King: Opportunity saves lives

Orphaned at the age of 12, John King “was fortunate that I had teachers and mentors who kept my life on the right path,” the outgoing Education secretary tells NPR’s Cory Turner.  “Schools and educational opportunities can save lives.”

His likely successor, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire philanthropist educated in private schools. Like King, she helped found a public charter school, but that’s about the only parallel.

“What matters is beliefs and actions,” not “biography,” King says in the interview.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr. Photo: Carlos Barria / Reuters

The new Education secretary should realize that “the department is a civil rights agency with a responsibility to protect the civil rights of students and to ensure that school is a safe and supportive place for all kids,” he says.

In his official “exit memo”, King brags about progress over the last eight years, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

He starts with expanding access to preschool,” then “touts record high-school graduation rates, a reduction in what the administration dubbed ‘dropout factories,’ and the expansion of technology (as a tool for creating individualized learning plans) in classrooms.”

He lauds the fact that it has become easier to apply for federal financial aid to pay for college, and the development of a college “scorecard” to help students evaluate which colleges might be a good fit.

The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, a revision of the main federal education law, “has a strong focus on underserved students,” King stresses. All students need “a quality education that prepares them for college and careers.”

Who is Betsy DeVos? What will she do? 

On the eve of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten blasted Betsy DeVos as “the most anti-public education nominee” ever.

Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

DeVos is a “fairly traditional, center-right education reformer,” not a radical, argues Michael Q. McShane in Education Next.

She “has a long history of supporting the kinds of accountability and school-choice policies that a broad swath of the education-reform community has championed over the last two decades,” he writes.

DeVos grew up in a wealthy family, then married an Amway heir. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, are major donors to Republican candidates and conservative causes, as well as to education, the arts, their community, etc.

As a whole, the DeVos family has given $1.33 billion to charity, according to Forbes’ list of America’s Top Givers of 2015.  That’s one-quarter of their current net worth, making them the “24th most-generous philanthropic family in the United States,” writes McShane.

DeVos’ interest in education reform was spared by a visit to The Potter’s House, a “Christ-centered” school that serves low-income students in Grand Rapids, she said in a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable. She and her husband started by funding private-school scholarships for low-income students, but worried about the many children who needed better schools.

Potter's HousePotter’s House school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I’m most focused on educational choice,” she said. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP Code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible.”

DeVos founded the pro-choice American Federation for Children, and the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which advocates for “choice, quality and accountability” in Michigan.

Betsy and Dick DeVos also founded West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school in Grand Rapids.

Some conservatives are dubious about DeVos, reports McShane. GLEP backed Common Core standards, when they were adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education in 2010.

“When governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense,” writes DeVos on her web site. She abandoned the Core when the U.S. Education Department intervened, she claims.

Ed Week rounds up the nominee’s backers and detractors.

Update: DeVos’ confirmation hearings have been postponed by one week.

DeVos: Mainstream or monster?

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, is a “pretty mainstream pick – though usual suspects on right & left of course are already going bonkers,” tweeted Andrew Rotherham. On Eduwonk, he added that DeVos is “within the mainstream of Republican thought on education.”

She’s not the elitist, racist, fundamentalist, public education-hating monster that opponents claim, writes Tyler O’Neill in PJ Media. She doesn’t hate public education or oppose all regulation of charter schools.

She doesn’t want to bring back “child labor.” (A staffer at a DeVos-funded institute argued for teens working “a few hours a week.”)

The challenge for DeVos is to “avoid the Beltway education trap,” Column write Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute in USA Today.

Only 10 percent of K-12 spending comes from the federal government, they write, yet education secretaries always want to run the whole show.

DeVos “isn’t an educator or an education leader,” writes Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, also on USA Today. “She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.”

I’m bothered by DeVos’ lack of experience with traditional public schools: She attended private schools and sent her children to private schools. She’s an education advocate — Henderson says “lobbyist” — but not an educator.

That’s surprisingly common: Of 10 Education secretaries, only three — Bell, Paige and — were former K-12 teachers.

Betsy DeVos is a Jeb Bush ally, reports Politico, which calls her appointment his “consolation prize.”

Choosers like their schools

Charter parents are considerably more satisfied with their children’s schools than are district-school parents, according to a new Education Next survey. Private-school parents are the happiest of all.

Parents report less disruption at charter schools than at district schools, the study found. On some measures, charter parents “seem to be in closer contact with their school than parents in either the district or private sector.”

A 2012 Education Department survey provides similar results: Private school parents are the most satisfied and charter parents come next, followed by parents whose children attend a district school of choice. Those whose children were assigned to a district school are the least satisfied.

The Obama administration never reported the charter school results, writes Paul Peterson, a Harvard professor who directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance, in the Wall Street Journal. “By appointing Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump is listening to parents and acknowledging that it’s time to begin thinking outside the public-school box.”

That 2012 survey also found that charter-school parents are considerably more likely than district-school parents to be black or Hispanic and less likely to have a college degree or to earn $75,000 or more. District-choice parents are whiter, more educated and more affluent than assigned-school parents.

Check out interactive graphics at Results from the 2016 EdNext Parents Survey and Results from the National Center for Education Statistics 2012 Parents Survey.

A plurality of millennials think private schools provide the best education, but they don’t vote for pro-choice candidates, writes Ashley Bateman in The Federalist.