School Choice Meltdown in Motown

I talked to parents in Detroit who are living through that city’s experiment in unregulated school choice…

Since Betsy DeVos was nominated to serve as the top edu-official in the land, her role in shaping Detroit as an education laboratory in which an out-of-control lab fire now burns, has been subject to plenty of scrutiny. But we haven’t heard enough from parents who are living through the city’s experiment in unregulated school choice. In this episode of Have You Heard, the final installment of my ten-part series with collaborator Aaron French, I headed to Detroit to talk to parents about Motown’s school choice meltdown. They describe what it’s like when schools shut down without notice, leaving them to fend for themselves in the “education marketplace,” while mass school closures have left whole neighborhoods without schools. It’s a hard story to hear, and yet these parents, and the advocacy group they’re part of, 482Forward, will leave you feeling hopeful—something we could all use a little more of these days!

Continue reading →

States’ Rights and Wrongs

The rollback of civil rights enforcement in education is underway, says law professor Derek Black…

Jennifer Berkshire: The Trump Administration has just rescinded guidelines to schools banning discrimination against transgender students. There’s a lot of speculation about just how *joint* the joint letter from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions actually was. But you seem unconvinced by the portrayals of DeVos as a fierce protector of civil rights.

Image result for transgender bathroomDerek Black: The stream of bad news over the past few months has been steady. The Trump transition team said the administration would scale back the civil rights work in education.  At her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos was reluctant to take an affirmative stance on enforcing students’ disability rights.  Since taking the post, she has remarked that she could not *think of any* current pressing civil rights issues where the federal government has a role to play; things like racial segregation and exclusion of females were things of the past in her opinion.  

Now reports are coming out that Gail Heriot is likely to be the next head of the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Heroit has been critical of the Office’s aggressive civil rights stance in recent years. With these individuals in place, it is hard to imagine much good happening at the federal level. Even if they do not rescind other Department positions on integration, school discipline, English Language Learners, and school resources, they are very unlikely to enforce existing regulations and policy guidance. Disparate impact enforcement, for instance, will be non-existent.  Rather than take on traditional civil rights concerns, I would expect they will identify fringe issues to pursue.  Continue reading →

Betsy DeVos’ Alternative Facts

From Common Core to Neurocore, the right candidate for Trumpian times…

Image result for neurocore brain trainingAfter Betsy DeVos’ rocky confirmation hearing performance, she quickly became fodder for memes and late-night comic commentary. But what ya’ll are missing is that DeVos herself is in on the joke. As she prepares to take her spot in the *highest IQ cabinet ever assembled,* she’s the only cabinet member who has a real stake in raising your IQ—by 12 points. DeVos knows that in this, the age of alternative facts, no one gives a hoot about the difference between *proficiency* and *growth.* The testimonial is where it’s at. So Neurocore, the biofeedback company that she won’t be giving up on, has no research behind it. Who cares??? Neurocore changed Charles C’s brain and changed his life, and it helped football player Kirk Cousins take his game to the next level. If the plural of anecdote is data, then the plural of testimonial is franchises. To the brain rooms, reader, we’ve got qEEG data to collect and a national expansion to plan. Continue reading →

The Red Queen

The ultimate target of Betsy DeVos’ agenda isn’t teachers unions, or even the *education establishment.* It’s the Democratic Party…

Image result for vintage playing cards red queenBy the measures that are supposed to matter, Betsy DeVos’ experiment in disrupting public education in Michigan has been a colossal failure. In its 2016 report on the state of the state’s schools, Education Trust Midwest painted a picture of an education system in freefall. *Michigan is witnessing systematic decline across the K-12 spectrum…White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income—it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.* But as I heard repeatedly during the week I recently spent crisscrossing the state, speaking with dozens of Michiganders, including state and local officials, the radical experiment that’s playing out here has little to do with education, and even less to do with kids. The real goal of the DeVos family is to crush the state’s teachers unions as a means of undermining the Democratic party, weakening Michigan’s democratic structures along the way. And on this front, our likely next Secretary of Education has enjoyed measurable, even dazzling success.

This story goes back a long ways, so settle in. We could start in the 1840’s, when the first Dutch settlers began to arrive in Western Michigan, or in 1970, when the DeVoses made their first attempt to amend the state constitution so as to allow for public funding for private, religious schools. Another obvious starting point is 1993, when then Governor John Engler called the public schools in Michigan an *educational gulag* and a *monopoly of mediocrity,* lobbing the first fusillade in a war against the state’s teachers that has never ceased. For the sake of brevity, though, I’ll fast forward to the mid-oughts, when Betsy’s husband Dick DeVos ran for governor. It was the fourth time that the DeVoses had brought their crusade to give the market and the Maker more sway over the state’s schools to the voters, and each time Mitten staters had delivered a resounding *no thanks* in response. And so the DeVoses pivoted. If they couldn’t convince voters to enact their favored policies, they’d purchase the legislature instead. Continue reading →

The Long Game of Betsy DeVos

To understand Betsy DeVos’ vision for education, you have to know where she comes from…

devos1I first laid eyes upon Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, at Campbell Brown’s forum for GOP presidential contenders. It was the summer of 2015, back when Trump was little more than a punchline, and Jeb Bush, despite drooping in the August heat that day, still seemed like the real contender. Because the event wasn’t an official debate, Bush, Walker, Vindal, Fiorina et al couldn’t appear on stage together—which meant that Brown asked the same questions of each, and got similar pablum-esque non-answers, in an endless *conversational* format. And then suddenly there was Betsy DeVos, a Brown chum, holding forth about an education *moonshot.* It wasn’t what she said that interested me so much as what she represented. Could the education reform coalition’s major selling point, its bipartisan-ness, really stretch to incorporate the extreme right-wing views of DeVos? Mightn’t it be better for her to remain in the favored domain of the DeVos family, the shadows, or at least in Michigan? Continue reading →