Monday, October 09, 2017

Why Be Unhappy With Betsy DeVos?

The Washington Policy Center seems to be asking the question, almost to the point of saying DeVos is being picked on. 
Critics of education reform say that Secretary DeVos should not come to Washington state, should not hear from people here, and should not be allowed to speak to our guests at a gala event.
I haven't heard one person say those particular statements.  I have heard people say they absolutely disagree with almost every single education stand that she has including the one she won't say out loud - she doesn't support the schools that about 85% of American children attend.

The primary obstacle to improving public education in our state are executives at the WEA union.  They are fearful and angry.  They want to maintain their power, to keep mandatory dues money flowing to their bank accounts, and to keep children and families trapped in a monopoly system that is failing them.
The union.  Yes, there are issues with the union but them wanting to keep kids in failing schools isn't one of them.  That's just ludicrous.

Reading the July 24-August 6, 2017 New York magazine's revealing article about DeVos might shed some light on why she's getting a continuing hard pushback nationwide.

Jeb Bush liked her. So did his mother. So did Campbell Brown, the TV anchor turned education activist. On Twitter, Eva Moskowitz, the prominent charter-schools founder, said she was “thrilled to see such a passionate leader selected for such an important role.” True, these were people who had taken her money and sat on her boards (or she on theirs), but they still staked their optimism on her prospective success.

Now these cheerleaders have gone quiet, evading the opportunity to offer further praise. Campbell Brown cites a conflict with her new employer, Facebook. Jeb Bush won’t come to the phone. Teresa Weatherall Neal, the superintendent of schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who in November said she was “excited for the children across the nation” at the thought of DeVos’s leadership, declines to comment. Richard Mouw, a prominent Evangelical intellectual, met DeVos through church and was more than happy to write a recommendation to the Senate at her request, he says. “I thought she was a breath of fresh air.” But after he’s seen her in action these past six months, his enthusiasm has dissipated. “Oh, gosh,” reflects Mouw, “I’ve been kind of disappointed in her positions” — especially on the disabled and the poor.
But what’s right in the bubble in which she has always lived doesn’t translate on YouTube, or in Cabinet meetings, or on the battlefield of public schools, where stakeholders have been waging vengeful politics for years. This is what those advocates who had admired the zeal she brought to their cause didn’t have the foresight to grasp. Out of Michigan, without her checkbook, DeVos is like a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.
What is she like?
Perseverance and determination.” This was the mantra of Betsy’s father, Edgar Prince, who made his billion manufacturing interior components of American cars: consoles, cupholders, armrests, and such.  
“I love Dick and Betsy DeVos. They care more about poor kids than anybody ever could, and the difference is they actually do something about it,” says Tom Maas, who served with Betsy as an elder at Mars Hill. Her friends call Betsy decent and good-hearted, authentic and vulnerable. 
Her father-in-law
His father, Richard (who is alive at 91 and worth more than $5 billion), had co-founded Amway, starting out marketing Nutrilite vitamins and building a vast army of salespeople with promises of personal freedom and profit.
She and her husband (and his family)
Since 1997, the family has given at least $44 million to the Republican Party. They own the NBA team the Orlando Magic and have given generously to conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and, locally, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Acton Institute.

Dick and Betsy, partners in everything, have their own philanthropy, which supports megachurches and Christian and charter schools, but also the X-Prize, which awards innovators in science and technology, and the Kennedy Center, where for six years Betsy sat on the board.

She has also said that she homeschooled her oldest daughter for a time and frequently pulled her children out of school so that they could come along when Dick, who became president of Amway in 1993, traveled abroad. “If you ask any of my kids today what their most important experience was in their education, they would say it was the travel and the ability to see and be in other cultures,” she has said. It’s an approach to education that wouldn’t be possible if they were, say, required to meet a public school’s typical attendance standards.

The DeVoses were the Republican money in Michigan. They did not want their generosity to be mistaken for altruism.
“I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence,” Betsy wrote in 1997. “Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return … We expect a return on our investment.”
Trump has hired other oligarchs to run his federal agencies, and he has staffed the Executive branch with people who, like DeVos, might have been called “lobbyists” in former lives. But DeVos is a hybrid of the two. Fortified by great wealth and strong religion in the shelter of a monochromatic community, she has throughout her life single-mindedly used that wealth to advance her educational agenda. DeVos believes passionately in “school choice,” the idea that poor families should have the same educational options as rich ones do — and that the best way to achieve this is to deregulate schools, creating an educational free market driven by consumer demand.
Is she qualified to be heading this post?
“She doesn’t have deep knowledge,” says Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, who has met with the secretary many times. “And without deep knowledge, you pretty much feel on the defensive.” Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.

Within the department, morale is low and the mood is tense. “People aren’t sure about who’s making the decisions,” says one veteran. “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision … I don’t know if it’s decision by committee, or if one person speaks more strongly than others, but different people come to us with different decisions. One person says something one day, there’s disagreements, then someone else comes in and says, ‘Let’s do something else.’ ”

She is surrounded by “all the same types. Conservative Republicans. Trumpites,” who are feeding her talking points about state rule without helping her understand the context or the fault lines around education policy, the larger questions of race, poverty, inequality, family structure, and health care that failures in school systems raise. “In education, the first thing you should do is make sure you have as many diverse voices as possible, especially since 51 percent of our kids are on free and reduced lunch. You cannot have education policy shaped by people who do not look like the people you’re serving.”
Would the federal Department of Education protect a gay child who wanted to use a school voucher to attend a school with anti-gay admissions policies? DeVos stumbled. She started. Then stopped. Then started again. “States and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions,” she concluded.

