The DeVoses Have Always Been Wrong about College

You’ve probably seen the graph floating around the interwebs this week. The Economist reported that–despite jeremiads by Betsy DeVos–higher education in America does not seem to be turning students into left-wing drones. As SAGLRROILYLBYGTH know, conservatives have always fretted about it. And they’ve always been wrong. Their schemes to infiltrate left-wing colleges have never panned out and today’s college conservatives should pay attention.

economist college influence

Not a lot of change there…

In a speech a few years back, Queen Betsy warned students that college was trying to brainwash them. As she put it,

The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.

Were QB’s worries fair? The Economist dug through a study of political thinking among college graduates. Either college professors—who really do skew to the left—are not “ominously” trying to tell students “what to think,” or they’re bad at it. As The Economist summarized,

Between 2010 and 2014, survey respondents were asked every year which political party they identified with. The share identifying as Democrats did not shift significantly between freshman year and graduation. Similarly, when asked about their political viewpoints, the share of students identifying as conservative changed little during their time at university. The same pattern held for questions about climate change, health care and immigration.

Yet Queen Betsy’s vision of the college threat is anything but idiosyncratic. Throughout the twentieth century, the conservative educational activists I’ve studied uniformly agree that left-wing professors are a deadly threat to students’ faiths and America’s chances.

In 1909, for example, journalist Harold Bolce scored a major scoop when he interrogated college professors about their secularism and anti-Christian ideas. For example, Bolce quizzed Syracuse sociologist Edwin L. Earp and reported to America that the professor no longer valued traditional religion. As Bolce wrote in Cosmopolitan (yes, Cosmo),

‘Do you not believe, Professor,’ I asked, ‘that Moses got the ten commandments in the way the Scriptures tell?’

The professor smiled.  ‘I do not,’ said he.  ‘It is unscientific and absurd to imagine that God ever turned stone-mason and chiseled commandments on a rock.’

bolce page image

Left-wing professors, c. 1909.

Earp was not alone, Bolce warned. At all leading colleges, issues such as “marriage, divorce, the home, religion, and democracy,” were studied and propounded “as if these things were fossils, gastropods, vertebrates, equations, chemical elements, or chimeras.”

Conservative anxiety about college professors never went away. In the 1920s, for example, William Jennings Bryan often warned about the dangers of higher education. He liked to cite a study by psychologist James Leuba, which found that more than half of “prominent scientists” in the USA no longer believed in a “personal God and in personal immortality.” The upshot on college campuses where those scientists taught? Though only 15% of freshman had discarded Christianity, Leuba found, 30% of juniors had and 40-45% of graduates did.

It hasn’t only been religious conservatives like Bolce, Bryan, and DeVos that have worried. In 1939, the obstreperous leader of the American Legion’s Americanism Commission schemed with a business ally to disrupt the goings-on at Columbia University. Both men—Homer Chaillaux of the American Legion and Alfred Falk of the National Association of Manufacturers—assumed that colleges were ideologically dangerous places. Professors at Columbia had been spewing their left-wing propaganda into the ears of students for too long.

What could they do about it? Chaillaux told Falk that he had some spies “on the inside at Columbia University.” Chaillaux planned to have those “friends” conduct a campaign against leftist professors among students. As Chaillaux optimistically predicted,

possibly we can make the classes of such instructors as George S. Counts and Harold O. Rugg sufficiently unpopular to reduce their present drawing power.

It might sound nutsy to dream of sending secret right-wing agents onto college campuses to denounce and dethrone popular leftist professors, but Queen Betsy and the rest of the Trump regime are engaged in similar stuff these days.

Perhaps most famously, Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA have made a career out of provoking leftist backlash from college students and professors. And now, Kirk has teamed up with Trump’s favorite evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. to open a new kind of campus center, one devoted to promoting Trumpist ideas in higher ed.

