Don’t Confuse Her With Evidence….

Students at one of America’s historically Black colleges recently booed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who had (inexplicably) been invited to deliver the graduation speech. Many of the graduates also turned their backs when she spoke.

This behavior was rude–but it was understandable.

Like most of Trump’s Cabinet, DeVos is manifestly unfit for public office. She is an ideologue in the Pence tradition; a theocrat with a rigid and limited worldview who has demonstrated a lack of engagement with, let alone understanding of, the issues that face the department she’s been tapped to head.

DeVos has been a “Betsy One-Note,” focused on voucher programs that despite misleading rhetoric, actually replace public schools with religious ones. She insists that private schools do a better job, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. As the New York Times recently reported,

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education was a signal moment for the school choice movement. For the first time, the nation’s highest education official is someone fully committed to making school vouchers and other market-oriented policies the centerpiece of education reform.

But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.

Voucher advocacy has gradually become part of GOP ideology, and as Republicans have assumed power in the states, voucher programs have expanded–especially in Indiana. That expansion has allowed researchers to make comparisons that had been less reliable when there were fewer schools to compare, and the results of that research began to emerge in late 2015.

Here are some of those research findings–conclusions that would make an intellectually honest educator revisit her preconceptions:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

It is important to note that these results come from voucher proponents as well as voucher skeptics. As the Times article noted,

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

DeVos has been an outspoken opponent of even minimal efforts to regulate schools that accept vouchers, but it has become clear that such regulation is necessary and salutary:

The new voucher studies stand in marked contrast to research findings that well-regulated charter schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have a strong, positive impact on test scores. But while vouchers and charters are often grouped under the umbrella of “school choice,” the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to public authorities. The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.

If DeVos has seen these studies or addressed their findings, I haven’t seen it reported.

Betsy DeVos is certainly entitled to live in her own alternate universe. What she isn’t entitled to is a public position that allows her to inflict considerable damage on the rest of us.


  1. Having Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education is akin to having someone like David Duke as the head of the Civil Rights Commission. She brings her single minded view of vouchers as good, public is bad. But what makes her such a destructive force in Education, is that she sees Public Education as fitting only for those that are not white, but the private education is for those that are white. DeVos is the leader of racist, discriminatory policy decisions regarding education and she has the record in Michigan to prove it. Sadly, her biggest supporters are right here in Indiana, with the head cheerleader Rep. Bob Behning leading the way.

  2. Sheila’s comment that the university student’s behavior during DeVos’ commencement speech was rude but understandable is right on. After the president of the university stepped to the mic to warn them to cease their behavior or diplomas would be mailed to them – I was deeply disappointed they did NOT walk out. Getting their diploma was their ultimate goal; they would have received it so why was walking onto the stage more important than publicly taking a stand against Trump and DeVos’ plans for dumbing down our national education system? They are aware minority students will be the ultimate victims of DeVos’ “God’s Kingdom” voucher system.

    But; watching the news since January 20, 2017, it is obvious to America and the world (especially the Russians) that the current administration has dumbed down to DeVos’ level of intelligence. Woe is us, alas and alack, we “is” in trouble at all levels…I’m sure “your” in agreement with that point of view.

  3. C’mon folks, thanks to yesterday’s news about fascist Trump, DeVos and the others will soon be home in history’s dustbin along with their champion hypocrite, sycophant Mike-the-Dyke.
    No more photo-ops of second-in-command RFRA Mikie standing behind his clay-footed-idol Trump beaming with that ever-lovin’ grin. Watch Mikie get scarce, head-in-sand to divest himself of this disgrace.

  4. Face it! The dumber the electorate, the safer the jobs of the Republicans in Congress and in state governments. Keep the educational focus on a specific version of Christianity and we’ll raise lots of little social issue voters who don’t know enough math to balance their checkbooks, much less understand economic issues.

  5. If you follow Pence at all, he is busy soliciting and unifying law enforcement and the military in order to ally them with DT’s administration. It is frightening to watch this insidious campaign unfold. What might be the ultimate goal? If history is any indicator, it means authoritarian rule.

