In warning of efforts to gut public education, teachers weren’t paranoid. They were prescient.

Donald Trump’s education nominee Betsy DeVos cleared a Senate committee vote but may face a challenge with the full Senate now. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When I first began writing about schools, I thought teachers were a tad paranoid when they warned of covert campaigns to gut public education.

Now, I realize they were prescient.

Georgia just endured a bruising battle over a constitutional change that would have allowed the state to turn local schools deemed to be failing over to private management, including for-profit charter schools companies that have dismal track records. Amendment 1 was defeated with 60 percent of Georgia voters rejecting the erosion of local control.

At the federal level, a billionaire with no classroom experience has been nominated to lead the agency in charge of improving public education. Betsy DeVos, a philanthropist and mega Republican donor, has dedicated herself to creating escape hatches out of public schools and weakening teacher unions.

“Traditional public schools are not succeeding,” she has said. “In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing. That’s helped people become more open to what were once considered really radical reforms—reforms like vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts.”

DeVos has a champion in former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who opened a conference of his Foundation for Excellence in Education today decrying a monolithic and public education system intent on self-preservation and indifferent to the plight of low-income students.

“To the system, they are not individuals worthy of the best education available. They’re funding resources to be procured,” he said.

An elated Bush said DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump and the new Congress, have the “real opportunity to bring wholesale disruption to education in America” by providing parents with greater choice.

I endorse disruption — if it leads to improvements. The problem with the choice movement, whether vouchers, charters or education savings accounts, is that it hasn’t raised the academic performance of at-risk students. Georgia has 115 charter schools, which, on average, are lower quality than traditional public schools.

In her home state of Michigan, DeVos has invested money and effort in expanding charter options with little to show for it. While Detroit now ranks second to New Orleans in the charter school enrollment, half of the schools perform about the same or worse than traditional schools.

DeVos regards choice as paramount, even bad choice. Her family derailed an effort to require more oversight of Detroit’s troubled charter sector, wielding $1.45 million in campaign contributions to dissuade lawmakers.

She overlooks the role of family, community and environmental factors in learning. The academic challenges of America’s neediest children — challenges magnified by addiction, homelessness, broken families, poor health, and joblessness — are daunting for any school. As Georgia State University education researcher Jarod Apperson has pointed out, “There are only about 20 good charter schools in the whole state today and it took almost two decades to get here.”

As a young reporter, I covered state legislatures, city councils and county commissions. Puzzled by the frequent decisions that contradicted voter sentiment, I realized political affiliation mattered, but so did personal and professional affiliations. Friends, family and colleagues influence politicians. Constituents are often an abstract; next-door neighbors and lodge brothers are real. If you spend a lot of time swapping stories with billionaires, their perspective informs your views.

Neither Trump nor DeVos sent their children to public schools and have little regard for what they call “failing government schools.” But nine out of 10 American send their children to public schools, and voters have consistently resisted using tax dollars to underwrite private school tuition.

The U.S. Department of Education was once seen as an ally of public education. It may now become an adversary.

Reader Comments 0

251 comments
class80olddog
class80olddog

I agree with edugator2 that one way to help improve schools is to reduce class size (along with more emphasis on discipline, attendance , and social promotion).  But you don't need any extra money to do that - the current amount we spend is more than enough.  Let's take AvgGeorgian's idea and spend 85% in the classroom, and only 15% for other things like administration.  If you assume an average of $8000 per student, then you would spend $6800 in the classroom.  If you take $800 per student ($12000 per 15 students) you are left with $6000 per student for the teacher.  If the class size is 15, that is $90000 per year for the teacher's salary.  

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog

CDog, I like parts of your school audits plan, and emphasis on smaller class size, discipline, and attendance. The social promotion problem could be looked at as more of a mastery problem that could be somewhat resolved with a mastery-based curriculum with fewer (not easier) standards, and different but rigorous academic paths for later grades.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@AvgGeorgian @class80olddog


However, I do need to state that attendance problems are often related to students' not being instructed on their correct instructional levels.  I, also, believe, based on my decades of educational experience, that an attitude of care toward students, in relation to their attendance and discipline problems, works much better than does a punitive attitude. 


Both attendance and discipline, of course, are related to the quality of the instruction in the classroom, as well as to unresolved emotional problems carried over from the student's home environment (which is also better to handle with a caring attitude rather than with a judgmental one.)

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog 

P. S. Please read my apology to you, below, class80olddog, for the harshness of my words to you, yesterday.  Thank you.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog De nada.  I did not take anything personally.  You have your opinions and I have mine.  Opinions are like...noses - everyone has one and yours smells no different than mine.  This is an opinion blog - people throw their opinions out there for other people to consider and hopefully take something away.  I learn things from you and I hope I provoke you to thought.  Even if I don't think with depth.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Public education is a public good paid for by all taxpayers. Why would ONLY parents of school-aged children get to choose how ALL taxpayers" public education money is spent?


