by Max Brantley
But the data — even the data that DeVos’ lobby so often cites — tell a very different story.This, too, is the story of school "choice" nationally and in Arkansas. There are outliers, but in the main the alternatives — particularly when comparing like students — do no better and often worse than conventional public schools. They do harm to public school districts. They often encourage racial and economic segregation.
They show that charter schools do not substantially outperform public schools, and even where they do, the difference is so slight that it’s difficult to draw sweeping conclusions about what that means.
Someone focused on outcomes for Detroit students might have looked at the data and suggested better oversight and accountability.The good news is that the federal Education secretary has limited direct impact on local schools, though spending of federal money aimed at poor students is important. But the lesson from DeVos' work in Michigan is worth noting here. The "choice" forces are now dominant politically in Arkansas. Will they also insist on an end to the skimpy accountability now applied to non-public-schools in Arkansas? That's a battle that might not necessarily devolve into a strictly partisan issue in the Arkansas legislature. Local school officials still count for something in legislative politics. I think.
But just this year, DeVos and her family heavily pressured lawmakers to dump a bipartisan-supported oversight commission for all schools in the city, and then showered the GOP majority who complied with more than $1 million dollars in campaign contributions.
The Department of Education needs a secretary who values data and research, and respects the relationship between outcomes and policy imperatives.
Nothing in Betsy DeVos’ history of lobbying to shield the charter industry from greater accountability suggests she understands that.
If she’s confirmed, it will be a dark day for the value of data and truth in education policy.