Betsy DeVos: Michigan doesn’t have enough school choice

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says Michigan needs more schools of choice.

Michigan is often cited as a case study of broad school choice and its troubles. Betsy DeVos thinks students in her home state don’t have enough options.

“The reality is, Michigan doesn’t have wide open choice,” the U.S. education secretary told journalists on Monday at the annual gathering of the Education Writers Association. “Michigan only has the opportunity to offer charter schools, and in my book, that’s one step towards choice, but that’s not education freedom.”

Full freedom, to DeVos, would include voucher programs that allow families to spend taxpayer dollars on tuition to private schools. DeVos, whose advocacy has long influenced education policy in Michigan, wasn’t able to bring the policy there, despite investing $4.75 million in a failed voter referendum in 2000. She now is pushing for a federal tax credit program, called the Education Freedom Scholarship Program, that has been criticized as a “backdoor voucher.”

Related: A Betsy DeVos cheat sheet for next ‘60 Minutes’ interview on Michigan schools
Related: Michigan’s top teacher on Betsy DeVos, school shootings and testing

Over the last 25 years, school choice policies in Michigan have left some school districts in the state virtually unchanged. But the policies transformed the education landscape in Detroit, where about half of students attend charter schools, and tens of thousands leave the city every day to attend schools in the suburbs.

Students in Detroit can easily hop from one school to another — and many do. Frequent school changes come with costs to both students and schools, which often struggle to fill classrooms. And the choices available in Detroit, though numerous, are typically schools with high teacher turnover, low graduation rates, and low test scores.

Detroit’s education landscape has been shaped to a significant degree by DeVos, who, as a major donor to Michigan’s Republican party, successfully argued against regulations on charter schools.

DeVos has not visited a public school in Detroit since being appointed U.S. education secretary (though she has visited students in the city).

Chastity Pratt, an urban affairs reporter for Bridge Magazine, elicited an audible gasp from some in the crowd when she asked DeVos about the education secretary’s advocacy for school choice in her home state.

“No place has been more impacted by that than Detroit, where for 25 years there has been widespread school choice,” Pratt said. “Most kids there take advantage of it. But data show that we have the worst performing charter schools and traditional schools. So my question is, why haven’t you visited a school in Detroit to talk to families about that dichotomy?”

DeVos responded that she visited local schools before being appointed to President Trump’s cabinet, then pivoted to calling for more school choice in Michigan.

A few minutes earlier, DeVos had explained an idea central to her education philosophy: that pitting schools against each other helps them improve.

“Having competition, and having comparisons, forces [schools] to do things that they wouldn’t have done previously,” she said.

It was DeVos’s first time attending the conference of education journalists, which she skipped during her first two years as education secretary.

Her full response to Pratt’s question is below:

“I actually visited a number of schools, before I took this job, in Detroit. I worked in Michigan a long, long time, and will continue to advocate for Michigan and for opportunities for all students. And just to clarify a little bit, because you said has been wide open choice, but the reality is, Michigan doesn’t have wide open choice. Michigan only has the opportunity to offer charter schools, and in my book, that’s one step towards choice, but that’s not education freedom. And I’m hopeful that in the foreseeable future that Michigan and all of the other states that are precluded today because of something called the Blaine Amendment, will ultimately be able to offer that kind of freedom to all students and the multitude of options to all students that states like Florida and Indiana and Ohio and Wisconsin and Georgia and Arizona have been able to offer.”

Koby Levin is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit, which originally published this article. 

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Comments

Matt
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 8:09am

In the last week we've heard that Michigan should or should not teach Algebra 2, that we're not paying enough attention attention to gifted kids, before that we were treated to complaints about the political angle covered in the curriculum or the way black history month is being taught, and then others complain that schools are only interested in funneling kids into college to the exclusion of any skilled trades or non college career tracks and then visa versa. The answer to this choice question and educational alternatives seems pretty obvious.

Richard Jaissle
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 9:48am

Agreed! Betsy deVos is dedicated to having taxpayers pay for her grandchildren's private education. When a public school is failing, it is our duty find a way to change that and improve the school we have already invested in, not open an alternative school chartered by a for-profit organization. I pay taxes (theoretically) to invest in the future of the state, not to line the pockets of capitalists.

Matt
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 12:12pm

Yah Betsy really needs help paying for her kid's private school tuition. Such moronic statements make one wonder if that's your excuse? The US spends more per student than almost any developed nation (except the Swiss), for far sub-par results, a national embarrassment. Yet our higher Ed totally (based entirely on choice) attracts kids from all over the world. Why is this? Or maybe this hatred is because the teacher unions think force is the only way they can keep their customers?

