Betsy DeVos today: Charter schools are not a cure-all

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, shown here speaking this morning, told charter school advocates: “No one has a monopoly on innovation. No one has a monopoly on creativity. No one has a monopoly on knowing how every child learns.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to promote a single strategy to improve U.S education: expanded school choice.

Her speech today to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington praises charters with this caveat, “But we must recognize that charters aren’t the right fit for every child. For many children, neither a traditional nor a charter public school works for them.”

She warns the charter school advocates at the conference against becoming another education bureaucracy resistant to other forms of reform, including vouchers and private school scholarships.

Here are her prepared remarks to the alliance in full as released by the U.S. Department of Education:

It’s great to be here with so many pioneers and champions who are fighting to give our nation’s families more quality options in their children’s education.

We each have a different story of how we got here. Here’s mine. …

Defenders of the status quo like to paint me as a “voucher-only proponent,” but the truth is I’ve long-supported public charter schools as a quality option for students. I worked with many others to get Michigan’s first charter legislation passed in 1993 – the third state to do so. And my husband founded a charter high school in Michigan that focuses on aviation, educates kids in the STEM fields and prepares them to contribute in significant ways to our 21st century economy.

Whatever your own journey looks like, we’re here because we came to the same conclusion that, as a nation, we are simply not doing a good enough job educating our kids.

We all saw too many kids languishing in schools that did not work for them. We knew that if given choices, these students and their families would find an environment that suited them and challenged them.

Let me be clear up front: this is in no way an indictment of the great teachers working every day on behalf of their students. In fact, they should be honored, celebrated, and freed up to do what they do best. If there are any teachers – past or present – here today, will you please stand up? Thank you for all that you do.

But they – and we – all live with the fact that the current structure of education is outdated and ultimately is not geared toward what is right and best for students.

Let me tell two stories that illustrate this reality:

I met Dan a few months ago. Dan and his wife weren’t happy with their children’s assigned school, so they did their research and found a school they thought would be a good fit for them. They had to stretch their family budget to buy a house in that school’s district, but they thought it was a worthwhile investment for their children’s futures.

Unfortunately for them, right after they closed on their house, the school board redrew the lines and poof – Dan and his family were now assigned to a different school, this one with achievement levels much lower than the one they moved away from and the one they sacrificed their life savings for. When Dan took his case to the district, the response was, “Too bad.”

The second story: Sandy recently moved to Virginia, she was excited to be living in a highly regarded, high-performing district. Her son completed the local school’s assessments, and while he had just finished first grade, he tested at the fourth grade level. Yet the school told Sandy they didn’t have anything to offer a gifted student like him and he would have to stay in second grade because of his age.

So while the school district is well-regarded for its high performance, it shows that not even a great district is the best fit for every child.

I can’t justify either situation to these parents when they ask the same question each of us would ask, “Why?”

“Why can’t my children go to the school I chose?”

“Why isn’t there a program that meets my child at his level?”

“Why?”

The answer should not be, “Take it, or literally leave it.”

How can we be ok with an education structure that is so inflexible and so unaccommodating? Education is foundational to everything else in life, yet the process of acquiring it is based on a family’s income or neighborhood.

A system that denies parents the freedom to choose the education that best suits their children’s individual and unique needs denies them a basic human right. It is un-American, and it is fundamentally unjust.

Thankfully, you are among those who are working to give parents the freedom to find that education for their children.

It’s been more than a quarter century since the first charter law was enacted in Minnesota in 1991. That law didn’t evolve out of a vacuum and it wasn’t developed on a whim. It was passed in response to the stories of families like Dan’s and Sandy’s. Parents were desperate for more options, and they pressed for change.

What began as a handful of schools in Minnesota has blossomed into nearly 7,000 schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia, serving more than 3 million students nationwide.

Through your great work, you have proven that quality and choice can coexist. You’ve helped weave charter schools into the fabric of American education.

Charter schools are here to stay. We’re now seeing the first generation of charter students raising children of their own. They know the difference educational choice made in their lives, and now as parents they want the same options for their children.

