DeVos wants US to rethink schools’ mundane malaise

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrapped up a brief “Rethink School” tour to the middle of the country, according to tweets she posted, including this one:

She told students this at Woods Learning Center in Casper, Wyoming, according to prepared remarks:

For far too many kids, this year’s first day back to school looks and feels a lot like last year’s first day back to school. And the year before that. And the generation before that. And the generation before that! That means your parent’s parents’ parents! Most students are starting a new school year that is all too familiar. … They follow the same schedule, the same routine—just waiting to be saved by the bell.


Ms DeVos in Casper, Wyo. (via Twitter)

She told kids at one point that school for too many of them is, and I quote, “a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons, and denies futures,” the Kansas City Star reports.

Moving past the failed alliteration for the moment, let me first stand up for the vast majority of schools in this country that work out very innovative and engaging lessons for students from all demographics and get top-notch results. I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t appear Ms DeVos will ever fully recognize these schools as part of the fabric of America.

Also, let me point out that schools today are nothing like they were for my parents’ parents. Educators have developed effective ways to drive messages home, including the use of technology. Sure, they have different problems to deal with, such as drug abuse, but by and large, educators are adaptable. Besides, 3 + 5 is still 8. It’s going to be 8 for generations to come.

It will be 8 in a public school, it will be 8 in a private school. It’ll even be 8 on a mule. It’s 8 if you’re cool and 8 if you’re cruel. But don’t be a fool: just remember the Golden Rule.

In all her talk about vouchers, she seems to have forgotten the Golden Rule, as she dismisses public schools that fight day in and day out for kids just so she can boost the profits of a few private schools. She also seems to have a problem with nomenclature. Schools, she said, aren’t part of an education “system,” because no such thing as an “education system” exists.

“Today, there is a whole industry of naysayers who loudly defend something they like to call the education system,” she said. “What’s an education system? There is no such thing! Are you a system? No, you’re individual students, parents and teachers.”

And I can assure Ms DeVos, firsthand, that US school districts are taking very good care of the individual students, parents, and teachers. Except for a few, which could admittedly be improved a lot, the education system in the US is doing a good job by its students.

Of course, right after her tour, the Heritage Foundation reminded us about a “study” released in March, which reads more like a review of cherry-picked literature, that concludes school choice is working in the District of Columbia. “Evidence in favor of school choice continues to mount,” they say. As far as I can see, the mound has sunk into the ground.

Apparently, the “literature” the authors read contains evidence that vouchers cause the improvement of academic achievement. The hypothesis is supported, authors say, by the DC Opportunity Scholarships, a form of voucher, which have provided money for public school students to attend private schools.

Depending on how the data is analyzed, it may show a trend in favor of vouchers. But it’s more academically honest to interpret these results as showing the benefits of parents who are engaged in their sons’ and daughters’ lives at school. That contributing factor wasn’t analyzed in the “study” and that alone raises a serious doubt as to the validity of the study.

Furthermore, the conclusion is weakened by an extremely small sample size. The count was 11 “studies” in favor of school choice, two opposed, and three neutral. At least 30 studies would have been required, randomly selected, to support the conclusion the “study” reached.

Forget the hundreds of studies that could have been counted for this; we’re just going to count these 16, three of which were written by the same people in the same year. The overwhelming majority of those hundreds of studies, especially the ones based on objective data, show that vouchers aren’t about educational quality but about money. Nothing more.

If our goal is for a few people to get rich, then, vouchers are the way to go. If our goals lie in other areas, fight to end vouchers and any other privatization efforts of public services like education now.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.