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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Death in the school room


Nikhil Goyal is a prodigy who wrote his first book when he was only a teenager in public high school. Happily, he uses his considerable skills as a researcher to analyze the Trump “billionaire wrecking crew” that is planning to tear down our nation’s public schools.

Donald Trump, a self-described billionaire, wants billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos to take over the Department of Education. These two ultra-rich people have never attended public schools. Nor have they sent their kids to them. Yet they will likely accelerate the bipartisan dismantling of public education as we know it.

Private foundations, billionaires and Wall Street hedge fund managers have funneled billions of dollars either directly into the education system or the political process to influence policy. These groups are often staunch advocates of pro-market policies such as charter schools and school vouchers, which allows parents to send their kids to private schools using public money. 

DeVos has been described as “the four-star general of the voucher movement”…


Over the past two decades, as members of the ultra-wealthy rightwing DeVos family, Betsy and her husband, Dick, have been discreetly using their immense fortune to underwrite many of the major local and state crusades to privatize public education.

They helped pass Michigan’s first charter school law, pushed a failed Michigan school voucher referendum, helped get hundreds of pro-voucher and charter candidates for public office elected, proliferated charters, weakened teachers unions by advocating for right-to-work legislation in Michigan and warded off a proposed Detroit charter oversight commission in a state where 80% are run for profit with minimal accountability.

There are several flaws with vouchers. Their logic is based on empowering the individual over the state, rather than making systemic changes to funding, curriculum, assessment and teaching to achieve a high-quality, humane and equitable public system for all. Vouchers also siphon funds away from a cash-starved public system.

What’s more, studies have shown that school choice experiments in Chile and Sweden exacerbated existing inequalities. 

If we are to improve educational outcomes for all children, decades of research show that we must address the miserable social and economic conditions that profoundly affect schools: poverty, homelessness, inadequate healthcare, unsafe drinking water, food insecurity and gun violence. 

Reformers such as DeVos are not keen on the state redistributing their wealth to cure those ills…

The problem with this is that many charters are deeply segregated, push out low-performing and misbehaving students, and have been accused of “financial fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement” totaling more than $200m in a single 12-month span. 

Moreover, the Obama administration preserved and expanded Washington DC’s private school voucher program, which was originally launched by former president George W Bush.

DeVos will find many allies across the aisle in Washington, from Senator Cory Booker (who served on the board of the Alliance for School Choice, of which she was chairman) to the Center for American Progress to Democrats for Education Reform. 

At least she is forthright about gutting public education, as she wrote in an editorial urging to abolish and replace Detroit’s public schools with a free-market system, whereas Democrats hide behind the guise of “civil rights” and “educational opportunity”.


Unfortunately, the Obama years sowed the seeds for DeVos to finish the task. Without well-organized resistance, it will happen.

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