Archive for the 'Betsy DeVos' Category

November
14th 2017
Union Wins Bragging Rights

Posted under Betsy DeVos & Blaine Amendments & Campaigns & charter schools & Donald Trump & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools & Union & Vouchers

The Douglas County School Board election results were disappointing: The union backed, anti-reform slate of candidates won with the help of a last minute, 300,000-dollar push by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Douglas County’s unique district funded school-voucher program will likely, but not certainly, end. Pam Benigno, the director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, elaborated on the results of the election in The Denver Post, stating that:

“No doubt they [the union backed slate] will end the [Choice Scholarship] program and no longer defend it through the court system. No doubt the union’s prize for winning the election will be a collective bargaining agreement and national bragging rights that they killed the nation’s first local school board voucher program.”

While strong union involvement was an important factor in the election, the union backed candidates were also able to capitalize on the current political environment. The Trump/DeVos hysteria, when paired with the recent criticism of charter schools by groups such as the ACLU and NAACP, has created political turmoil that has masked the success of school choice programs across the county. These forces have created uncertainty about the legitimacy of charter schools, and reintroduced the stale “elitist” argument into the school choice debate.

The claims of these groups are notoriously ungrounded lashes at school choice. The ACLU’s “unequal access” claim, in which it stated that hundreds of charter schools in California were practicing discriminatory admissions policies, proved to be over-exaggerated fluff. Dozens of schools were promptly removed from the list, which was ultimately deleted after receiving criticism for its imprecise research. AFT has made its own outlandish claims in preceding years, calling school choice programs “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

I’m not sure why grown-ups expect to always be right, and will defend their positions past objectivity into the realm of name calling and dishonesty. How does that benefit anyone?

However, that’s the discourse that school choice critics have adopted. They want parents and students to believe that somehow choice is an attempt at bigotry and elitism. And what better way to tie that tone to school choice supporters than affiliating them with Trump and Devos?

The teachers union clearly wanted to fabricate an election in which anyone who was not on their side was identified as pro-Trump/DeVos. During the Denver School Board race, the teachers union sent mailers which attempted to link pro-reformers with Trump an DeVos, and in Douglas County funded the creation of a website which depicted the pro-reformers as swamp monsters, playing on Trump’s “drain the swamp” statements.

I think, being a five year old, that I would have done the same had I managed one of the anti-reformers campaigns. Drawing mean pictures of your enemies is the highest form of rhetoric; simply draw devil horns on the teachers you don’t like in your yearbook and watch your classmates rally to your inspiring statement.

As everyone knows, agreeing with our president or secretary of education is wrong, and school choice is inherently elitist–despite the results of prominent studies which prove the contrary.

Right or wrong, the union’s mailers and DeVos propaganda proved effective. The Denver School Board, which was previously composed of all reformers, will now face dissonance with the addition of two anti-reform, union backed members.

The Aurora School District has also elected an anti-reform slate, though it has recently experienced the positive effects of school choice. Just this year–after warmly ameliorating its charter school applications process, inviting new charter schools to join the district, and turning over one of its low-performing schools to charter school management–the Aurora school district was removed from the state’s watch list.

Discrimination is obviously neither the goal or the result of school choice–it’s simply a fictitious crutch for its combatants to lean on. Although the results of the election were unfavorable, there are still many incredible events across the nation that are spurring the positive momentum of the school choice movement.

 

 

 

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April
5th 2017
DeVos Wasn’t Wrong About Choice and Accessibility

Posted under Betsy DeVos & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government

It’s been a while since we last talked, hasn’t it? I apologize for that. The last few weeks have been absolutely packed with edu-stuff. But I’m back now, and what better way is there to rekindle old fires than to tackle a controversial issue? And what could be more controversial in education right now that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos?

I wrote about the unhinged shrieking over DeVos following her confirmation hearing. Shortly thereafter, she was confirmed as secretary of education on a historically narrow vote. The shrieking only intensified, so my policy friend Ross Izard used an editorial in The Hill to point out the Left’s rather stark philosophical inconsistency when it comes to ambitious, successful women in politics. As Ross wrote, the Left appears to believe that “Women are to be empowered—unless they disagree with progressive positions.”

The furor over DeVos receded somewhat as the healthcare debacle and President Trump’s newly declared war on conservative congressional leaders took center stage. But then, a statement by Secretary DeVos about Denver’s top ranking in the Brooking Institution’s latest Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) reignited the fire in earnest. Here’s the full video of DeVos’s remarks at Brookings for those who are interested in watching it. The statement in question begins at roughly the 29-minute marker.