  6. Regarding school choice, we have the Friedman Foundation and the Koch brothers to thank. They both have been investing in the growth of vouchers for private schools for decades, with the ultimate goal of having control over what the students are taught. The plan has been to create a country of followers who know only what those in power want them to know.

    The Friedman foundation is in Indy. They changed their name to EdChoice in 2016. In case some of you do not know, we have Milton Friedman to thank for the downward spiral of wages and employment. He is the economist who convinced leaders that the primary goal of corporations is to maximize shareholder value. That was the impetus for corporate leaders to choose to ignore the communities they live in and choosing to use and abuse employees, all for the gain of shareholders. His idea started the economic decline in our country.

    We have so much to be proud of in Indiana – not.

  7. JoAnn, I also felt that the students should have chosen to walk away from their graduation ceremony. They were still going to receive their diploma so why put themselves through such a humiliating and degrading ceremony.

  8. It seems that religious control has come full circle in our country. The first immigrants came here to escape religious persecution, yet once they were here they chose to control others who came here by expecting that everyone adhere to their beliefs.

    Our founding fathers created documents that were intended to make sure that no religion could control our country or our government. It has become obvious that history is repeating itself.

  9. We’ve got to endlessly dialogue with our fellow citizens, endlessly organize for the 2018 elections, and non-stop press all the members of Congress to act to fully investigate Trump and remove him from office. It is weird and alien to advocate action with the objective of removing a president but what is the alternative. If four years did not seem so terribly long, I would say use the ballot box for removal so the Pence problem and the awful people Trump has brought into government could all be addressed. However, if Congress is to be a solution that will probably require a huge victory for progressive candidates in 2018. There are no quick answers. Dialogue, organizing, persistence, and unity of purpose must drive us.

  10. Not only is Betsy DeVos the sister of the Blackwater founder, Eric Prince, she is married to the founder of the Amway enterprise that perfected the pyramid scheme. We might recall that Blackwater’s operatives wantonly murdered Iraqis during parts of our invasion under George W. Bush. Mr. Prince also was Donald Trump’s operative at the once-secret “backchannel” meetings in the Sychelles with the Russians.

    The point is that this archipelago of sedition and social deconstruction is rampant in this administration. The White House is filled with these sorts of super-rich – or connected to super-rich people – who wield their hubris as if it was their right and not that of the people of this country. Betsy DeVos’s ideological commitment to deconstructing public education and turning our schools into profit centers is pure Chicago School of Economics ideology from the egregious Milton Friedman. Someone commented about the Friedman Foundation… Yeah. That’s what these “conservative” think tanks are about: Putting in place Friedman’s ideas about economics.

    In Naomi Klein’s great book (and necessary reading for all interested parties) “Shock Doctrine” she describes the insidious evil embedded in Friedman’s ideas and plans. It’s un-regulated capitalism on steroids, just what Marx predicted would be the undoing of capitalism and the demise of Western economies.

    Well done, Republicans. You’re almost finished with your scorched Earth economics plans.

  11. I disagree with the idea that the students should have walked out of their graduation ceremony. Graduation is the joyful culmination of years of hard work and study. Graduation is a chance for family and friends to celebrate with the graduate. That walk across the stage is not just a walk; it is a symbol of accomplishment. It is, also, for some families, the proud first college degree. The ceremony belonged to the students, not to Betsy DeVos. She should have been the one to leave.

  12. Jane, I agree with you. Moreover, I question the thought processes of the university officials who invited DeVos. How could they be so out of touch with their students?

  13. I’m in search of information. What was the name of the black college involved in this disgraceful activity? It was probably there someplace, but I didn’t find it. What was the name of the person who introduced Betsy DeVos? What was the name of the college rep who approved of Betsy DeVos being the speaker? What was the name of the Washington, D.C., person who contacted the black college person?

    In my opinion, those are the names that should be publicized. They’re the ones who created the grief … not the students. All roads to idiocy seem to lead back to the Fake President Trump. If the truth be known, he probably interrupted his meeting with the Russians to make sure the Trump doctrine was shared with the black students. How generous.

  14. Back when public schools were being integrated in the mid 1960’s own. We learned of private academies being set-up, especially in the South. The private schools were a method to maintain racial segregation as well as economic class segregation.