Will it work? No. It wasn’t necessary or effective in 1939 and it won’t happen today. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Queen Betsy (though I’m iffy these days about Kirk or Falwell). For a century and more, conservatives have fretted that colleges in general were left-wing indoctrination factories. They’re not. At least, they’re not very good ones.

Can We Talk about Charter-School Politics without Using the “BD Word”?

It seems like a big omission. It’s like talking about immigration policy without mentioning Trump. Or reviewing the history of impeachment without using the phrase “Talk to Rudy.” Yet in a recent piece about the politics of charter schools, two New York Times journalists left out the most important fact of all. Why?

NYT charters

We ALL want ALL kids to have awesome schools.

Here’s what we know: The New York Times article gave compelling testimony to the emotional power of the charter-school issue. As one parent and charter-school founder told the reporters,

We look at it as a burning ship going down with thousands of kids in it, and we’re trying to get kids on lifeboats.

And as another charter-school leader put it,

“It shouldn’t be about what’s better: charter schools or neighborhood schools,” he said. “It should be about what schools will help our children succeed.”

At the school’s campus in southeast Washington, where more than 90 percent of students are black, Eagle Academy seeks to provide the same resources that white, affluent children have: a swimming pool, a chef who serves fruits and vegetables and a “sensory room” modeled on private medical facilities where students can calm down.

With appeals like this, it is hard to see how anyone but a moral monster could oppose expanding charter schools. Yet as the article correctly points out, all but one of the leading Democratic 2020 candidates have turned their back on charter schools. Why? The journalists say only that

the leading Democratic candidates are backing away from charter schools, and siding with the teachers’ unions that oppose their expansion.

True enough, but the article leaves out the most important explanations for this sudden shift in Democratic Party thinking. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing, it was not at all unusual for leading Democrats to support expanding charters and vouchers as recently as last year. Yet now even St. Obama has agreed that charters and other market-based “reforms” are not a “cure-all.”

We could get all complicated and talk about the long history of greater conservatism among African-American Democrats than white ones. We could talk about the changed political landscape since the teacher walk-outs of the past few years. But if we want to understand the political shift about charter schools, there is one glaring fact that we absolutely can’t leave out: Betsy DeVos has become the public face of charter schools. And that changes everything.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

The elephant in the classroom…

I don’t mean to criticize journalists for not writing the story I wanted to hear instead of the one they needed to write. In this case, however—a story about the changing politics of charter schools—it seems oddly misleading to leave out the huge obvious fact of Queen Betsy’s school-reform revolution.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

You’d think no one would do anything else while the History of Education Society was meeting in Columbus, Ohio, but there were still some headlines this past week:

The Chicago teachers’ strike is over, after 11 days. Was it worth it? At Vox.

The district also committed to spending $35 million to shrink oversized classrooms and to prioritize schools that serve the most at-risk students. The deal includes a 16 percent pay raise for teachers over five years, and a remarkable 40 percent raise for teaching assistants, clerks, and other lower-paid workers. The new, five-year contract will also boost investment per pupil and reduce the number of students in each class.

Teachers had wanted more, though. They also wanted more affordable housing in the city for students and teachers. That’s something no teachers union has demanded in recent contract negotiations.

chicago teachers strike againWhat happens to public schools when there are fewer students? The view from MI:

Fewer students mean less funding. But schools costs don’t drop in lockstep with enrollment declines, as school officials point out.

Another evangelical college shuts its doors, at WCPO.

[Cincinnati Christian University] did not “operate with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel and auxiliary functions” or establish processes governing fair, ethical behavior among its employees.

Didja miss the headline that Queen Betsy was held in contempt of court? Two historians explain why at WaPo.

Last week’s ruling forced the department to admit wrongdoing. But its actions were not an accident or oversight — abetting the exploitation of our nation’s most vulnerable students goes to the very core of DeVos’s vision for education.

How Trump’s Bible teacher became a shadow diplomat, at NYT.