Excalibur
Fri, 05/10/2019 - 1:54pm

When you integrate poverty into the issue, American schools are not "sub-par. They are among the top internationally.
The labeling of American schools as failing started with the Reagan administrations poorly researched "A Nation at Risk. They needed a "mommy" issue and schools fit the bill.

Needing documentation for their allegations, they commissioned Sandia Corp. to do research. Well, guess what. Sandia disputed "Risk" in total. In fact, Sandia said that American schools were doing pretty darn good. It was immediately sent into the bowels of the Department of Energy, never to be seen again until years later when it appeared in an educational digest.

At any rate, DeVos' ideas, charter schools, vouchers etc.,have had ample time to prove their worth and have been a deplorable failure.

Finally, you need to apologize for hating teachers and their union. They both are responsible for American schools doing so well.

Matt
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 12:52pm

Aside from the fact that Alternet is universally viewed as a far left biased rag sheet, I thought you were vehemently prochoice?

Excalibur
Fri, 05/10/2019 - 4:31pm

How anybody could classify Alternet as a "far left biased rag sheet" is beyond me unless the accuser has an extremest, far right bias. Alternet publishes such mainstream writers as Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol.
Diane, a historian of educational research, was US Assistant Secretary of Education in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Jonathan, on the other hand, has received the National Book Award and the Robert F Kennedy Book Award for his educational commentary.

Alternet could probably be genuinely labeled as a center-left magazine. I wouldn't be surprised that the writer above thinks that anything to the left of Sean Hannity is universally considered to be Marxist.

Excalibur
Fri, 05/10/2019 - 4:37pm

How anybody could classify Alternet as a "far left biased rag sheet" is beyond me unless the accuser has an extremest, far right bias. Alternet publishes such mainstream writers as Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol.
Diane, a historian of educational research, was US Assistant Secretary of Education in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Jonathan, on the other hand, has received the National Book Award and the Robert F Kennedy Book Award for his educational commentary.

Alternet could probably be genuinely labeled as a center-left magazine. I wouldn't be surprised that the writer above thinks that anything to the left of Sean Hannity is universally considered to be Marxist.

Bob Dunn
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:00am

There is no industry or other practice that would still be functioning with 70% being unsuccessful . Yet, we continue to do this with charter schools. Why? Our students deserve better. Keep the 30% and be like Massachusetts. After three years of opening if they are not showing improvement close them.

Linda Falstad
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 11:38am

Schools of Choice is killing traditional public schools. Holland Public Schools has lost over 2,000 students, closed buildings, and offers more exceptional programs today than when my kids attended. This is the hometown of Mrs. DeVos. She needs to attend our finance committee meeting to look at next year's projected loss of both students and revenue. Choice has made our schools segregated. HPS has about a 69% rate of free and reduced hot lunches across the district. People with means leave. Those without transportation have no choice. Choice is not the answer to public education. Teacher retention, caring staff, and quality programs make HPS "right for me."

Matt
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 1:35pm

It's great that you get to send your kids to the school you've chosen. But seriously, you think it's charters causing your complaints of school shrinkage and not the white exodus out to Zealand and West Ottawa??? Sounds like a marketing problem.

Excalibur
Fri, 05/10/2019 - 1:28pm

I've been to Zeeland. It's a nice town. Never heard of Zealand though. Where is it?

Charlene
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 12:44pm

What Betsy DeVos always fails to mention is that Article VIII Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution prohibits using public money for nonpublic schools. And I'm surprised that fact never makes it into news stories about her view on Michigan schools financing.
Link to Article VIII Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution: https://bit.ly/2PQTYkO

Jeffrey Kless
Wed, 05/08/2019 - 3:18pm

In order to understand Betsy De Vos you need to to take 101 Reformed Church dogma. She wants schools for each religion per Abraham Kuyper a leading Reformed theologian.

duane
Mon, 05/13/2019 - 1:02am

Why is none of the talk from the ‘educators’, ‘politicians’, the ‘parents’, the reports at Bridge, or the commenters on Bridge about the ones that actually do the learning? It is the individual student doing the learning, but no one mention them, why? If the student is the ones that do the learning, deliver the results [we all are concerned with] then let’s talk about them and what they are doing [right or wrong].
Once we can figure out what successful learning looks like, what it take for a student to do that then we can determine how we ensure that is being don and how much money is need.
Once we focus on the students, their desires to learn, their studying, they we should be asking about schools of choice and why people want/need them.