Graham Keegan is “Very Pleased” With DeVos…What a Shock!

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

I started reading Thomas Friedman’s latest book this morning, “Thank You for Being Late, An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.” I’m only in the second chapter, but in it he credits Craig Mundy, former Chief of Strategy and Research at Microsoft, with using the terms “disruption” and “dislocation” when speaking about the effect of acceleration. Mundy defines “disruption” as, “what happens when someone does something clever that makes you or your company look obsolete. “Dislocation” is the next step — “when the rate of change exceeds the ability to adapt.

I argue the education reform movement has been working hard for some time now to disrupt truly public education; to find “something clever” that makes district education look obsolete. Unfortunately for them, the results haven’t quite matched up to the rhetoric. While school choice advocates like to promote the “magic of the marketplace thinking,” they just don’t have a good track record of improving overall student achievement. And yet, Lisa Graham Keegan, Executive Director of A for Arizona & Glenn Hamer, President & CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry fall all over themselves in an exuberant support piece for Trump’s Secretary of Education (SecED) nominee, Betsy DeVos. They are “very pleased with her nomination” writing that it, “signals a shift in the conversation around education policy in exactly the right way.” Let’s be real. What they are really hoping is that if confirmed, Betsy DeVos will propel the commercialization of district community schools at a “rate of change” that “exceeds the ability to adapt”, i.e., that it will cause “dislocation.”

Tulane University’s Douglas Harris argues though that, “The DeVos nomination is a triumph of ideology over evidence that should worry anyone who wants to improve results for children.” That’s because the evidence from DeVos’ backyard is far from pro-commercialization. Michigan has become a Mecca for school choice over the past 23 years and its charters are among the most-plentiful and least-regulated in the nation. Approximately 80% of Michigan’s 300 publicly funded charters are operated by for-profit companies, more than any other state. Yet, a 2015 federal review of Michigan’s charters found an ‘unreasonably high’ percentage that were underperforming. In response, DeVos and friends successfully defeated state legislation “that would have prevented failing charter schools from expanding or replicating.” By doing so, they enabled the doubling of charter schools on the list of lowest performing and the competition she’s driven has district and charter schools fighting over students, ensuring no one thrives. Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers,  writes that DeVos has long been, “working in Michigan to undermine public schools and to divide communities. And now—she’s poised to swing her Michigan wrecking ball all across America.”

DeVos’ “wrecking ball” isn’t just about using charters to do the “disrupting and dislocating”, but virtual schools and vouchers as well. In fact, Rachel Tabachnick, a researcher, writer and speaker on the impact of the Religious Right on policy and politics, calls her “the four star general of the voucher movement.” Tabachnick, no doubt like many others, is concerned that DeVos will gleefully work to make good on Trump’s promise of $20 billion for school choice, by siphoning off Title I funds designed to help the most vulnerable kids to the benefit of wealthy families for private and religious schools. There are real doubts among many though, that even if the money were available, Trump’s voucher idea (had typed “plan”, but I don’t think Trump is big on those) just won’t work. Current SecED John King said, “Vouchers, I don’t think, are a scalable solution to the challenges that we face in public education, and I think (they) have the potential to distract us from focusing on how we strengthen public education.” Teacher and writer Retired Professor and writer, Joseph Natoli writes, “Unless we deconstruct the narrative that privatized schools somehow have uncovered the secret to how humans learn and have a monopoly on the most effective ways to implement that knowledge, we are allowing false assertions to stand.” Natoli also writes, “Weakening public education to the point that privatization looks like rescue is accomplished by funding that is decreased when tax funds are siphoned off to for-profit charter [or private] schools.”

Most of us also understand, as Steven M Singer, blogger at gadflyonthewallblog writes, that school choice “privileges the choice of some and limits the choices of others.” This is bad he posits, because district schools “pool all the funding for a given community in one place. By doing so, they can reduce the cost and maximize the services provided.” Adding parallel systems increases the costs thereby providing less for the same money. “Public [district] schools are designed to educate. Corporate schools are designed to profit” Singer notes, and eloquently writes, “Instead of fixing the leak in our public school system, advocates prescribe running for the lifeboats. We could all be sailing on a strong central cruise-liner able to meet the demands of a sometimes harsh and uncaring ocean together. Instead we’re told to get into often leaky escape craft that even under the best of circumstances aren’t as strong as the system we’re abandoning.”