[Ralph] Drollinger himself is aware that some foreign governments’ interests in his studies might not be entirely biblical. “I can get these guys to help me,” he told me a few weeks earlier, speaking of his allies in Washington. “And everybody overseas wants to know someone in D.C.”

Why is Liberty U’s star professor leaving? At NA.

Karen Swallow Prior, a longtime English professor at Liberty University and a high-profile voice in the evangelical movement, will leave the school next year because of mounting frustrations over what she said is an administration-led campaign toward standardization that limits academic independence.

“For me, teaching is an art and I need the freedom to express that art,” Prior, who has accepted a position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said in an interview this week.

“Trump cult?” Not so fast… at R&P.

Scholars of new religious movements have shown that the mythology of cultic mind-control is more rhetoric than reality. It is easy to understand why critics of the president dismiss him as a cult leader, and his political followers as brainwashed. But it says a lot more about the power of the language than it does the president himself.

Sports page: Congrats to the Nats, but please stop saying a Washington team hasn’t played in a World Series since 1933. The Negro-League Washington Homestead Grays played in the 1948 World Series, at SUSIH. HT: PS.

BH_Grays-1024x521Jill Lepore’s This Americaresurrecting the tradition of liberal history, at The Nation.

Driving the demagogues out of the Barnes & Noble will require more than just taking back the nation as an object of serious historical inquiry. Lepore also sees a need to show that object in a more flattering light. Whereas many of her colleagues narrate US history as a tragedy and a chronicle of oppression, Lepore sets out to capture a fuller range of feeling. Her version features “a great deal of anguish,” she admits, but it also contains “decency and hope,” “prosperity and ambition,” “invention and beauty.” Lepore’s relatively upbeat tone is more than a sensibility; it’s a politics. The Bill O’Reillys of the bookshelf, she insists in This America, have not only taken control of the national story but also claimed for themselves the mantle of patriotism. Lepore wants to take it back for liberals. . . . In the end, she argues, it is liberals, not radicals, who can deliver progressive change. They do so using the most powerful tool within reach: the nation.

The Really Scary Thing about Queen Betsy

I know it’s too late for Halloween, but here’s something scary to think about: As Jack Schneider argued this week at the History of Education Society annual meeting, the reason Betsy DeVos flubs so many basic questions in interviews is not because she is dim. It is not because she is a tony socialite out of her depth, or as Stephen Colbert described her, “one of the garden-party guests from Get Out.” No, the reason Queen Betsy makes so many prominent mistakes is far more frightening for people who care about public education.

Given recent revelations from Trump’s White House, it’s easy to forget what used to seem shocking, but back in 2018 Queen Betsy astounded America with her vast ignorance about educational questions. A lot of commentators concluded that she embodied ineptitude.

Exhibit A was her interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes:

DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that’s been introduced — Florida, for example, the — studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually — the results get better, as well.

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DeVOS: Michi — Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I — I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this — the students are doing well and —

As Chris Cillizza commented for the Washington Post at the time,

If I was a boxing referee, I would have stopped this exchange about halfway through. If you are the secretary of education, you have to know you are going to be asked about the effects of school choice — particularly in your home state. So, if you’re going to argue that school choice has made public schools better, you had had better find a whole hell of a lot better spin that “I don’t know.”

As Stephen Colbert put it,

DeVos’s theory is that if you take money away from public schools and give it to charter schools, that will somehow help the public schools. It’s a system called . . . Stupid.

It’s tempting to dismiss Queen Betsy as merely ignorant, but Professor Schneider raised a more frightening prospect in his paper. Namely, Secretary DeVos is unaware of basic ideas about public education BECAUSE SHE DOES NOT CONSIDER THEM RELEVANT TO EDUCATION POLICY. schneider berkshire

The core of Secretary DeVos’s thinking about public education, Prof. Schneider argues, is that it should and can be dismantled. For more, you can now preorder Schneider’s latest book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

And that’s the really scary aspect of Sec’y DeVos’s public ignorance about public education. As the leading federal official responsible of education policy, Queen Betsy does not think she needs to know the features of a doomed system. Why study the layout of deck chairs on the Titanic?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another big news week here at the offices of ILYBYGTH International! Here are a few of the biggest headlines:

Has public education remained the same for a century? Not really, at WaPo.

