A Betsy DeVos cheat sheet for next ‘60 Minutes’ interview on Michigan schools

U.S. Education Secretary and Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos was profiled Sunday on ‘60 Minutes’

In a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seemed uncertain how public schools in her home state of Michigan are faring.

The long-time Republican donor and education reform advocate from Grand Rapids, who for decades has pushed for increased school choice and charter schools in Michigan, told “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl that “I don’t know” if Michigan’s public schools are improving.

“Overall, … I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos said.

Bridge Magazine knows. We’ve been covering the downward slide of the state’s public school system for years. In fact, we’ve compiled the most important K-12 education metrics into a quickie issue guide: Michigan's K-12 performance dropping at alarming rate.

May 2019: Betsy DeVos: Michigan doesn’t have enough school choice

How are Michigan schools doing? The answer is as clear as it is sobering:

  • Michigan is dead last among states in improvement in math and reading between 2003 and 2015, according to an analysis of data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Test results from the NAEP, known as the Nation’s Report Card, offer the most reliable, cross-state comparisons of academic achievement.
  • In fact, over those 12 years, Michigan’s scores declined, according to the analysis by Brian Jacob, a University of Michigan professor of economics and education.
  • On the most recent NAEPs, from 2015, Michigan fourth-graders tied for 43rd in the nation in reading and 42nd in math; eighth-graders fared better – 39th in math and 20th in reading. Michigan was above the national average in all of those categories in 2000.
  • On the most recent state standardized test, the M-STEP, only 22 percent of seventh-graders were deemed proficient in science, 21 percent of fifth-graders were proficient in social studies, and 15 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in science.
  • In Detroit Public Schools, less than 2 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in science. A few miles to the north, in West Bloomfield, one of the wealthiest, highest-achieving districts in the state, just over half of third-graders were proficient in English language arts.
  • Michigan spent nearly $80 million over the past three years to improve third-grade reading scores, yet scores went down.
  • An analysis by Education Trust-Midwest, a Michigan-based education policy and advocacy organization, found that over the past three years, Michigan’s third-grade reading scores dropped the most among 11 states that give similar tests to students.


DeVos told “60 Minutes” that states with a greater school of choice options for families showed academic improvement.

“Well, in places where...there is a lot of choice that’s been introduced, Florida for example, the studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually – the results get better, as well.”

Related: Watch the entire '60 Minutes' interview with Betsy DeVos

Michigan also has a high level of school of choice and charter schools, but school tests scores are not improving like they are in Florida, a point indicated by Stahl.

A study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University found that students who moved to another school district through schools of choice policies didn’t improve test scores. There may be other benefits for students taking advantage of school of choice policies, such as perceived safety or social issues, but improved learning isn’t necessarily one of them.

“It’s hard for me to get mad at anyone who’s in the game to try to make the lives of children better, compared to people who sit on the sidelines and point fingers, even if we disagree,” said Michigan School Superintendent Brian Whiston told Bridge in December 2016. “I support choice and charters, but that’s been the philosophy for 20, 25 years, and it hasn’t improved education.”

Related: Betsy DeVos’ Michigan Legacy

“The whole state is not doing well,” Stahl said to DeVos about Michigan in the “60 Minutes” interview.

“Well, there are certainly pockets where this – the students are doing well,” DeVos said.

Not if third-grade reading is a marker of academic success.

Third-grade reading proficiency as measured by the state’s standardized test, the M-STEP, is trending downward in rich and poor school districts, and among every student demographic:  

  • White students: 58 percent proficient in 2014-15 to 52 percent last year.
  • Black students: 23 percent to 19 percent.
  • Hispanic students: 37 percent to 32 percent.
  • Economically disadvantaged: 35 percent to 29 percent.
  • Non-economically disadvantaged: 66 percent to 60 percent.

“Michigan schools need to do better,” DeVos told Stahl. “There is no doubt.”

A recent Bridge analysis of a Stanford University study found dozens of Michigan school districts where students gained less than five years of academic growth in the five years between third grade and eighth grade. In some districts, students were in effect falling more than a year behind their peers in neighboring districts.

Related: See how your district compares in academic growth.

“Have you seen the really bad schools?” Stahl asked DeVos on Sunday. “Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?”

“I have not – I have not –I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming,” DeVos answered.

“Maybe you should,” Stahl said.

“Maybe I should,” DeVos said.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Jimmie wright
Tue, 03/13/2018 - 1:08pm

To slightly alter Johnny Paycheck’s song:
“ take this school privatization and shove it- it ain’t workin’ here no more”

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 3:46pm

So is the contention here that if it weren't for charter schools, the kids in the regular public schools who are not performing at par would somehow be doing better? Couldn't you make the same argument for kids going to private schools? Clearly if we closed them all and forced their kids into the PSs more money would be allocated. Speaking of private schools where did they score on these tests?

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 7:46pm

DeVos's 60 Minutes interview reflects a big part of all the problems in MI. DeVos had this "solution" before the problem was defined, and since she has the money and influence she was allowed to impose it on MI. Evidence of this is apparent in all of MI government. You have the majority party creating and imposing solutions on problems they have don't understand, and there is no collaboration with the experts who do understand the problems.

I attended a conference today talking about where MI ranks regarding infrastructure, schools, health, poverty, etc. and we're pretty much dead last compared to other states. Michigan is losing population, the population we have is aging, but "business" got their tax cuts, which was supposed to be the answer to all of our problems. This and the lack of transparency in state government is why things are such a mess.

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:03pm

Thank you Republicans for meddling in our schools. Thank you to non-teachers legislating how to teach children when they have never had to stand in front of children who didn’t get breakfast, a hug goodbye, wishes for a good day, or a firm “go to school”, or had to deal with children who have an alphabet after their name, thank you for making it so difficult that we are losing teachers in droves and those who still teach can’t wait until they have enough years in to retire. Thank you for insisting teachers get their Masters Degree and make them pay for it and then do not give them a raise. Do you know that teachers are penalized if they want to change school districts? They can’t change as they would lose all their seniority and be the first to be pink slipped. So thank you to the republicans and all the congressmen and women to think they know more than a TEACHER. You have screwed up Education in Michigan. All teachers deserve a large raise!!

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 9:07am

Thanks Bird! You’re right on!

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 7:47pm

I didn't see the interview and the comments of others about it are interesting, but don't help me understand what is wrong with Michigan's public education system or what needs to be done to fix it. What I've read in the newspapers seems to indicate that more money needs to be spent on schools. I remember when the citizens of Detroit used to vote "yes" on millage increases and bond proposals for schools, but no improvement was realized. The answer must lie elsewhere.