Mitchell Robinson at ecletablog.com, believes DeVos’ “ultimate goal, appears to be a two-tiered educational system.” One, a system of well-funded elite private and religious schools with highly qualified teachers and a rich curriculum for wealthy whites and another of “fly by night” virtual and for-profit charters with little to no regulation or oversight, and a bare bones, “back to basics” curriculum delivered by unqualified and uncertified “teachers”.

Back in Arizona though, Graham Keegan and Hamer write that DeVos is not a “gradual improvement” kind of leader, but a “true reformer who believes in immediate transformation of lives through quality education because she sees it happening. (One might ask where, since it ain’t in her home state of Michigan.) Of course, they follow that up with ”we’re optimistic that under Mrs. DeVos’ leadership we can take a national break from seeking to impose improvement from on high…” Her soon to be boss though, doesn’t seem to want to give up the bully pulpit to affect change saying, “There’s no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly. ”It is time to break up that monopoly.” His words are of course, hyperbolic and untrue, as government is not the sole provider of K-12 education, nor is competition prohibited by law.

What is not hyperbole, is that DeVos and other elites understand that truly public education helps make the American Dream possible. That’s why they are fighting so hard to dismantle it. “Educator Stan Karp argued that what is ultimately at stake in school reform debates is ”whether the right to a free public education for all children is going to survive as a fundamental democratic promise in our society, and whether the schools and districts needed to provide it are going to survive as public institutions, collectively owned and democratically managed – however imperfectly by all of us as citizens. Or will they be privatized and commercialized by the corporate interests that increasingly dominate all aspects of our society?”

This fight is not just about what kind of schools America’s children attend and who pays for it. It is also about weakening the power of our Democracy and its people. Will we continue to be a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people” or will the oligarchy turn us into a caste or feudal system where only a few have a say and the rest of us serve? If you want to continue to have a say in our Democracy, exercise it today by clicking here to contact your U.S. Senators today and tell them to vote “NO” on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as America’s next SecEd. Then stand at the ready, because the cause is just and the fight is far from over.

14 responses to “Graham Keegan is “Very Pleased” With DeVos…What a Shock!

  1. John Huppenthal

    In 2000, Michigan White and Black students were ranked 10th and 22nd in the nation in math. Their Hispanic population wasn’t large enough to be statistically significant. Today, they are ranked 42nd and 37th in the nation. Michigan’s Hispanic student population is now sizable enough to be ranked and comes in at 31st in the nation.

    Nothing to point at in terms of success at all.

    Michigan has a population of 9.9 million, their exact same population as in 2000. That means it is really dog eat dog, there are no new students to increase funding. Since 2000, Michigan student enrollment has fallen from 1.7 million to current 1.5 million.

    By comparison, Arizona’s student enrollment has risen from 870,000 in 2000 to 1.1 million currently. That means that our district enrollment increased in size, just barely, despite the charter school population increase.

    This means that Michigan’s charter school enrollment is a smaller percentage of the total and exerts less force on changing district schools.

    Arizona’s charter school enrollment is 170,000, about 16% whereas Michigan’s charter school enrollment is about 8% of their enrollment.

    Since 1998, the nation’s juvenile murder rate collapsed 65%, Arizona’s 76% and Michigan’s by 88%.

    Arizona is more impressive than those numbers because our at-risk population more than doubled.

    Michigan spends $3,700 more per student annually than Arizona, once again proving the adage that money yields little or nothing in education. To equal Michigan’s spending per student, we would have to add over $3.5 billion per year. To what end? What has it yielded Michigan?

    • Hi, John. Nice to hear from you. Keith Wagner says to say “Hi!” Here’s a little clip if you forget your last conversation with him. Take care, Tom Ryan

      • John Huppenthal

        I like Keith and was glad to take the time to grant him an interview.

        In the interview, Keith describes half of a series of votes in which we switched the funding source for Career and Technical education without reducing that funding.

        • But you never came back to answer his questions. You walked out on a high school student’s straight forward interview. By the way, that YouTube video has over 360,000 views!

          • John Huppenthal

            The series of votes were obscure, I needed to track them down. It took two days.

            Paradoxically, the 360,000 views were invaluable to me. They propelled me to my victory in the Superintendency.

