S. E. Williams
Increasingly, charter schools are becoming integral to America’s system of public education. Although there continues to be a push and pull between traditional public school and charter public school education advocates, many in these camps coalesced in their opposition to the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in early February.
DeVos’ appointment was opposed by every Senate Democrat as well as some prominent Republicans; as a result, Vice President Pence was called in to push her confirmation through.
DeVos is a wealthy philanthropist with no experience in public education as a teacher or administrator. Over the years, her billionaire family has worked diligently to help build today’s conservative movement, and has been instrumental in pushing the conservative movement to the far right.
Like many others, she is an advocate of charter schools; however, she is also a strong supporter of vouchers for private, religious schools and a champion of the privatization of public education in general. This raised the concerns for advocates who support both traditional and charter public education.
Those concerns only heightened during her confirmation hearing where DeVos’ limited and/or lack of understanding of federal education law was on full display. Further, she remained ambiguous about whether she would adhere to education regulations established during the Obama administration.
In one of her first official press statements, the newly-appointed secretary addressed the full staff of the Department of Education and stated in part, “Together, we will find new ways in which we can positively transform education.”
If the past is prologue, it is easy to understand concerns regarding the future for America’s children if Devos is successful in her commitment to “transform education.”
An analysis of her twenty-year charter school initiative in Detroit, Michigan revealed warning signs. Firstly, the district operated with less oversight than any education system in the nation. Reportedly, nearly two-thirds of charter schools in the state were run by for-profit management companies that were not required to make the same financial disclosures expected of schools that are not-for-profit or public.
The recent string of failures by for-profit colleges creates a strong sense of foreboding regarding what could happen if for-profit education became the only template for K-12 schools.
Finally, students’ academic performance at for-profit charter schools during the DeVos era was only on par with students in the city’s public schools.
When these results are combined with DeVos’ on-record sentiment regarding the limited, if any, role she believes the government should play in the education of America’s children, it is easy to see why many opposed her appointment.
A former Superintendent of Education in Michigan summed up the DeVos impact on his state’s approach to K-12 education when he said: “In a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.”
Critics wonder whether this is the outcome DeVos has planned for all of America’s children.