The subjects that students studied, the way the day was organized, the size of classes, the kinds of supports young people received — these essential aspects of education were all different.

Devos and trumpQueen Betsy held in contempt of court in student-loan case. At NPR.

the department “erroneously” sent messages to more than 16,000 borrowers to pay up. Some did so voluntarily. Others had their wages garnished or tax refunds seized by the government. Ten different third-party contractors were involved in collecting the loans, and the judge’s opinion notes that the Education Department didn’t do much to make sure they followed the orders, beyond sending a few emails.

It’s rare for a judge to find a Cabinet secretary in contempt of court.

Could Latinx evangelicals decide the 2020 election? At RNS.

“We’re pro-life. We want criminal justice reform. We want educational equity. We want a healthy economy,” [President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition Gabriel Salguero] told Religion News Service this week, noting that members of the faith group also feel strongly about immigration and foreign policy. “Because we’re not one-issue voters, people think if they come to us with talking points they’re gonna get us — no.”

What is life like at an evangelical college? One alum shares her memories at RA.

“Kind of liberal, isn’t it?” sneered a girl at my church youth group, who would be attending the ultra-conservative Master’s College.

“I don’t think so?” I said, recalling that Westmont didn’t allow drinking, smoking, or overnight guests of the opposite sex. But I secretly wanted her to be right. I hoped that Westmont would help me deal with the panic I continually felt reading the Bible, that it would help me figure out how to be a Democrat, a feminist, and a Baptist.

Top historian reviews new book about evangelicals, at CT.

As for white evangelicals’ enthusiastic embrace of the Republican Party and their overwhelming support for Donald Trump, Kidd views these trends as unfortunate but—like the Scopes Trial of the 1920s—not necessarily representative of evangelicalism as a whole. . . .[but] If evangelical theology transcends racial and political lines in ways that most other religious movements in America can’t match, shouldn’t we see clearer evidence of our racial attitudes and political stances aligning with our theology?

Has America gone too far on school safety? At the Atlantic.

We have students who feel like they’re being treated like potential criminals instead of students. . . . We’ve kind of gone overboard. Not all threats are created equal.

The big Ed news: Senator Warren reveals her K-12 plan. Some highlights:

  • Quadruple federal Title I funding for schools in high-poverty neighborhoods. . . .
  • Fund the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act at the level the federal government originally promised . . .
  • End federal investment in charter school expansion, ban for-profit charter schools and ensure existing charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability requirements as traditional public school districts. . . .
  • Reinstate Obama-era protections for transgender students under federal law that were revoked by Trump and take other steps to protect LGBTQ students and faculty.
  • Invest federal dollars to raise teacher pay and strengthen the bargaining power of teacher unions.
  • Eliminate use of standardized test scores for high-stakes decisions. . . .
  • Cancel student breakfast and lunch debt and provide free and nutritious school meals.
  • Ban the storing and selling of student data.
  • Expand social-emotional learning.
  • Offer $100 billion in grants to transform 25,000 public schools into community schools, which provide family support and health and social services to students.

Sen. Warren follows it up with a visit to a Chicago teachers’ picket line. At CST.

“Be strong in the Chicago teachers strike … I know you are out there fighting for the future of our children. … Stay on the picket lines as long as you need to.”

Conservative critic Chester Finn on Warren’s ed plan, at EN.

it would reverse most of the major education reforms of recent decades, drive a stake through the heart of what’s left of bipartisan federal and state policy, and re-enshrine adult interests, especially those of the teachers unions, in place of children’s, while wasting immense sums of taxpayer dollars. (The total price tag is estimated at $800 billion.)