          • Dear John,
            Your response here to Tom sounds like you are saying, “Nanny, Nanny, Boo Boo.” Good for you. But, I have to say that if the video of Keith’s interview of you propelled you to victory in your Superintendent of Public Instruction race, it does more to solidify my belief of an ignorant electorate that simply votes party, than it in any way validates you. I certainly would not have voted for you after watching the video, even if you were a Democrat. I mean…if you can’t handle a high school student’s honest questions, how could you handle steering the state’s department of education?

          • Our nation would not be facing such a frightening Friday if more of our mainstream journalists did their job as well as Keith did!

          • John Huppenthal

            It wasn’t a straightforward interview.

            The video was a setup based on a falsehood and it was embarrassing at the time but voters understood what it was – a cheap shot. And, I prevailed.

            I had things like that happen to me all the time in politics because I was always upsetting people by pushing the edge in policy – its the price you pay when you are not satisfied with the status quo.

            There is a reason results are so dramatically different in Michigan and Arizona. Much higher results in Arizona for much less money.

            We got performance pay for teachers correct (until very recently), we handled the disastrous Common Core correctly, we were mindful of economic growth by being frugal and most of all, we lead the nation in school choice.

            We didn’t make that omelet without breaking a few eggs.

      • Thanks so much for the read Tom and especially for the link to Keith’s interview. EXCELLENT job on his part!

    • Certainly, throwing money at a problem without even being sure what the problem is, is a recipe for wasting money. But there are some problems with that assessment.

      First, I would ask: where are the gains being concentrated, in the sense of where on the socioeconomic distribution are those gains being realized? In order to bring up an (arithmetic) average ranking, one can raise the distribution at the top, the middle, the bottom, or the entire curve. It is reasonable to suspect – at least from an ad hoc assessment – that charter schools and school choice lead to lots of gains in the top half – for upper-middle class parents who have the resources and the wherewithal to get their kids into a charter school, but the bottom doesn’t benefit nearly as much.

      Second, you have a habit of bringing up school districts such as Vail and Scottsdale as examples of how Arizona schools do more with less. But those districts, like other high-performing ones in the state, rely on local property-tax-based budget overrides and bond packages in order to cover the shortfalls that the state’s budget has created. Certainly, the Vail School Board, as hard as they pushed Prop 449 in the last election, does not share your enthusiasm that they will benefit from further budget cuts.

      And finally, if Arizona schools are so great, why are teachers so strongly pushing to leave the state posthaste? There is an allegory of a bridge that I often speak of, which I cannot cite in full due to space, but the basic premise is that you can cut funding for infrastructure in the short run, but the big problems will be made manifest if you do so too much, or for too long. I am curious how long our district schools will withstand the strain of our teacher shortages, our lack of facilities, and more. I don’t blame the state for all of these problems – certainly, the administration of TUSD leaves much to be desired (disclosure: I work for one of the board members unrelated to their capacity as board member) – but at least some problems are due to the difficulty in keeping the teachers happy given the bare-bones resources the state is currently giving.

      • Of course money matters, but so do the external factors challenging the efforts of a school. We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that poverty provides many intersecting challenges that make educating more difficult. We also know that students in our wealthier districts perform across the board better than students in our higher poverty districts. Yes, there are outliers, but they are not the norm. And, although money does matter, it also matters how that money is spent. More on this to follow.

    • Thanks for the data John. Appreciate that at least you seem to believe that facts still matter! On the spending per student, gotta tell ya that I am REALLY tired of that freakin’ argument! Of course money matters!!! Otherwise, why would wealthy parents send their kids to fancy, expensive private schools!!!!!!! The factor you “money doesn’t matter” zealots never mention though, is why locations like Detroit or Washington D.C. spend more per student. What could those locations possibly have in common other than high spending per student? Uh, maybe concentrated poverty? Watch for a subsequent post where I’ll make my point with data…you should appreciate that.

  2. Robert Francis

    Betsy DeVos has a serious conflict of interest with her stock holdings in the failing online education company publicly held K-12 Inc. (LRN, nyse) It is a disaster in the making when a person who is supposed be a leader continues down a path of proven failures and K-12 Inc. is not getting better at working with students. K-12, you should look at the data on how the students are getting the short end of the stick and employees are getting rich at the public expense.