But we must recognize that charters aren’t the right fit for every child. For many children, neither a traditional nor a charter public school works for them.

Charters are not the one cure-all to the ills that beset education. Let’s be honest: there’s no such thing as a cure-all in education. Even the best school in the country with the best-trained educators and the most resources will not be the perfect fit for every single child.

I suggest we focus less on what word comes before “school” – whether it be traditional, charter, virtual, magnet, home, parochial, private or any approach yet to be developed – and focus instead on the individuals they are intended to serve. We need to get away from our orientation around buildings or systems or schools and shift our focus to individual students.

Today, the United States is third in per-pupil spending among developed countries, yet our students rank 19th in science, 20th in reading and 24th in math. The problem is not how much we’re spending; the problem is the results we’re getting.

Charters alone are not sufficient. Private schools alone are not sufficient. Neither are traditional schools.

And that’s ok. Let’s humbly admit this fact and recognize that no top-down, one-size-fits-all approach will ever help us achieve the goal of giving every child an equal opportunity for a world-class education. When a learning environment is not the best fit for a student, it’s incumbent on us to facilitate their transition to one that does meet their needs.

I was in Miami a few months ago and saw first-hand how a community is acting intentionally to meet the diverse needs of its students by providing a wide range of educational options.

I visited three distinctly different schools: SLAM Charter School, Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence, or CARE, and Royal Palm Elementary.

SLAM charter school, founded by Armando Perez – you may know him as “Pitbull” – serves a low-income community with a large number of English learners. Many of the students anticipate being the first in their families to graduate high school, and some even had to enroll themselves in the school. For these kids, SLAM is providing a state-of-the-art learning environment that embraces the arts and athletics.

CARE serves elementary-age children with a focused outreach to those who are homeless or victims of sexual assault. Located in a homeless shelter in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Miami, CARE gives these kids, who often struggled in a larger school setting, a safe and nurturing environment that addresses their unique needs. The vast majority of students attending CARE do so at no cost to their parents through Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

Miami-Dade Public Schools’ Royal Palm Elementary serves children from its neighborhood and beyond. Led by a dynamic principal and a creative group of teachers who clearly love their work, it was evident why the parents of these students chose this experience for their children.

I celebrate the fact that each of these schools is helping students succeed in unique ways. The parents I met didn’t care that these were different types of schools; they cared that the school was working for their son or daughter. These schools are simply representative of what is possible in an environment of robust choices.

Education is not a zero-sum game. We should not think of it as such. There is no one right way to help kids learn, and just because a school educates children differently than you might propose to does not make them the enemy. Let’s applaud and encourage others who serve students well. It’s a both/and situation, not an either/or.

A zero-sum myth is continually perpetuated by the education establishment. We cannot – we must not – fall prey to that game. Charter schools were created to address the fact that for too many kids, their assigned public school wasn’t working for them. The early charter school leaders weren’t afraid to color outside of the lines, and in fact, they embraced the creativity, innovation and flexibility charters represented.

But somewhere along the way, in the intervening 26 years and through the process of expansion, we’ve taken the colorful collage of charters and drawn our own set of lines around it to box others out, to mitigate risk, to play it safe. This is not what we set out to do, and, more importantly, it doesn’t help kids.

No one has a monopoly on innovation. No one has a monopoly on creativity. No one has a monopoly on knowing how every child learns.

Charters’ success should be celebrated, but it’s equally important not to “become the man.” I thought it was a tough but fair criticism when a friend recently wrote in an article that many who call themselves “reformers” have instead become just another breed of bureaucrats – a new education establishment.

We don’t need 500 page charter school applications. That’s not progress. That’s fundamentally at odds with why parents demanded charters in the first place.

Innovation, iteration and improvement must be a constant in our work.

Today we have a great opportunity. While some of you have criticized the President’s budget – which you have every right to do – it’s important to remember that our budget proposal supports the greatest expansion of public school choice in the history of the United States. It significantly increases support for the Charter School Program, and adds an additional $1 billion for public school choice for states that choose to adopt it.

This Administration has sent a clear message: we trust parents, and we believe in students. We will fight for every parent and every child, especially those who for too long have been forgotten.