You "choicers" have plenty of choice:

1. Move(oh, it's too expensive-then as republicans say "pull yourself up by your bootstraps and quit whining about your failure to prepare for children")

2. Use a free, public, online school - you get to supervise and guide your child's education.

3. Homeschool -very cheap with free online lessons like Khan Academy.

4. Private school -give up all luxuries like expensive smartphones, vacations etc. Get 2 extra jobs, cut coupons, work for a private school for reduced tuition.

5. Get a teaching certificate and teach at your child's school to improve the school.

6. Run for school board or support your choice for school board.

7. Create a parent group that studies the problems and solutions attends school board meetings and makes proposals, asks questions, etc.


Bottom line is that you didn't prepare financially or professionally to access the choice you want,  and now you want to take other taxpayers' money and choice to get YOUR choice.


If you want individual choice, then so do I. Just give all education taxes paid back to ALL taxpayers as a voucher in the amount paid and let each taxpayer decide to which PUBLIC school they will donate.


JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@AvgGeorgian Poor people pay for what they want and beg for what they need. These rich fat cats like DeVos will never allow poor children of any color to attend schools with her grandchildren. There again segregation of schools is about money! I mean choice not segregationist! hahahahhaahahahha!

danteSpada
danteSpada

This is the thing: what actually works?  The only thing proven, actually proven, to improve schools is Bussing.  I am not endorsing Bussing, but folks, there is very little evidence that what DeVos wants to do is actually going to help anything but her Christian agenda.  My concern is that big educational companies like Pearson have the most to gain from all the "reforms"  More testing? They make money because they make the tests.  Privatization?  They make even more money.  Go look at our state educational budget, Ms.Downey, and do a piece on how much of it goes to the Educational Industrial Complex.

Pelosied
Pelosied

Betsy DeVos is a superb choice for Education Secretary.

Those struggling to limit parental choice, and to preserve union control of public education, are on the wrong side of history. Donald Trump's election is only the latest indicator of that.

The changes so many parents have hoped for will begin in 2017. Finally.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian


You said union in your post PelosiEduKtr. You get another $1.35, right? @Pelosied

Pelosied
Pelosied

@AvgGeorgian 

You're a union denier and a troll with no apparent outside social life.

And just a reminder: the average Georgian voter voted for Trump. 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Pelosied She will try too be the minority dream, she surely doesn't want her grandchildren going to school with yours. You people will never get it....

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Pelosied @AvgGeorgian

Yes they did. Are you satisfied with the swamp draining process?


BTW, while you may consider me a troll, I try to earn my keep on the blog with thoroughly researched opinions, links to information, and a non-partisan approach to what's best for public education for all citizens.


As far as my social life, you may take huge amounts of time away from your real life to have a presence here, but I find it is a minimally time-consuming distraction from whatever activity in which I find myself currently engaged.


It would behoove you to add more substance to your posts and stop just posting "union bad"(that is, if you want to be perceived as a more substantial poster); but as long as you are enjoying yourself, adding to the mix (and maybe making $1.35 per anti-union post), knock yourself out.

Amber George
Amber George

@Pelosied  I think most individuals who are opposed to her are not opposed to choice, but rather Devos' lack of experience in education. Also, I'm not sure if you're aware, but Georgia does not have teachers unions. It's against the law, so it would be difficult for them to control the public schools since they do not exist.


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Frankly, I am tired of arrogant businessmen telling educators that they know more about education than educators do.  Their arrogance is profound.  All the more reason NEVER to turn educational delivery over to the business arena. They simply have not got a clue.  Trust me on that after 35 years in education.  They simply have an excess of ego and arrogance, and are unaware that they do.  Leave education to the educational professionals.  Control your own hubris, please.

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings What about "education professionals" who can't speak or write standard English? How do they teach? Badly.

etessaro
etessaro

Wow...u have all the answers, and all the bias you accuse others of, b/c u spent 35 years in the classroom. And business people/free market ideas, the innovators and prime architects of the greatest upwardly mobile society on the planet? Forget it, they're arrogant, hubristic, can't be trusted.

Wow...recommend spending some time with Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, any of the AFC people, and give the Randi Weingarten monopoly a rest. Embrace discussion, change, radical solutions to schools failing children.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings @etessaro


Your post above, class80olddog is proof that your perceptions are limited, I regret to say. 


I am not going to bother to explain the reasons for the above two points you address because I believe, now, that you are incapable of understanding anything that I might explain -  which would include (1) differing connotations of words over time and (2) the evolution of human consciousness over time, of which Jefferson and Washington were both aware.

etessaro
etessaro

Having just finished Chernow's Hamilton I see no conflict on his or Jefferson's points of view with earlier comments. In fact they had a firm zeal for what we would call today radical disruption. Broad perspectives are called for when dealing with intractable problems. Need to see the forest.

