As a career educator in one of her school systems — and a parent in Detroit — I have been victimized by Betsy DeVos’ policies. I feel the need to warn people.
I am sure that you too have witnessed how Senators Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Bernie Sanders reduced Betsy DeVos to a pile of dust during her confirmation hearings last week. I was, in some sense, vindicated to see that publicly this woman was being called onto the carpet to answer for her crimes against education. But I understand formality. She has the job. She will be our Education Secretary.
As a career educator in one of her school systems — and a parent who lives in Detroit — I have been twice victimized by DeVos’ policies. I feel the need to warn people about what happens when Betsy comes to town.
The first thing Betsy does when she comes to town is talk about her passion.
Do you know how many job interviews I have marched my afro into and said how passionate I am and how much I believed in myself to be a great fit? I did that when I applied to a Ph.D program, and that admissions committee looked at me and said, “Girl, that is nice, but you just ain’t qualified.” and denied me. However, Betsy DeVos does the same thing and she will be in charge of ALL education in ALL of the United States of America. I call privilege.
DeVos has never taught, attended, nor sent her children to one of her charter school creations. She has never participated in the federal financial aid system. If she is so “passionate about providing equal education” in the U.S., per her hearing, I’m interested as to why the DeVos family has never taken advantage of this marvelous system they have been so instrumental in creating. DeVos is a West Michigander — however, she chose Detroit to do education experiments, rather than her own community of Holland, Michigan (which has some of the best whitest schools in the state). There is no passion. What DeVos found is a business opportunity (she received a Business Administration and Political Science Degree from conservative Calvin College) in the failing Detroit schools. There is the lie.
Then she spills the equality rhetoric.
Anyone who knows anything about education knows better that to discuss equality. The creation of equality speaks to the idea that you have a controlled variable, or something that is the same. Nothing is the same in education. You are talking about children, individuals, on unique days, with exclusive aptitudes and mindsets. There is no room for discussion of equality in education.
What schools need is equity. So if funding is an issue in an affluent school district like West Bloomfield, Michigan should not look for funds while Detroit students are without staff. And teachers need equity as well. Under DeVos, teachers who have master’s degrees receive no increase in their $34,000-a-year salary. In fact, there is no clear path for us to get an increase. A few teachers have threatened to leave and have been able to strong-arm a raise, but other than that, we have heard silence. However, allow me to illustrate that high school graduates at the local Chrysler plant make $10,000 to $20,000 more dollars a year than a teacher in a DeVos-funded charter school.
But she will put her money where her mouth is.
DeVos won’t take a salary if she is confirmed. She only wants $1. How cute. She really does not need it. Is anyone getting paid in the Trump administration?
I lived in a dormitory named after her husband. We are talking about long-old West Michigan money. Senator Bernie Sanders found that Devos’ family gave $220 million dollars to the Republican Party over the years. DeVos retorted that it was her cousins and Godbrothers, not necessarily her.
The reason we care is that DeVos has been on the committees that cut teacher salaries and eliminated teacher pensions in Detroit. At my school, the money they cut from us was used to contract with curriculum trainers like EL Education, who design and write teacher instructions. This unifies standards, and what is being taught to the letter. They even provide teaching scripts. As a result, creativity has been sucked out of the classroom. And educators like myself feel more like factory workers than people shaping young minds.
Then she makes you feel like you have a lot of choices.
DeVos is a champion of “school of choice,” which is a policy model where parents are able to chose whichever private, charter or traditional school they wish to send their student to. But as we know, there is no equitable standard across these school systems anywhere in the country. The wording presents the powerless with the idea that they are in control.
The charter school system is one of the many reasons Detroit has no sustainable tax base. Charter schools are performing just as poorly, if not worse, than the failing Detroit public Schools. But DPS has such a poor reputation that parents have adopted the “as long as it isn’t DPS” ideology. As a result, DPS has lost student funding, which has gone to charters. They have closed most of the neighborhood schools, which were vandalized, scrapped and left for ruins. Plummeting property values and blighting square miles.
With all of this money, charter management companies are able to manage charter schools at whatever price they wish under Michigan law, and the remainder of the money is for the school. So, in essence, corporate greed prevents adequate funding of these charters as well. So parents think that they are choosing something avant-garde, but in reality, their student is being taught by someone making dangerously close to minimum wage, may not be certified and they probably drove across the city for it.
Betsy DeVos supports accountability.
But she refused to say whether she supports equal accountability. And that is what is needed. Take the medical profession, for example. Every doctor is held to the same standard. They have to have the same education, certifications, equipment. If you see a podiatrist in New York City, they should give you the same prognosis as a doctor in rural Kansas on your bunions. But that is not the case in education. Different schools are able to hire different types of teachers, certified or not. And Betsy DeVos supports accountability.
Betsy DeVos is doing this for you.
The best trick oppressors ever played was making the oppressed feel as if they deserved this life. That is exactly what DeVos did to us. She made it appear that the reason Detroit had inferior schools is that Detroit was an inferior place. That is why DeVos provided us with a choice. We could continue with the status quo or come over to the new charter school.
Charter schools receive public money to educate with private practices. Just like a private prison — perhaps you have heard of this wildly unsuccessful prison technique? Therefore, students at Detroit charters are suspended twice as often, all staffers do not have full certification and they can use whatever curriculum they please — or none at all. I have been held to the same standard as uncertified teachers who ended up losing their jobs or were labeled as “ineffective,” which was unfair to them. When the scores come back labeling our school as a failing school, there were no repercussions for leadership. And the CEO of every charter management company I have ever worked for, much like DeVos, has never set foot in front of a classroom.
Needless to say, DeVos, for me, represents everything that I have about my life as an educator. I am managed by people who do not understand education but have pinpointed this as the new enterprise by which to guarantee profits. The only person who should profit from education are students.