Trump’s Ed Pick Elevates a Troubling School-Choice Model

Betsy DeVos was officially announced last week as the nominee for US Secretary of Education in the upcoming Trump Administration.

She makes perfect sense from a policy and politics standpoint: strong proponent of school choice—the one education policy that Trump talked about, albeit briefly, during the campaign—and a Republican mega-donor. (Education Week has a really strong analysis of the full potential policy implications of the nomination.)

But she makes no sense from a results standpoint. She has been a major player in Detroit’s charter-school landscape, which is a complete mess. (My Education Post colleague Beth Hawkins wrote a fabulous piece for The Atlantic on that. And more recently, education researcher Doug Harris makes that point in this New York Times op-ed.) It’s hard to see how her influence will help the nation’s schools, given that track record.

The DeVos nomination is also bad news for advocates, like me, who see and talk about the value that charters have, particularly in communities that need more good schools.

Across most of the country, especially in cities, non-profit charter schools have helped families in underserved communities by giving them another option besides the struggling traditional school in their neighborhood. As long as that’s the reality, the yelling and screaming from charter opponents (primarily teachers’ unions) about nefarious “market”-driven “privatizers” will fall on deaf ears.

But Michigan is one of the few places that charter critics can make legitimate, substantiated noise. And now one of the state’s school-choice leaders is going national.

The school-choice “market” is only defensible when it exists to serve kids, when it empowers families, and when there are standards around access and quality.

And under Michigan’s model, the kids are there to serve the market, with for-profit operators being empowered and not held to any semblance of standards on quality and accessibility.

Michigan makes the charter opponents’ case that thinking outside the traditional public-school systems (“privatization”) hurts public education, when there’s a strong body of evidence to the contrary. The Michigan model is an aberration that should be isolated and fixed, not a model to be elevated and given influence.

DC Gets New Chancellor

Another school-choice supporter headed to our nation’s capital is Antwan Wilson, who was tabbed by Mayor Muriel Bowser to be the next Chancellor of the DC Public Schools.

And, having worked with Antwan at the Denver Public Schools before he became superintendent in Oakland in 2014, I know his school-choice model is all about creating better schools for kids. And his thinking—and his drive to improve service for underserved families—comes from his experience as a kid…and his mom having to move him family from town to town in search of a better school.

This Ozy story on Antwan is one of the best education profiles I’ve read. It totally captures who Antwan is and the issues he’s fighting for. This is my favorite part:

At the site visits, though, the ostensible point is to listen. In one kindergarten classroom, where the carpets and teachers alike smell of slightly stale Play-Doh, Wilson surveys the room. He spies a single, shy-looking Black boy in the far corner, sitting on a couch and reading with immense concentration. He makes his way over there. They sit together and page through the book with its thick cardboard pages and large, bubbly lettering. Wilson looks more like a father — he is, of three: 7-year-old twins and a 12-year-old — than the big, bad inspector. The boy reads aloud. Wilson listens.

ESSA Help on Direct Student Services from Chiefs for Change

Anybody who’s worked in a city school district knows how much time and energy is spent on finding ways to increase access to quality, challenging academic programs for low-income students.

Under the new federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—there are ways to make that easier.

But anybody who’s worked in a city school district also knows how help from the feds on paper isn’t always easy to turn into help from the feds in schools. The Chiefs for Change organization has a new set of tools designed to help districts provide more opportunities through Direct Student Services. More information is available on the Chiefs for Change website.