When Barack Obama came into office in 2008, he inherited from the outgoing Bush administration a disastrous education law known as No Child Left Behind. Rather than taking the lessons of the failure of NCLB to heart, the Obama administration added Race to the Top, a grant program that used standardized test scores as a proxy for student achievement, demonized teachers and schools that didn’t meet arbitrary metrics, and incentivized states to expand charter schools.
Two Secretaries of Education have served in the Obama administration: Arne Duncan and John King, Jr.
Between them they have only three years of classroom experience and about that much time as administrators of charter schools.
Before coming to the Department of Education, Duncan also served two years as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Chicago Public Schools. King served for four years as the New York Commissioner of Education.
As little experience as Duncan and King had with public education before coming to the Department of Education, President-elect Trump’s nominee, Betsy DeVos, has less. In fact, she has none.
Stephen Henderson, the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, who has followed her career, wrote a scathing critique.
“DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader.... In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars to the nation’s public schools. She is, in essence, a lobbyist....For 20 years, the lobby her family bankrolls has propped up the billion-dollar charter school industry and insulated it from commonsense oversight, even as charter schools repeatedly failed to deliver on their promises to parents and children,” Henderson writes. “Largely as a result of DeVos’s lobbying, Michigan tolerates more low-performing charter schools than just about any other state. And it lacks any effective mechanism for shutting down, or even improving, failing charters. We’re a laughingstock in national education circles, and a pariah among reputable charter school operators.”
Arne Duncan and John King oversaw reform policies that drained creativity and heart from the classroom.
As strongly as I objected, I never doubted both men were committed to public education as the foundation of our democracy.
By contrast, DeVos has been an active campaigner against public education, funding two failed voucher initiatives in Michigan and spending heavily to get pro-voucher legislators elected.
She founded American Federation of Children, a group associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that advocates for privatizing public education.
President-elect Trump wants to reallocate $20 billion in federal funds into school vouchers for private and religious schools.
His nomination of DeVos reinforces that intent.
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, has an apt warning.
“Americans are always free to send their children to private schools and religious schools, but raiding the public treasury to subsidize private businesses and religious organizations runs against the public trust and the Constitution.”
Kay McSpadden teaches high school English in York, S.C. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.