Can progressive Christians be kinder? At RNS.

I’m not advocating for us [progressive Christians] to ignore evil and to stop seeking justice wherever we go. But our posture must be one that seeks the well-being of all people, one that aims to lovingly persuade our brothers and sisters without embracing anger, bitterness and pride.

What does the economy need? Better storytellers, at WaPo.

“It’s important we don’t just talk about numbers, coefficients and rules, but stories that people can understand,” Lowe said. “Stories about how policies are contributing to economic welfare and the things that really matter to people.”

Teaching impeachment can put history teachers in a tight spot, at NYT.

“I think social studies teachers are hesitant to teach controversial topics, past and present, due to hyperpolarization or pushback from parents,” [31-year-old teacher Chris Dier] said. “Almost all of my students will be voting in the next election; they deserve teachers who do not shy away from current events because of our partisan climate.”

Joe Biden might not be able to bring Catholic voters to the Democrats anymore. At RNS.

burge catholicCan new leadership save struggling evangelical colleges? At CT.

Jobe [at Moody Bible Institute] sees his first job as having to “define reality.” That includes helping team members understand the institution’s identity and next steps needed to thrive. To rebuild confidence across the campus, he also attempts to engage with the basic needs of students and staff.

Will other evangelical colleges learn from the tragic lessons of Liberty U? At JGMC.

Reforming Liberty doesn’t mean compromising its mission. Nobody is demanding that Liberty become a Christian liberal arts school in the mold of Wheaton College or Hillsdale, or a carbon copy of a secular state school. In fact, Liberty is uniquely positioned as a popular university that could be a bona fide alternative to the overwhelmingly progressive status quo in academia.

Ed Mystery: Why Don’t More Democrats Like It?

I understand why more Democrats don’t like the Ed Department right now, governed as it is by Michigan’s Evil Queen Betsy. But I’m surprised to find out that the Ed Department has garnered only minority support during the last ten years. There’s one obvious explanation, but are there more reasons?Pew fed agencies EPA or ED

Here’s what we know: New results from Pew show us that the Ed Department is one of the federal government’s least favorite agencies, with 48% of respondents feeling favorable and 48% unfavorable.

No surprise there. Ever since Jimmy Carter instigated the department it has been the target of conservative fury. Reagan’s first appointed secretary, Terrel Bell, was given the unusual mission to dismantle the department which he headed.

More recently, conservatives such as Texas’s Rick Perry have remembered that they wanted to eliminate the Ed Department, even if he couldn’t remember the other department he wanted to get rid of.

So there’s no surprise for the department’s low favorability among GOP respondents. But why do so many Democrats dislike it? Was something happening in 2010 that led a majority of Democratic respondents to say they didn’t like the Ed Dept?

Here’s my hunch: Back in 2010, teachers and schools were still trying to cope with the strictures of the No Child Left Behind act and the unmanageable requirements NCLB mandated for high-stakes testing. By 2015, those testing requirements were tamped down. Among Democrats, at least, the popularity of the Ed Department went up (in fits and spurts) until the ascension of Queen Betsy.

Is there another explanation I’m missing?

School Policy Heralds Trump’s Defeat

Bad news for the Splitter-In-Chief: Trump’s divisiveness is cracking his electoral foundation. Could it bring him down in 2020? After all, it has already transformed school politics.

Here’s what we know: At 538, Daniel Cox examines Trump’s waning support among younger white evangelicals. We know white evangelical voters have always been one of Trump’s firmest pillars of support, but Trump’s style—especially his anti-immigrant furor—does not play as well with young white evangelicals as older ones.

white evangelical youth immigration

…will immigration antagonism split Trump’s base?

As Cox writes,

Two-thirds (66 percent) of young white evangelical Christians (age 18 to 34) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, a view shared by only 32 percent of white evangelical seniors (age 65+). A majority (54 percent) of older white evangelical Christians believe that immigrants are a burden on American society.