But it's easy to recognize ur talent for disassembly. Hope the students were better for it.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings We have left education to the "educational professionals" for the last forty years and what we have now is the result.  What we have is not working so we are changing it.  Part of the change was the recent election - while it did not approve a OSD - it did elect Trump - and he has the right to appoint who he likes.  Businesses may eventually take matters into their own hands by requiring pre-employment testing to see if that diploma really means anything.  I am all for that.  If schools won't test effectively, the business community will.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@etessaro

Are you saying that ME is able to separate larger things into smaller parts as in disassemble?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@etessaro


I read Chernow's book, "Hamilton" probably seven years ago (an excellent book on which the musical "Hamilton" is based).


If you had read history in any detail, you would know that the visions of Hamilton and Jefferson were quite different regarding the direction America would follow.  I respect Hamilton's vision also, but I believe Jefferson's must always take precedence because Jefferson understood eternal truths with greater insight than Hamilton, who primarily was responsible for building America's financial and commercial empire.

etessaro
etessaro

I'll add pedantic to disassembly, in how I remember this conversation. Thx for reminding me when the book I just read was written, and that the play (I saw) was based on it. Wow (again)....I hope u have a good friend - a business owner perhaps - who can keep u on subject.

I do have a question - why have less than 1% of public school teachers in the country, been fired for 'competency'? Is there another profession outside of Govt, where EVERYONE just happens to be great? In the real world?

Thx for engaging - I'm out for the day.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@etessaro


I do not care when you read Ron Chernow's book "Hamilton," and I am not impressed that you have seen the musical play based upon it.


What I do know is that you have never perceived of the ideas of Thomas Jefferson or of Alexander Hamilton with any insight or clarity, whatever you have read or seen.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@etessaro Same reason big business folk are able to still pensions and ruin lives and not be prosecuted.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

You are limited in you perceptions, imo. You continuously focus on negatives. You would not have been an excellent teacher with that attitude. Stay in your own area of expertise. You have no idea how to foster human growth.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@etessaro 

Your class-based, money-based, hierarchical mentality is duly noted.  You have no idea what Thomas Jefferson and our other Founding Fathers were perceiving for humanity when Jefferson penned these words for them and for America to sustain and improve, indefinitely:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

With those who perceive reality as you do, we will continue to destroy the ideals and tenets of this great nation until it becomes one of ignorance, crassness, power via wealth and authoritarian position, not one based on education, enlightenment and sensitivity to the fact that all human beings ARE created equal. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings 

The republican legislature had a test, the HSGT and removed it. Wouldn't you say the responsibility for a meaningful diploma rests with the republican politician and not teachers?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@AvgGeorgian @class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings That was stupid, whoever did it. If the test is not good, then change the test, don't do away with it.  But it was the educational hierarchy that led the charge to get rid of the test.  And who complains about the testing in schools - the eduacracy!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog 


I need to qualify my first paragraph above to class80olddog and state that I was referring to his mind's being "limited" only in the areas of historical movement and education, as I see it. 


 We each have different gifts from God.  And, my harshness in my words to class80 was not of God. My patience with those who lack understanding of slavery, of Jefferson, and  of the use of the word "men" nearly three centuries ago itself has limits when the presentation of the writer is snarky on this blog.  However, I will keep trying to control this impatience in my temperament and apologize now for the harshness of my words, whatever the circumstances.  That is of God.

Milo
Milo

@MaryElizabethSings Why have none of your ´former students´ written here to praise you for changing their lives?

J260
J260

Am I the only one who thinks Mary Elizabeth is absolutely crazy? Denying that our public schools are a miserable failure is exactly that - CRAZY.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I don't buy into propaganda like you do. I taught for 35 years - until 2007. Did you?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@J260 No.......but, not all public schools are bad! The one diploma system is the blame. The current state of education is just tired. Why in the hell do all kids need four years of math, science, or english  if they are not college material? Georgia needs a technical and general diploma option. 


And she also thinks Sally Hemming was a will participate 

Starik
Starik

@JBBrown1968 @J260  Maybe she was, like the Lovings who overturned the laws against interracial marriage and mistresses. Are you saying that black kids and poor whites and immigrants aren't college material?  Is that it, or a continuation of racial segregation in the schools?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Regarding Hemings, you simplify beyond reality and misrepresent my thinking in the process.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Starik @JBBrown1968 @J260 Clearly that is what I said......yes, no white kid would be benefited by a technical education.

Did that give you a jolly? IF YOU CAN READ ITS SAYS ALL CHILDREN!

Are you saying black and Mexicans kids can not be successful?


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

You have no depth and love to perceive in cliches. You would never make an educator.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

No. I was referring to your ignorance regarding Sally Hemings. Read Dr Annette Gordon-Reed's researched book entitled "The Hemings of Monticello" to be informed. I did not read your post regarding diplomas.

Starik
Starik

@JBBrown1968 @Starik @J260 Sure they can. Both groups need to be educated in a racially/culturally integrated setting - with white/Asian kids in the majority.

Milo
Milo

@J260

Narcissistic and Delusional is a deadly combination.