    The charter and voucher programs serve a few needs: One charter and voucher schools would have no unions. Two, the non-public schools could be turned into profit centers. Three, they would serve to spread theocracy. Four, the non-public schools fill the need for ideology, i.e., the “market” run schools is superior to the government run schools.

    The think of these needs as Velcro, that is hooks and loops. These needs can attach any where. Crony-capitalists can be selected by politicians to have a school franchise if you will. The politicians can hook onto the anti-government ideology, or theocracy (bring the bible into the classroom). A lack of unions means no potential opposition.

    Vernon, good points on the DeVos background.

  15. BSH … Thanks for providing the name of the black school in question: Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

    I jumped to the conclusion it was a college, but it turned out to be a university. A few more mental gyrations like that may entitle me to be President of the U.S.

  16. I spend my summers (as now) in Kent County, Michigan, the home of Amway, Betsy and her Rich DeVos (aptly named). Having Betsy named Ed Chief is the equivalent of Adoph Hilter’s election as mayor of Tel Aviv. Her purpose, like that of some other of Trump’s appointments, is to destroy the agency she heads, all of which accords with Bannon’s vow to deconstruct “the administrative state” via his presidential dummy, one Donald Trump. Our task now is clear: Trump with his obstruction of justice via the Comey warning and now his giving Russians “highly classified” information that CIA agents have died to protect leave us no option. Our only rational response as citizens is to bear our responsibility in seeing that he stand for impeachment or indictment or both, so let’s have 22 Republicans who favor America over lunacy join Democrats in the House to bring a resolution for impeachment and the sooner the better.

  17. My belief is that weaker educational systems are not a byproduct of the republican agenda for vouchers. They are the objective. It is much easier to control and manipulate an under-educated population. Other posts on Sheila’s blog have illuminated that fact.

  18. The amateur choice of DeVos, was approved by the Trumpet, probably at the urging of Mike Dense.

    The never ending saga of the Trumpet, the truth, and his sycophants explanations, this concerning his meeting with the Russians in the White House. Donald Trump has admitted that he shared information on terrorism with Russia, asserting he has an “absolute right” to do so.

    Trump’s tweet contradicted flat denials issued by senior officials on Monday night. One of them was from the national security adviser, HR McMaster, who declared the Washington Post report to be false. On Tuesday, he offered a more calibrated response.

    “What I’m saying is that the premise of the article was false – that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in national security,” McMaster said. He argued that the real threat came from the leaks to the press.

    Senator Bob Corker, “The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” he said. “It’s got to happen.”
    I have been having thoughts of suddenly finding out we have had a coup, and Trump, Pence, etc., are being detained and the country is being placed under martial law. Perhaps Pence could remain as figure head. He would be a frightened empty suit. A “Seven Days in May” scenario. The Trumpet has provided good cover for the looters and ideologues, so far. His shelf life may be coming to an end, as his gaffes and gross incompetence can no longer be hidden from view. The Trumpet via his narcissistic, and his family’s greedy nature is bringing on unwanted attention. The Deep State survives best when it is hidden from view, but they may decide drastic corrective action is needed.

  19. De Vos, Trump, Pence and all the others on this ‘Ship of Fools’ are a joke…but nobody’s laughing. It’s a complete disaster from beginning to end (and there seems to be no end).

  20. In addition to lack of oversight and standards, charter schools, especially those organized for making a profit, hire inexperienced teachers, many of whom are just out of college. They pay few to no benefits, and that’s where the profits come into play. It takes many years of teaching experience to know how to reach all kids, engage them in learning, and help them achieve, which newly-minted teachers lack. That is another explanation for the dismal results.

    DeVos’s agenda is different, as Sheila has observed: she is an ideologue and ignores reality. Nothing will faze her because her agenda is religiously-driven–sorta like Al Kaida.

  21. This fact, as late as it may ne in the conversation is important: DeVos graduated from Calvin College, but she somehow managed to get through unscathed. The Calvin faculty published a letter urging Congress not to approve her appointment for many of the reasons mentioned here.

  22. Stuart; she was the choice of Trump for her billions of dollars and her brother’s private Blackwater military unit he plans to put back into action. Pence, of course, chose her for her Christian values. Neither of them considered her brains or education.

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