrated student poverty … States with unfair school funding perform poorly on key indicators of resources essential for educational opportunity.”
Read more …

How Trump’s Education Scheme Will Screw Rural People Who Elected Him

Left-leaning people everywhere got a big yuk when Betsy DeVos, during her confirmation hearing for US Secretary of Education, cited “potential grizzlies” as a reason to allow guns at schools. As evidence for her assertion, she referenced an earlier exchange she’d had with Wyoming Republican Senator Mike Enzi who had told her about a rural school in his state that needed a fence to protect the school from bears.

Turns out the school doesn’t have a gun and doesn’t seem to have any plans to acquire one, which makes DeVos’ remarks all the more ridiculous.

But there was another exchange DeVos had with a Republican senator from a rural state, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, that deserves far more attention because of what it reveals about how the Trump administration’s education policies will screw rural families who helped vote him into office.

Murkowski shared with the committee that 400 Alaska teachers had met with were to voice concerns about the DeVos nomination because of her agenda to promote “options” to public schools, such as charter schools and vouchers to attend private schools. In these rural communities, where there may be as few as 60 students total, there simply are no other options other than a public school.

Repeatedly, the Senator asked the billionaire school choice proponent for her “commitment to public education, particularly to our rural students who have no choices” and for her “assurance” to states with rural schools that education policies in the Trump administration would not “undermine public schools.”

Republican senators aren’t the only ones in Congress who are concerned that DeVos and Trump and their allegiance to “school choice” will harm rural public school districts. As Politico reports, “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on CNN … that he’s ‘troubled’ by DeVos’ views on public education. ‘Public education is everything we have,’ he said, adding that vouchers and charter schools wouldn’t work in a rural state like West Virginia with a spread-out population and limited resources.”

These lawmakers have good reasons for their concerns.

Rural schools make up more than half of the school districts in America and serve around a quarter of the nation’s students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But rural schools are in trouble.

Dropout rates for rural students are significantly worse than in urban districts, suspension rates are higher, school facilities are frequently lower quality, funding is disproportionally lower, and reading proficiency levels are sometimes below statewide averages.

“Compared to students in urban or suburban schools, students in rural areas and small towns are less likely to attend college,” a recent article in The Atlantic notes.

None of these problems will be solved by creating more charter schools and using vouchers to siphon off even more students and resources. In fact, that option will only make things worse.

People who live in rural communities know this and are speaking out against charter schools and voucher programs coming into their school districts.

In Oklahoma, according to a state-based independent news outlet, charter school advocates who want to expand from urban centers, such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa, out to small rural communities are encountering resistance from “district school leaders and parent and teacher groups, who say charter school growth will erode state and local financial support of district schools.”

This resistance is popping up in rural North Carolina communities too. Many of the school choice skeptics in that state have no doubt noticed what happened in Haywood County, a rural mountain community in the western part of the state, where a local public school beloved by the community suddenly closed due to slow, steady enrollment drops. Administrators of the district’s schools “attribute their two-year 400-student decline to brick and mortar charter schools as well as virtual charter schools opening in the area.”

Voucher programs are also drawing the ire of rural communities.

In Nevada, a voucher-like program that gives parents the choice to tap into their children’s public education funding to pay for private or religiously-affiliated school tuition has been stymied by the State Supreme Court, but state officials are concocting a work around to evade the court order. Many parents aren’t happy about that. Those parents and public officials who live in rural communities note that applicants for the vouchers tend to live in the most affluent, urban parts of the state. But for parents who live in small towns and remote crossroads, “there is no choice,” an official from a rural community told a local news outlet. “It doesn’t help [these] parents at all.”

In Texas, where state lawmakers are attempting to enact a voucher program similar to the one being pushed in Nevada, opposition to “choice” is coming from “republicans from rural Texas districts,” according to an Austin news channel. One opposing voice interviewed in the report is a superintendent of a rural district with only 438 students where the local school has been the “soul of the town” for more than 100 years.

“Rural citizens tend to be highly involved with their schools,” says Karen Eppley, a university professor and expert on rural education. “The schools are often the social anchor of the community, and they provide services not available elsewhere, like sports, summer lunch programs, night classes, and food pantries. They also tend to be major employers.”

In an interview with Eppley in The Atlantic, she argues, ” School choice is really complicated in rural areas … When you pull those students out, then students who have remained in the host school are at a disadvantage … It can be financially devastating to schools that are already operating on the proverbial shoestring.”

What’s sadly ironic is that these rural communities that will perhaps be most devastated by the school choice plan DeVos and Trump are about to foist on the nation are the very communities that voted overwhelmingly Trump into office.

According to Pew Research, “National exit poll[s] documented how Trump and his populist message disproportionately appealed to both white men and women living in rural America.”

The “anxieties that are more deeply felt by rural whites” according to Pew, propelled Trump to large margins of victory in small towns and rural communities. And the gap between the consciousness of these voters and their white peers in the cities and suburbs is growing larger with every passing year.

Of course, prominent voices on the left have become famous for pointing out that white rural Americans often vote against their self-interest. But does that mean they’ll support education policies that are counter to the best interests of their children too?

Someone should ask them that.

SPECIAL REPORT: The Big Charter School ‘Accountability’ Lie

SPECIAL REPORT: The Big Charter School ‘Accountability’ Lie


New Reports Reveal The Big Charter School ‘Accountability’ Lie

By Jeff Bryant

“There’s ample evidence … that much of the vaunted ‘accountability’ of charter schools is an empty promise at best, and at worse, a curtain to hide all sorts of malfeasance and corruption … As a new report from the Center for Popular Democracy documents, ‘lack of oversight’ and regulatory guidelines have led to a massive expansion of low-performing charter schools in Florida … As our new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos would likely be more apt to support and spread the kind of taxpayer waste and abuse we see in Florida rather than address it. That, at least, is what we can assume based on her actions in Michigan … There is no reason to believe … the charter industry will use her tenure to advance accountability measures.”
Read more …