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The Problems With Choice, Vouchers, and Betsy DeVos

December 3, 2016

This Washington Post editorial on Betsy DeVos is terrible. The piece suffers from a waffling both-sides-ism that characterizes some of the worst journalistic tendencies of the last twenty years. The claim? That DeVos is a kind of independent, unpredictable thinker that will be good for the Department of Education. She’s an “intriguing” choice for the position because she’s not “easily categorized.” She’s just an advocate for “choice and competition,” merely for altruistic reasons.

Here’s a category that easily fits Betsy DeVos: Extreme pro-charter and voucher advocate. What’s wrong with that? Choice means freedom, right? I don’t believe all charters are bad, but their problems are just as numerous, if not more, than those in the realm of public education. And school vouchers are a proven no-gain prospect for kids and parents. What are the issues?

1. Vouchers and charters siphon funds away from already under-resourced public schools. Very often those schools are not failing because of bad teachers, but rather because of poor facilities and poor families whose kids have legitimate extra needs.

2. Charters suffer, in many instances, from poor oversight in comparison to public schools, which results in wasted funds. Admins overpay themselves, founders charge high rents for the buildings and land.

3. The competition that results from “choice” very often results in wasted taxpayer dollars. For instance, when you open a new school in a high-need area, and due to bad oversight that school fails (or the managing company folds/quits), it leaves students and parents scrambling. In the meantime, that failed school drew away students from the public school for a few years, which disrupted it’s reform/renew efforts (see #1).

4. Many charters are run by for-profit companies, which value the bottom line over student outcomes.

5. If test results are your thing, charter schools do not provide better standardized test results that public schools. If you believe in testing as a measure of school success, charters do no better than public schools. That then is just choice for the sake of choice, not higher quality.

I could go on. But you can explore the problems and stagnation, evident in numerous cities and states that have implemented extensive voucher and charter school systems.

1. Michigan: Check out this long story on problems with the charter system in Michigan, which is Betsy DeVos’s home state: http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2014/06/22/michigan-spends-1b-on-charter-schools-but-fails-to-hold/77155074/.

2. Milwaukee: Read Diane Ravitch’s *The Death and Life of the Great American School System* (2010) for more on problems with Milwaukee’s voucher program, and how the results of the program are no better for students. See also Ravitch’s *Reign of Error* (2013), especially chapter 19, for more on voucher failures.

3. Ohio: Check out this story on corruption and failures in Ohio’s charter system: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/01/12/charter-failure.html. Cleveland’s voucher program is covered in both of Ravitch’s books.

4. Chicago: Note the problem with high expulsion rates in Chicago charter schools: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-26/news/ct-chicago-schools-discipline-met-20140226_1_charter-schools-andrew-broy-district-run-schools.

5. On the for-profit motive in “non-profit” charters: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/charter-school-executive-profit_b_5093883.html.

6. On general problems with vouchers: Doerr, Edd. “THE GREAT SCHOOL VOUCHER FRAUD.” Americans for Religious Liberty, July 2012. http://a.tfn.org/site/DocServer/The_Great_School_Voucher_Fraud_-_July_2012.pdf?docID=3241.

Again, I could keep going.

DeVos’s charter school and voucher advocacy is no altruistic, harmless endeavor. There’s no deep public service ethic behind this advocacy. It’s not “intriguing” in any way that is proven to help American schooling. Promoting DeVos and her agenda undermines public education under the airy, seeming harmless label of “school choice” proponent. – TL

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