The window of opportunity is narrow and the stakes are too high for us not to act. We must act boldly, and we must act now.

So let’s reengage and recommit to the entrepreneurial spirit that gave rise to charters twenty-six years ago. Embracing more change, more choices and more innovation will improve education opportunities and outcomes for all students.

Take a moment and picture a child whom you have helped get a great education.

For me, I picture Angie and Denisha. …

Now think about Dan, and Sandy and all the other families who need those same opportunities.

Drawing our own new lines won’t help those trapped inside them.

It’s time to put down the permanent marker and straight edge, and instead pick up your brush and palette and paint. Paint in bright, bold colors and continue to add to the colorful collage that was started twenty-six years ago.

We cannot let the opportunity go to waste.

Act – act now!  For Angie…for Denisha…for Dan…for Sandy…and for every parent and every child across America.

We owe it to them, and we owe it to our nation.

Thank you, and God bless you for all you do for America’s students.

 

Reader Comments 0

47 comments
AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Why do the pro charter,pro "choice", tax credit for private schools, pro voucher posters think parents of school aged children are some special entitled group that should make individual policy decisions with other peoples education tax money? I do not accept that. Education is for the benefit of all citizens.

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian


"Charter schools are here to stay. We’re now seeing the first generation of charter students raising children of their own. They know the difference educational choice made in their lives, and now as parents they want the same options for their children."


My kids certainly fall into the category cited by Secretary DeVos above.You folks that are trying to put the genie back in the jar are so out of touch with reality that it's kinda mind boggling.



AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig @AvgGeorgian

You run from the question. 

So you think parents of school aged children are the only ones who should make choices about public education?


Again, why the animosity - did you or your children fail in public school?


It is okay to say you are selfish and want other people to pay for stuff you don't want to spend your own money on.

BRV
BRV

DeVos and her ilk have mostly gone after the low hanging fruit so far, namely urban areas. Her battle to destroy public schools will be won or lost in the suburbs and rural areas where public schools are beloved institutions and where parents are not clamoring for the destruction of their public schools. DeVos and her cabal have great wealth and political power which makes them formidable, but not invincible, opponents. As more and more parents realize that so called school choice is a Hobson's choice and a ruse for the destruction of the public school system the current antagonism is going to seem trivial by comparison. We're in the early stage of this battle and I think that DeVos' naked contempt for the majority of parents may in the end benefit public schools because in her current position she can no longer hide her true intentions as she has sought to do as a private citizen. We'll see how things turn out, but the one thing I'm certain of is that **** is going to get real as this battle heats up.

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV


The battle is already lost by the eduacracy.It was lost whe they couldn't kill charter schools and snuff out school choice.Open your eyes.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig @BRV

Did you or your children fail in public schools? I seem to recall that you sometimes speak glowingly of your family's academic and professional accomplishments.

BRV
BRV

I'll The problem that dopey ideologues like you have is that you have no respect for parents which is why you and all the other school privatization shills want to portray this as a battle of teachers vs everyone else. I don't expect charters to disappear. However, I know that DeVos and her cabal have intentionally not disclosed their true intentions to the public at large precisely because they feared that suburban and rural communities would be outraged at the thought of dismantling the public school system and elected school boards. That's the whole idea behind the concept of the Overton Window.

She's still trying to play that game as she only talks about school privatization in the context of low income communities. However if the highest ranking education official does nothing other than trash talk public schools, people who've had no or limited direct exposure to the school privatization agenda are going to and in fact are figuring out what she's up to.

I'm not arguing that she can't win. Let's face it, the school privatizers have more money and political power and they have hopelessly naive Democrats on thier side who think it's possible to have lots of charters, but no vouchers, and still have a healthy public school system. Still there a millions of suburban and rural parents who aren't demanding that their public school systems be defunded and dismantled. I'm absolutely correct that the battle over school privatization will be decided outside of urban areas and the leaders of that movement are well area of that fact.

