Salo: DeVos’ illogical education policy

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trumps pick to be the next Secretary of Education, testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. 

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the next Secretary of Education, testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. 

Megan Salo

Since the U.S. Senate (barely) voted her in as education secretary, Betsy DeVos has caused quite a bit of controversy in the media. 

Whether it was the first ever tie breaking vote from the vice president that voted her into her position or her comment on how historically black schools were “pioneers” which ultimately made students boo her during a commencement speech, she’s definitely gotten some heat from the public. 

Although these incidents are problematic themselves, what’s really concerning about the new leader of the Department of Education is her policies. 

DeVos is a strong supporter of parents having more options on where they send their children to school “instead of being trapped by their zip code in a school that failed to meet their needs,” as she says on her website.

Great! Get those kids out of failing schools! But where will DeVos send them, once she gets them out?

DeVos has used her millions (yes, she’s a millionaire) to fight for the U.S. to implement more charter schools and to provide lower income families with vouchers in order to send their children to these schools.

These charter schools are basically public private schools, meaning they receive their funding from the government like public schools, but they are not controlled by the local school districts so they decide the curriculum and standards. 

These charter schools could be the answer to improving education. Some of these schools are doing great things, but a lot of them aren’t doing so hot.

Detroit has the second-highest number of charter schools in the nation – most of these being for-profit organizations. Here, the students, mainly from low income families who have been bribed into attending these charter schools have shown a decrease in their test scores. In June of 2016, The New York Times reported that, based on reading tests, only 10 percent of Detroit high school seniors were “college ready“.

“The bottom line should be, ‘Are kids achieving better or worse because of this expansion of choice?’” said Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin. “It’s destroying learning outcomes … and the DeVoses were a principal agent of that.”

This is what DeVos has spent her life supporting – bribing students to leave their public schools in order for the wealthy backers behind charter schools’ bank accounts to fill up, and if a child’s education suffers and their test scores plummet as a result, well it’s just business. 

But even though these schools are failing, she is still convinced that public schooling is the problem. 

“Our students have fallen behind our peers on the global stage,” said DeVos in a speech she gave at the 2017 annual technology and innovation conference in Salt Lake City. “In the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, the U.S. ranked 20th in reading, 19th in science and 24th in math. That’s worse than the 2012 PISA ranking which was somewhat higher in reading and math.”

Let’s talk numbers.

If you look at the PISA report of the U.S. results, you will find that the average scores only went down 11 points in mathematics and only one point in both the reading and science sections. And if you look at the trends of all of the countries’ scores, you will find that although the U.S. was ranked 25th in science, our average score only fell by one point from 2012-2015. Among the 24 countries who were ranked higher, 16 of those countries also lost points from previous years, all, except for Slovenia, by more than one point. (The U.S. was ranked 23rd in reading and 40th in mathematics with similar trends of decreasing scores from the higher ranking countries.)

So are we really failing? DeVos is using these statistics to scare us. But, once they’re put into context, they’re useless. 

Also, according to Dr. Tim Taylor, the superintendent of Ames High School, Ames public school students have been thriving. In 2015, 67 Ames students were randomly selected to take the international assessment test. These students’ scores not only surpassed DeVos’ rankings – they were the second-best scores in the world, with Shanghai leading the scores. Confirmed here.

“I want her to come to the midwest – to Iowa,” Dr. Taylor said of DeVos. “She is under the false impression that public schools have been failing and [she’s] going off of inaccurate and false data that says we’re falling behind. But it’s different in Iowa.”

Dr. Taylor said that as a product and a leader of public schooling, he believes that public schools offer students more advantages than a private or charter school could because of the activities they offer. 

“I think there are more programs of interest for kids [in public schools],” he said. “And not just athletics – drama, speech, mock trial. We have around 36 co-curricular programs.”

This is something that DeVos can’t understand. Because she has never run, taught in, attended or sent a child to a public school. All she knows is expensive private schools. She needs to consider what she is taking away from students who attend public schools. 

I agree with Mrs. DeVos on the fact that our nation’s students shouldn’t be forced to go to a failing school, but I don’t agree with the implementation of charter schools. I also agree that the U.S. needs to become more competitive in terms of education, but pulling the plug on public schools isn’t the answer. 

We need to work to improve the public school system in lower economic areas in order to keep kids in school and to raise their test scores. How will we do that? Maybe that’s something that our education secretary can figure out/spend her millions on.