In today’s N.Y. Times, Douglas Harris who is a charter advocate and researcher from Tulane University, states that Betsy DeVos has easily the worst record of all the possible choices for U.S. Secretary of Education. Why is that?
DeVos was one of the designers of the Detroit charter school system that even its supporters agree is the biggest school reform disaster in the country. Based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, Detroit not only has the lowest scores of all urban inner cities, its charter schools as well as its remaining public schools both score at the bottom.
Charter schools in Detroit are characterized as the ‘wild west’ since they have no real oversight. They can continue operating even though their students continue to fail. Things are not only bad, they are getting worse. Reading scores are going down.
Harris compares Detroit’s schools to those in New Orleans where test results are improving. New Orleans, he states, has implemented measures to prevent cherry picking of students and is now managing a centralized student expulsion system to improve the choice system.
The voucher system that DeVos currently advocates has failed in New Orleans. Harris calls DeVos’ nomination a triumph of ‘ideology over evidence.’
Let’s look at other sources of information, for example:
- Three little known facts about Michigan’s charters: 80% are for-profit; 41% of students in Detroit attend charters, and national chains run most charters.
- Lot’s of choice, but no good choice. Opening charters is easy in Michigan and there are no required achievement reports. Funds are dispersed among so many schools that all schools are underfunded. Moreover, political operatives and major donors like J.C. Huizenga (and DeVos) pull the strings. Huizenga managed to get a bill to make his charter real estate holdings tax exempt even though his schools are run by a for-profit management company.
- Charters are concentrated in more affluent areas of Detroit, and choice dwindles as family income declines. Children shift from charter to charter to find good schools. Transportation has become a major issue for families.
Unregulated choice systems implode. Unlimited charter authorization simply encourages charters to compete for students using nefarious tactics. Expansion of choice is not cost effective and all schools decline. There has to be a better way.