Betsy DeVos, Education, Vouchers — March 12, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Betsy DeVos is wrong about competition improving public schools

Secretary Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017 Feburary 23rd 2017 by Michael Vadon

Betsy DeVos claimed last night, in her disastrous “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl, that “choice” (in the form of vouchers and charter schools) is the solution to improving public education–specifically, that when competition is inserted into the “education marketplace” it forces traditional public schools to improve.

For a deeper dive into why this assertion from Sec. DeVos is just silly, please see this excellent essay by former school principal and education activist, Carol Burris, in the Washington Post. Dr. Burris offers a beautifully constructed and well-supported, point by point refutation of this argument. Basically, she reveals that the research on this issue is poorly designed, badly implemented, and derives weak results that aren’t meaningful when placed in a real-world context.

Another recent research study on the status of vouchers in schools in Ohio provides even more damning evidence that Sec. DeVos doesn’t know what she’s talking about here. This study, from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation no less, shares the following findings:

“…(t)he students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools. The study finds negative effects that are greater in math than in English language arts. Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school.”

Just to reiterate: the conservative, pro-charter researchers who conducted this study found that students who use vouchers to attend private schools did worse academically than their peers attending traditional public schools–and that these differences held up over time. To their credit, the study’s authors are refreshingly honest about their disappointment over these findings:

“Let us acknowledge that we did not expect—or, frankly, wish—to see these negative effects for voucher participants; but it’s important to report honestly on what the analysis showed and at least speculate on what may be causing these results.”

So, let’s just be clear: competition, whether its in the form of vouchers, charter schools, or school privatization efforts, does not improve public education. And cutting education funding by $9.2 billion, as Sec. DeVos has recommended and encouraged, does not improve education.

Sec. DeVos’ policies encouraging competition and choice do not improve the quality of public schools.

Sec. DeVos’ policies on private school vouchers do not improve the academic achievement of the children who use those vouchers to attend private schools.

Sec. DeVos’ policies on education are uninformed, ignorant, and designed to defund and destabilize public schools, and demoralize teachers.

Sec. DeVos’ policies on public education were bad for Michigan, and will be disastrous for the United States.