For those who’d rather just read what terrible, awful, no-good things DeVos said, here’s a full transcript of her remarks. Make sure you note all the evil talk about not favoring one type of choice over another, empowering parents to choose the right educational fit for their children, and (as I always preach) focusing on children rather than institutions. But all those horrible things notwithstanding, the part that landed her in hot water was this:

Meanwhile, Denver scored well because the single application process for both charter and traditional public schools, as well as a website that allows parents to make side-by-side comparisons of schools. But the simple process masks the limited choices.

Russ has mentioned this, but I think it’s worth repeating that, even though a district may place well on the competition index, the letter grade does not necessarily reflect the state of education within that district.

The benefits of making options “accessible” are cancelled out when you don’t have a full menu of options.

Choice without accessibility doesn’t matter, just as accessibility without choices doesn’t matter. Neither scenario ultimately benefits students.

Those simple, tame words got folks into a big kerfuffle. The Denver Post ran a story accusing DeVos of “slamming” Denver, and Chalkbeat Colorado also wrote it up. Chalkbeat then ran a separate story featuring indignant tweets (remember when politics wasn’t conducted on Twitter?) from Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who apparently sensed an opportunity to continue the Denver-based spat he began with DeVos during her confirmation hearing.  Meanwhile, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg issued a statement saying, in part:

We respectfully disagree with Secretary DeVos. We do not support private school vouchers. We believe that public dollars should be used for public schools that are open to all kids, whether they are district-run or charter.

Through all of this political maneuvering, I haven’t seen anyone attempt to take a step back and ask a simple question: Is there any merit to what DeVos is saying? I believe that answer is yes.

At about this time last year, I wrote about some interesting methodological hang-ups in Brookings ECCI rating system. In particular, I lamented the fact that the system tends to favor private school choice programs that are subject to heavy-handed regulation—a design decision that research indicates can produce adverse results. There are a number of other potential problems with the ECCI ratings, as well; no rating system is perfect. So, even though DeVos didn’t come at the discussion from the same angle I did last year, she’s not wrong to caution against simply taking an ECCI letter grade as the full picture of educational quality in any given district.

More importantly, DeVos’s statements on the interdependence of choice and access ring true. Complete access means little without meaningful choices to access. And meaningful choices mean little if no one can access them. That seems like common sense to me, but it was apparently taken as a slight by Denver because it implies that parents don’t have as much choice as they might desire—and that Denver should consider the private sector as a way to address that demand.

I can appreciate Denver’s sensitivity on this. They probably felt a little like the folks from La La Land at the Academy Awards back in February. Remember that? Here’s a video to remind you:

But setting Denver’s pride aside, DeVos wasn’t wrong to say that the district has room to grow when it comes to educational choice. Certainly, the district is doing good things when it comes to empowering parents to choose and apply for public schools. I’ve said as much. But choosing and applying are only part of the equation. Actually getting in is the other part.

Back in 2014, I wrote about a report on choice options in Denver and other major cities. The report largely echoed kudos to Denver for the district’s streamlined enrollment process and transportation options, and it’s stuffed with interesting data. But, importantly, the report also opens with a story about Joe Jiminez, a Denver parent with a daughter about to enter middle school. Seeing that his quality neighborhood options were limited, Joe began to look around. He found some good schools, marked his top three choices on Denver’s choice application, and felt pretty good. Then this happened:

… [W]hen school system officials ran the lottery in the spring, [Joe] discovered his daughter didn’t get into any of her options, leaving her stuck in her low-performing neighborhood school. “I think the [enrollment] process was pretty self-explanatory. It was the end result that was pretty disappointing…the good schools all have waiting lists.” The result left Joe feeling confused and angry: his family had invested considerable effort navigating their city’s system of public school choice, but came away feeling no better off because of it.

Public schools work for a great many families. In particular, the charter sector is doing great work in Colorado. But the fact remains that demand for options is significantly outpacing the supply of high-quality seats. Many of the best public schools in Denver and other districts have long waiting lists or deep lottery pools that serve as barriers to parents like Joe. Though reliable estimates of the true number of individual children on these waiting lists are hard to come by because parents often put their names on multiple lists, it is safe to say that thousands (and perhaps tens of thousands) of Colorado students have not been able to access the educational options they need. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 seats sit empty in Colorado private schools, most of which are located in or around the Denver Metro Area.

If you don’t believe there’s an opportunity in that situation to meet parental demand for high-quality educational options while providing kids with the excellent education they deserve, you aren’t being honest with yourself. You are focusing on institutions rather than children, and that is not a productive mindset if our goal is to produce the best possible outcomes for kids.

Perhaps DeVos could have made her point more gently or in a different context—politics is politics, after all—but the fact remains that she isn’t wrong to say that maximum choice and maximum accessibility are inextricably linked. And she’s not wrong to point out that Denver’s students would benefit from a well-designed private school choice program. So please, put down that tomato and consider the other side of the story.

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