President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education should concern anyone who wants to improve public education, wrote Doug Harris, director of the New Orleans-based Education Research Alliance, in a New York Times op-ed.
DeVos heads American Federation for Children, a school-choice nonprofit. She and her husband have worked to expand school choice in Michigan with public charters and vouchers for private schools.
As Harris noted, Michigan’s charter schools have been dominated by for-profit companies that operate with little oversight. They’re often cited as a failure of education reform.
According to Harris, DeVos created a Wild West atmosphere in Detroit’s schools:
It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.
The Detroit Free Press found the state has little power to close charter schools. An 18-year-old charter and 20-year-old charter were in the first and third percentile of schools statewide.
Harris contrasted Michigan’s approach to Louisiana’s standards for charters and New Orleans’ centralized systems to handle enrollment and expulsions.
Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to review charter renewals next week.
Two of the schools up for renewal received Fs this year, including McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School in Treme. The state generally requires that a school earn a D or higher in order to get its initial charter renewed, though the state board of education can approve a probationary extension.
Harris’ Education Research Alliance recently found that school closures and takeovers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge were beneficial to students when they ended up in better schools.
DeVos has written in the Free Press that she favors aggressive intervention, including closure, for failing traditional and charter schools.
She is a proponent of school vouchers, in which taxpayer dollars pay for children to attend private schools. In Louisiana, Harris’ group has found that students who moved to private schools with vouchers did more poorly on achievement tests.
In 2013-14, 61 percent of charters in Michigan were run by full-service, for-profit management companies, the Detroit Free Press reported. The charter school DeVos founded, West Michigan Aviation Academy, is run by a for-profit group.
While the contract with that company is public, its employees’ salaries are not, a chief complaint of critics of such arrangements.
The five for-profit operators hired to run New Orleans charters after Hurricane Katrina had left the city by 2013, according to The Hechinger Report. Charter schools advocate Leslie Jacobs, whose stature in Louisiana’s education scene is on par with to DeVos’ in Michigan, described their track record as “at best mediocre.”