Could Trump split his base? Could he drive away younger white evangelicals in his furious efforts to placate and mollify older white evangelicals? Hard to say. Plenty of younger white evangelicals still say they like Trump, although only a quarter of them say they like him a lot.

If school politics are any indication, though, I’d bet that Trump’s penchant for dividing people will hurt him in 2020. Why? Because his Ed Secretary has already sparked a revolution in the politics of charter schools. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, one of the reasons why charter schools have had such success is because they attracted unusual bipartisan support.

evangelical youth and trump 538

…still a lot of Trump-ism in there.

Just a few years ago, leading Democratic candidates such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke were loud and proud supporters of adding more charter schools. Now, Democrats are falling all over themselves scrambling for the exits.

There are a lot of reasons why, including a spate of teacher walk-outs and increasing accusations of charter-school segregation. The biggest single reason, though, IMHO, is Trump. Trump and his Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos have turned charter schools into a Trump thing.

Charter schools used to win support from both parties, from Arne Duncan as well as George W. Bush. They used to be one of the few areas in which both progressives and conservatives could agree, even if they did so for different reasons. The Howard Fullers out there could push charters for anti-racist reasons, even as the Walton Foundation pushed them for very different reasons.

Trump has put an end to all that. Charter schools are now political poison for Democrats.

What’s the lesson for younger white evangelicals and the 2020 election? Just this: Trump’s horse-in-a-hospital leadership style tends to divide people. It has already revolutionized charter-school politics. It seems entirely plausible that it will drive away younger white evangelicals who don’t share their elders’ anxieties about America’s future.

From the Archives: School a la Carte

In newspapers from the early 1800s, they are everywhere. Individual proprietors advertised their services to the population of cities. Parents and children could slap together as much education as they could afford, with rates published up front. It might sound like a purely private, market-driven system, but the fine print shows it wasn’t that simple.

a la carte education

From Freedom’s Journal (New York), October 17, 1828

In this case the school was for African-American kids in Philadelphia, c. 1828. As I’ve argued recently in the Washington Post, I think conservatives who dream of injecting more market forces into public education don’t really understand how things worked back when the market WAS in control. As I dig through the newspapers and records of African-American schools in the early 1800s, it is obvious that tuition payments alone could not provide the schools kids needed.

Sure, some families likely thrived with schools like these, but even these “private” academies relied on public funding. As you can see in this advertisement, Philadelphia’s Academy didn’t survive on tuition alone. It also received

liberal patronage from a generous public.

Over time, that patronage evolved into reliable, secure tax funding. Then and only then were schools able to flourish, for both white and black students. When people these days yearn for public schools that don’t rely entirely on tax funding, they don’t seem to realize what they are asking for.

In the bad old days of early public schooling, schools like the Morris’ Alley Academy were forced to cobble together funding from all over the place. I think if Gloucester and Jones could sit down with DeVos and Friedman, they would set them straight.

It’s Really All Over for Charter Schools

Although some smart people apparently didn’t see it coming, the writing has been on the wall for charter schools for about two years now. The final nail in its coffin might have come yesterday when former President Barack Obama endorsed a mea culpa from the “ed-reform” movement.obama tweet

As SAGLRROILLYBYGTH are sick of hearing, the remarkable success of charter schools resulted, in large part, from the diverse political coalition that backed them. Conservative evangelicals liked the idea of a refuge from the supposedly secularized public schools. White segregationists hoped charters could stave off school integration. Urban African-American activists liked the notion of a better option for low-income youth. Secular free-marketeers wanted to break the monopoly of the teachers’ unions. Ambitious young overachievers liked the idea of entrepreneurship in education, instead of slogging up the teacher-career ladder.

