Education — December 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm

The “false equivalencies” of education policy: Betsy DeVos edition


I just finished taping a TV panel discussion for a local cable news show (click here or scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the show) on the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The panel featured two pro-Betsy DeVos, pro-charter, pro-choice advocates (the executive directors of the Great Lakes Education Project and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies), and two public education supporters (me, and a representative from the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers).

While I appreciated the invitation and was pleased to represent our public schools in this discussion, the makeup of the panel reminded me of one of my favorite John Oliver sketches. While staging a mock debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and a climate change “skeptic,” Mr. Oliver cleverly blows up the notion of false equivalency on global climate change by parading out a “mathematically representative sample” of 97 actual climate scientists who understand and acknowledge man’s influence on this phenomenon.

While the clip above is very funny, it also provides a clear example of how dangerous this sort of “false equivalency” can be:

“Research has shown that people who are unaware of the expert consensus are less likely to accept the science and less likely to support taking action to address the problem, so media false balance can be linked directly to our inability to solve the climate problem.”

The truth is that very few citizens want vouchers, or to use public funds to pay for private and religious schools–as we’ve seen in Michigan in 1972, 1978, and 2000, when voucher bills failed in the state every time.

Based on those results, if we lined up all those who believe it’s OK for tax dollars to be used to pay for students to attend religious schools against all of those who don’t agree with this policy stance, it would become abundantly clear where the public stands on this issue.

The fact that there were two panelists on “each side of the issue” of vouchers and choice this morning just perpetuates and reinforces the inaccurate perception that these are legitimate education policy issues–they are not. In fact, neither of these issues has anything remotely to do with education or learning. They are simply various access points “in” to a business model that redistributes public dollars to private bank accounts.

The truth is that Betsy DeVos, or any of her spokespersons and advocates, has not made a single educational or pedagogical point in any of their public or private pronouncements about education in Michigan—or nationally:

  • Not a word about teaching strategies, or student learning, or assessment practices.
  • Nothing about “flipped classrooms,” or multi-grade level classrooms, or cooperative learning.
  • Not a peep about the devastating effects of poverty on student learning, or on the inadequate funding provided by the state for maintaining facilities and equipment in our urban schools.
  • Nothing about the best ways to evaluate students, or teachers, or schools, or on the problems with using Value-Added Measures (VAM) for any of these purposes.
  • No thoughts on standardized testing, data mining, or the psychometric and socioeconomic issues pertaining to these tests.
  • Nothing about class size, or special education regulations, or administrator preparation, or professional development, or graduation requirements, or…really anything that happens during the school day, or to students, or in a school.
  • No comments or opinions expressed on curriculum design, or curriculum content, or curriculum articulation, or…curriculum.

Ms. DeVos has every right to send her children to the school of her choice–and indeed, every citizen in Michigan has had that right for decades due to the state’s “schools of choice” laws.

But she and her followers do not have the right to get the rest of us to pay for that choice.

Or to redistribute public resources to private and religious schools.

It’s unconstitutional, un-Democratic, and miseducative.