Astropig
Astropig

Secretary DeVos is telling the eduacracy,the media and the general public some hard truths that they need to hear.Just like the very first voices for expanded civil rights back in the day,she is not the end of a necessary struggle,but the beginning.The hatred and venom that is spewed at her and others that believe in expanded choice is an echo of the fear and bigotry of the pathetic lumps that stood in schoolhouse doors a half century ago.We all know how that turned out,so I guess that we're just rerunning the loop of history in our own day.


I never thought that I would live long enough to see the eduacracy be forced to submit to the authority of a DOE secretary that put the kids and parents needs before theirs-But here she is.Now I can say that I've seen a true miracle occur in education.


Hallelujah.

Ctsm1952
Ctsm1952

   I work at a charter school and I am here to tell you that charter schools are an unmitigated disaster for a couple of reasons:  

1. They take YOUR taxpayer money away from public school systems (that were established back in the 1600s because the first settlers realized it was important to have an educated society - even immigrants which THEY were!!)  and it puts that money basically in the garbage.  

   The sheer overhead required for charter schools - the rent, paying the benefits for employees, everything that a small business has to do - takes too much money away from the most important work needed to educate students:  to put a highly qualified teacher and adequate resources in each classroom so students can learn. It's just economics - on a smaller scale, charter schools/small businesses are simply not able to consolidate and negotiate contracts like large school systems/corporations.    

     As a result, charter schools have to pay teachers less and require them to somehow perform miracles with exceedingly less resources than a typical public school.  

       Ever wonder what kind of teacher this might attract?  Yes.  The kind that can't get a job in a regular school system that pays anywhere from $10-30,000 more for the same job.  So the kids receive less quality instruction, with old computers that don't work half the time, without textbooks, without paraprofessionals to help support instruction, without PE equipment, without facilities that are up to par.

     And, 2. Charter schools attract parents who are avoiding private schools and regular public schools.  Private schools because they have admittance requirements - they don't take low-performing kids, students with high absence rates or extensive discipline records as a general rule. They are running from regular school systems because their kids may already have extensive discipline records or are extremely low performing (due to cognitive, emotional or behavioral issues), and they are in the pipeline to special education so they can be successful in a typical classroom. 

     Ever wonder what kinds of students charter schools get?  Disruptive kids with severe anger management and social skills issues, who have missed 50 days of school each year, who are behind academically and have deep gaps in their learning because their parents move them from school to school to school. 

       50 years from now people will look back on this charter school era and shake their heads in disbelief, because it doesn't make sense no matter how you look at it. 

Starik
Starik

@Ctsm1952 Your school may not work. Some do. Some public schools work. Some do not. There's no one size fits all solution.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

No doubt.  However, the more pertinent question is what is the extent of variation between public schools that work and supposedly don’t compared to charter schools that work and don’t? 

Starik
Starik

@EdJohnson That would be interesting to investigate. Myself, I'd rather see better regular public schools. That doesn't seem likely.

Astropig
Astropig

@Ctsm1952


Sounds like the only person that couldn't get the job they wanted was you.If its so terrible,why don't you just go to a job that you agree with? This comment reminds me of that column that ran about a week or so ago where the author is violently opposed to charter schools and gentrification-but is an eager participant in both.


Apparently,there is no word in the liberal/eduacracy language for "hypocrisy".

time for reform
time for reform

Who can morally oppose giving parents more choices and the right to choose? Bravo to Secretary DeVos for championing their cause.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@time for reform

They have every choice of schooling available to them already. So do you. You also can drive on any public road, but you don't get to have taxpayers foot the bill for your plane ticket because the public road is not good enough for you.

You may not work hard enough, sacrifice enough, or plan well enough to provide the type of educational experience you would like for your child - but please stop begging and mooching off the taxpayer because you are lazy and selfish. get yourself some of those made in America, republican bootstraps and pull yourself up.

