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What DeVos Might Do to Public Schools

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From Consortium News

With only days to go before Donald Trump is sworn is as President and with his Cabinet choices now undergoing confirmation, a major area of concern is what impact billionaire Betsy DeVos will have as Education Secretary. She is an outspoken supporter of school vouchers and thus seen by many educators as a threat to public schools.

I spoke to Dr. Kevin Kumashiro about DeVos and her commitment to dismantling the public education system in favor of school vouchers and so-called "school choice."

Dr. Kumashiro is the Dean of the University of San Francisco, School of Education, and author of Bad Teacher: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture. He recently said about DeVos's qualifications for the job: "DeVos has not taught or worked in public schools, or been a parent of public school children or earned experience or expertise as a leader, scholar or teacher in the public school system."

Dennis Bernstein: So, that's a bit stark, Dr. Kumashiro. Can you say something about what [Betsy Devos'] qualifications are and what her educational background is that would qualify, or justify, her appointment as a Secretary of Education?

Dr. Kevin Kumashiro: I think a lot of people are surprised by her choice by Trump as the next nominee for the Secretary of Education. And I think he's turning to someone who has worked for many years in the education field, not in working within public schools, but as an advocate or even a board member of organizations that are pushing for certain kinds of school reforms, and school policy changes.

So, she, for example, has led a lot of efforts to charterize school districts, school systems in Michigan. She has pushed for changes in policies that would actually take away accountability and oversights for charter schools. She has pushed for voucher programs.

And I think what's clear is that this charterizing and privatizing of public school has been a centerpiece of her agenda. And, we should, therefore, not be surprised that it would be the policy that she would bring, nation-wide, if she were to become the next Secretary of Education.

And let me just throw in one other point, which is Trump, while he was campaigning, was actually calling to deregulate and privatize public schools. And a specific pledge he made was to divert $20 billion, which is nearly 30% of the federal education budget, to expand school choice. So, in that sense, she is very much in alignment with the kind of changes that Trump has been calling for. And what we would, therefore, expect to see if she is confirmed as the next secretary.

DB: And ... when you say charterize, what do you mean?

KK: Well, what I mean by charterizing a school system is to open the doors for the formation of many charter schools that can replace the neighborhood public school. So, it's moving a school system from a neighborhood school model to a charter school model.

And charterizing is not just swinging the doors open by making this an option. Charterizing a school system also means putting in the supports and the systemic changes necessary to support those kinds of changes.

So, diverting of public funds, the streamlining of approval processes, and the removal of regulations and oversight over charter schools. All of these things are levers that can fuel the charterization, in other words, fuel the movement to... the proliferation of, charter schools in any school system. And this is exactly the kind of thing that DeVos has been championing, and, therefore, what we should expect what would be spreading, nationally.

And I think why this is of so much concern to many of us is because charter schools, as a lever for change, is not proven by the mountains of research that we have. There's no compelling body of research that says that moving a school system into a charter system is actually going to make things better.

There's lots of people who want to say, "There's great charter schools out there." And I agree, there are great charter schools out there. Just as there are bad ones. Just like we can say there are great neighborhood public schools. And there are ones that are struggling.

The question isn't, "Are there some charter schools that are great?" The question is, "If you charterize a system, is that going to make things better? If you fuel ... the deregulation, the privatization, the lack of oversight, the different kind of standards for the different kinds of school, does that, actually, fuel improvement?"

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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