To be sure, the so-called “reform” movement wasn’t only about charter schools. It also included a heavy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing. The goal was to make sure lazy teachers and underresourced schools could no longer ignore children who didn’t sparkle. Reformers dreamed of displacing the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and making sure no child was left behind.

All laudable goals, and all goals that attracted support from across the political spectrum. Until, that is, Hurricane Betsy swept into town. As we’ve discussed in these pages, Secretary DeVos’s reign as educational Trumpist has changed the nature of the ed-reform discussion. Instead of a broad movement open to both Democrats and Republicans, charter schools and the rest of the “reform” movement have now become the signature ed policy of Trump-wingers.

Democrats have fallen over one another rushing for the exits. Leading 2020 contenders such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke all have significant histories as charter supporters and they’re all scrambling to find ways to deny it.

Yesterday, when St. Obama tweeted his agreement with a recent Atlantic article, the handwriting on the wall received its final punctuation. As President Obama wrote,

This is worth a read: a thought-provoking reminder that education reform isn’t a cure-all. As a supporter of education reform, I agree that fixing educational inequality requires doing more to address the broader, systemic sources of economic inequality.

By throwing his enormous party prestige into the mix, President Obama has surely spelled the doom of charter-schools and other “reform” measures among the Democratic Party. And when any reform becomes the signature issue of only one political party, it is surely doomed to deadlock, decline, and defeat.

Betsy DeVos Has Saved Public Education

No one expected it. When Queen Betsy first took her position, her Dolores-Umbridge-style floundering was painful to watch and frightening for those of us who care about public education. Two years in, however, it is plain as day: DeVos’s sheer terribleness has forced a political realignment on the issue of charter schools. Charter schools used to be seen by both parties as the next great hope for public education. Now they are seen as a GOP stalking horse.

We’re used to it by now, but think back to DeVos’s shockingly inept interview on 60 Minutes in 2018. She evinced scant understanding or even interest in key educational issues. As Chris Cillizza wrote at the time,

DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that’s been introduced — Florida, for example, the — studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually — the results get better, as well.

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DeVOS: Michi — Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I — I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this — the students are doing well and —

If I was a boxing referee, I would have stopped this exchange about halfway through. If you are the secretary of education, you have to know you are going to be asked about the effects of school choice — particularly in your home state. So, if you’re going to argue that school choice has made public schools better, you had had better find a whole hell of a lot better spin that “I don’t know.”

And here’s Colbert’s take:

DeVos’s theory is that if you take money away from public schools and give it to charter schools, that will somehow help the public schools. It’s a system called . . . Stupid.

Before the DeVos era, politicians and pundits of both major parties tended to embrace charter schools as our most promising school-reform idea. No longer. Democratic 2020 hopefuls are scrambling to distance themselves from charter schools. Those who have the closest ties to the charter movement, like Senator Cory Booker, have the most work to do. As The (charter-loving) Economist put it,

Mr Booker is trying to navigate these treacherous waters. His proposed education manifesto for 2020 is to increase funding for educating special-needs children and to pay teachers more. These proposals are fine. Yet Mr Booker is the only candidate with a serious educational achievement under his belt—and the essential ingredients of that turnaround are not what he is promising now. His campaign replies that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for education reform.

It’s not only about charter schools. Other market-y style education reforms have become similarly tainted with DeVosite. Teach For America, another reform plan long despised by progressives but embraced by both major parties, has come under increasing fire. California is considering ditching the program and cities such as Houston already have.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

All Hufflepuffed up.

In a way, it’s a shame. The smart answer when it comes to TFA, charter schools, or any other reform plan is always “It depends.” Some charter schools have offered great educations to low-income students. Some TFA teachers have done great jobs, and sacrificed a lot to do it.

Because of Queen Betsy’s Trumpish cloud, however, charter schools have reached Chernobyl-level toxicity for Democratic politicians. And that means the idea of charter schools will no longer carry the day as it has done for the past thirty years. In the long run, that’s good news for public education as a whole.