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian @time for reform We have a responsibility to educate all children. Parents have a right to expect an appropriate education for their children. That's so even if their kids are middle class and hopefully college bound. The public schools need to accommodate non-poor kids as well as poor and deprived ones. How, when a school in a diverse, middle class school's character is changed by filling it with kids from poor areas with many troubled and deprived kids?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik @AvgGeorgian @time for reform 

I wrote of raising consciousness in students below, Starik.  Students who work with much diversity within their school environments have a greater opportunity to raise their consciousness about social responsibility, why we are here, how we can learn from those of other cultures, empathy, understanding, and more. Learning only with your "own kind" can sometimes limit your consciousness.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

There is so much in her speech that is uninformed and untrue that it seems a waste of time to comment. 


Bottom line - Her main goal is private school vouchers and private-like charter schools - all else is necessary window dressing.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Even Burger King gave up on, "Have it your way." Why is education the only branch of government where everybody thinks his/her personal demands are all that should matter?

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

Why shouldn't they matter? If all kids are different and have different needs why is a 1 size fits all model the answer? We are fai.ing our kids and the answer is...what exactly?

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian A kid who is getting A grades but isn't being prepared for college is being failed.

Tom Green
Tom Green

My key word was "all." I was referring to the two examples in the article where testing out a few grade levels ahead (depending on test) hardly makes you gifted and redrawing attendance zones for everybody with a complaint makes attendance zones utterly useless. Likewise, having policies and changing them every time somebody doesn't agree with them is hardly any way to manage a school system.

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian @Starik No, it's the schools' fault.  They don't challenge the kids. They don't provide an environment where kids can learn, and teachers who can teach them.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Starik @AvgGeorgian

You have to challenge your own kids. If you can't do it at home one on one, how can a teacher in a room of 30 kids?

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian @Starik I did, but the colleges care about grades. How can a parent complain about straight A grades? A teacher can be effective if the kids are capable of learning at a elevated level and want to learn.

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian @Starik That's right; and many kids with very good grades have low SATs because of the schools they're stuck in.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

It is becoming more obvious to me that most people will project onto others (living and the dead) their own level of consciousness.


That is how we elected Donald Trump as our president.  I am convinced that the primary way out of this cesspool that Americans are now engulfed within is through education that will raise the consciousness of her citizens.  When that elevation of consciousness happens, then, at least, citizens will project onto others a higher order of awareness and of reality than exists now.  For-profit public schools will never raise consciousness to that level, and even service public school must work, without undue influences, to raise that level of consciousness in students.


It begins by citizens' recognizing that liberal arts are probably more important to the survival of our species and the planet than even science and math.  Unless we place sufficient emphasis on raising the consciousness of our citizens through understanding human nature in depth via literature, art, music, history, and psychology, we will continue to see others only through having our own limited consciousness looking back at us. 


EdJohnson
EdJohnson

CHARTER SCHOOL TRAP

Part I: School Choice: No Choice (Limited Learning for Lifelong Labor)

Part II: Collusion Between the Right and Left

By Charlotte Iserbyt

January 2011

Excerpt:

“The significance of the charter school/school choice issue is NOT related strictly to educational choice.  It is related to acceptance of a communist system of governance where decisions are made by appointed, not elected officials.  Appointed officials cannot be removed from office by voters/taxpayers.

“Widespread acceptance of this aspect of communist governance — as it relates to education (U.S.A. has 17,817 operational school districts that could well come under this non-elective system) — will make it easier to usher in the unelected system across the board at the local level to the county, to the state, to the Congress, to the White House level.  That will spell the end of elected representation and our freedoms established under the Constitution of the United States of America. We will be a totalitarian state.  ….

“With our schools and our children successfully dumbed-down, ‘they’ … can count on public outcry for ‘change’ in how schools are operated, as well as parental acceptance of charter schools.  Parents will accept any solution to the tragic situation facing their children today—including charter schools with unelected representation.  But how many realize that the purpose of charter schools is not academic, but to establish a replacement structure that will focus on training for the workforce (or more simply put: limited learning for lifelong labor)?  ….

“Much of the regional governance system is already in place and has been operating on a second track, parallel to our Constitutional track, for at least 50 years.  The internationalist termites, in and out of Congress, have been waiting to push the button for the regional system to jump track and to replace the constitutional system.  This latest neocon/Obama supported charter school move is probably the pushing of that button to move our whole country into the unelected board system.”