David Donahue, Director and Professor, Urban Education Reform
A recent article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post was headlined “What’s the worst that could happen with Betsy DeVos as education secretary?” Only in a Trump administration where knowledge and expertise are not considered assets would DeVos be nominated for secretary of education. DeVos has neither attended public schools nor worked in them. She has not sent her children to public schools and she has no credentials or degrees in education. She does head a political action committee “All Children Matter” that helps politicians supporting privatization.
In the Washington Post article, Strauss lays out two scenarios under DeVos, both developed by Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. One of the scenarios has DeVos leading the federal government in replacing Title I support to poor schools with $20 billion in funding for vouchers enabling families to send children to private, less regulated, for-profit schools that track success less by the academic achievement of their students and more by their ability to attract students – and the dollars attached to them – in a marketplace.
Unfortunately, research on vouchers offers no evidence of their effectiveness. The achievement of children attending private schools on vouchers is no better than if they were in public schools, and the public schools with fewer dollars have even more difficulty educating the children left behind.
Market based reforms of education treat schools like businesses, students like clients. Education does indeed provide wonderful individual benefits, and not just preparation for a good paying job, but — one hopes — discovery of lifelong intellectual pursuits and passions. In the United States, public schools also serve the common good, something that seems lost on market based reformers like voucher proponents. Some families with children in private school support vouchers with the argument that they should not be “doubly burdened” paying for their own children’s education and supporting public education with their tax dollars as well. A good society is not just the sum of everyone looking out for himself or herself, however. Even enlightened self-interest should remind those without children in public schools that their health depends on educated nurses, their safety on educated brake mechanics, the future of our democracy on an electorate able to distinguish fake news from journalism.
Defense of the common good will require action on multiple fronts in the next four years. Public schools are key to that common good. They are worth fighting for, they are worth funding, and they are worth keeping out of the hands of privateers, like Betsey DeVos.