“I didn’t think I would ever see a Cabinet member who couldn’t say for the cameras, ‘Oh, we would never discriminate against x, y, or z population,” says Doolittle. “I sent an email to my supervisor saying, ‘We’ve got to talk. I’m out.’ ”
Doolittle, as well as department staff who won’t speak on the record for fear of retribution, says DeVos’s management style is just this way: polite on the surface — “nice” — but disconnected from the people she is charged to lead. Insiders say DeVos rarely asks staff to comment on her public statements, and when they do comment, they are thanked for their suggestions and ignored. At meetings, staff are reminded not to talk to the press. “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” says Doolittle.
Outcomes of her work in Michigan
Detroit now has a greater percentage of kids in charters than any city in the country except New Orleans. Eighty percent of those charters are for-profit.  

Still, only 10 percent of Detroit’s graduating seniors are reading at a college level, and the charter schools perform better than or as well as the district schools only about half the time. 

When last summer a bipartisan group of concerned Detroiters tried to introduce some accountability and performance standards to the system, GLEP stepped in and killed the measure.
A telling story about DeVos as Secretary

On Valentine’s Day, DeVos accepted an invitation to speak at the dinner preceding Capitol Hill Day, in which the athletes of the Special Olympics pay visits to their representatives in Congress. It was just after her confirmation, and some attendees were wary of the controversy her presence might provoke. But DeVos was gracious. “I’m proud to stand beside you as a partner and support Special Olympics — an important program that promotes leadership and empowers students to be agents of change,” she said in her prepared remarks. Her duty being discharged, another Cabinet secretary might have made excuses and an exit, but DeVos stayed, visiting with the athletes and their families at each table. She chatted and shook hands and took pictures with everyone — as if these were the most powerful people in the country and not the least.

That must have been how Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, felt when he read one morning in the Washington Post that his entire federal budget had been killed. The Special Olympics receives about $12 million annually — which it matches with private dollars — for a program that rewards schools for including disabled athletes on their sports teams and has been proven to reduce the depression and isolation that disabled students feel. Republicans like the program. So do Democrats. It’s not that much money, and spending it makes everyone feel good. Another Cabinet secretary — especially one who stood up and publicly identified herself as “a partner” of the program — might have given the chairman a heads-up in advance, made future promises, or bought goodwill, but “we were given no advance notice that we were going to be eliminated from the president’s budget,” Shriver says.

What to fear about her work as Secretary of Education
1) After her visit to the Potter’s House, Betsy DeVos became one of the nation’s most aggressive activists for vouchers — government credits to help parents pay for the private or parochial school of their choice. Everyone agrees that in the country’s poorest Zip Codes, schools are mostly failing to serve children. But disagreement is virulent around the causes and solutions. 

Teachers unions hate vouchers because they funnel scarce per-student dollars out of public-school districts and into the private sector. Liberals regard them suspiciously as a Trojan horse: a way for religious or sectarian groups to erode First Amendment protections and take control of schools. 

Will government dollars be spent, for example, to teach American children that God created the world in a week? 

Or to support schools that maintain exclusionary admissions policies?

 A coalition of reform-minded progressives, many of whom are African-American leaders from impoverished urban districts, including Democratic superstars like Cory Booker, continue to support vouchers. 
2) In a 2002 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Dick DeVos explained GLEP’s strategy: In any state vote on “school choice,” the DeVoses did not want a single Republican to swing against them and join with Democrats and teachers unions. And so they would focus on the primary field, rewarding local candidates who declared allegiance to their cause and punishing those who refused. “It does change the nature and the scope of the debate when you’re able to deliver help to your friends and consequences to those who oppose your agenda,” he said.
In a word - money.  The DeVoses have it and use it like a bully club.

From Gadfly on the Wall, a great thread on so-called school choice.

3) Title IX

4) Transgendered students 

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

US Secretary of Education.... Arne Duncan wasted $7 Billion requiring states to implement his four unproven turnaround strategies if they wanted $$$$. That move infuriated many and in January 2017 it was revealed it accomplished nothing positive for any school. .... Does the person in the position of US Secretary of Education create any improvement ?
Betsy DeVos is likely to continue the tradition of no improvement.

About the WEA, a great many criticisms are justified. WEA is not too often respectful of the needs of its members and often goes deaf to members on important issues.

-- Dan Dempsey

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dan, there's no value/improvement and then there's real damage and destruction. I leave you to consider which one is DeVos.

Thanks Obama said...

Arne Duncan and Obama opened the gates to privatize education. DeVos will push through. That said, the DeVos family worked for years to change campaign finance laws to benefit business. They are evil people.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

Arne D did loads of damage to many teachers' careers and lives.
I do not expect better from DeVos.

-- Dan Dempsey