Tuesday, May 9, 2017

DeVos: Boldly Trampling Public Education

Today Secretary of Privatization Education Betsy DeVos delivered some remarks at the annual  Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a fun gathering of technocrats with all sorts of profitable forward-thinking solutions to education's challenges (as they put it, a can't miss ,if you're an educator, innovator or an investor.) Whatever else we can say about DeVos, despite the occasional moments when she pretends to sort of support public education, she stays pretty consistently on message. Let's take a look at how she slammed public schools what she had to say today.

She opened with a clear statement of her idea of government's role by pointing out that really, she should be listening to the captains of technocracy gathered there, and she wants them to know her door is always open to them (any similar invitations ever offered to public school teachers?). But since she's at the mike, she has a few thoughts.

Washington has been in the drivers' seat for over fifty years with very little to show for its efforts.

And then she lays out three parts of the problem that we must acknowledge.

1) The system is based on the Prussian model implemented in the early 1800s.

I'm not one to rush to unqualified defense of the system, but I can't help noticing that computers are based on a numbering system from around the 6th or 7th century. For that matter, we have a government based on a model implemented in the late 1700s. Granted, DeVos's boss thinks that model is terrible, but "based on an old model" is only a useful criticism if you are heavily invested in selling a new system.

2. The system assigns your child to a school based solely upon the street on which you live.

Let's say instead that the system promises you a school in your community. Let's say the system promises that you won't have to send your child far from home just to get a decent education.

3. Our students have fallen behind our peers on the global stage

Sigh. PISA scores. She is not going to mention that we have always done poorly. She is not going to mention that nobody has ever shown any connection between a nation's PISA scores and anything at all. She will, of course, mention that we have spent oodles of money on public ed (money that could have ben showered upon you fine entrepreneurs).

DeVos reaches her conclusion:

The facts show our system is antiquated, unjust, and fails to serve students.

Well, no. No they don't. At least not "facts" as we used to understand them, but then, that word is based on an antiquated language and entered English was back in the 16th century, so it's long overdue for modernization. But then, the notion that US public education sucks is not DeVos's conclusion, but her premise.

Next she'll try what is shaping up to be one of her favorite rhetorical devices-- comparing public education to something it doesn't really compare to. See we've spent tons of money on ed reform, and yet while Blockbuster was being clobbered by Netflix, while phones became pocket computers, and yes-- while taxis were replaced by Ubers, public education has not been wiped out by someone with a better business plan.

This is a curious stance for a woman  who has been married for four decades and a devoted follower of Jesus her entire life. Why has she not disrupted her marriage with a better, more modern spouse? And why is she still worshipping in a church established centuries ago, set up to honor and worship a God who is (at least) around for two millennia? Is it really hard for a conservative to grasp the concept that some institutions represent some values, commitments and structures that are worth preserving?

But no--

We can no longer accept this education malaise. The time for simply tinkering around the edges is over.

We already have failed a generation or more of kids, and every year we're failing another graduating class.

Great horny toads, woman! I am not going to claim that we are an awesome tower of pedagogical perfection, but "failed a generation"??!! Exactly what evidence can we see of that? Because I thought we failed them way more when we, say, allowed a bunch of corporate greedheads to tank the economy a decade ago.

But it is already, just five months into 2017, easy to predict the beats of a DeVos speech. How do we fix all this? Well, the solutions above were the product of bold entrepreneurs who acted like jerks, abused customers and workers, and drove their business into the ground who did awesome tech things. So go ahead tech guys, invent the edu-uber!

What does she think is the solution? Parents must have choice. The system must be focused on students and not institutions (because institutions insist on representing the issues of a larger society).

Think of it like your cell phone. AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile may all have great networks, but if you can't get cell phone service in your living room, then your particular provider is failing you, and you should have the option to find a network that does work.

Because is just a commodity or a service. Of course, lots of folks live in a place where they have none of those networks as a choice because businesses only serve the customers that are profitable enough to get their attention. This may just be an area of ignorance typical to the really rich-- I'm betting that DeVos has never been in a situation where a business told her it wasn't worth their bother to serve her, nor has she found herself in a situation where that service was simply priced out of her reach.

But she has a special message for the ed-flavored entrepreneurs of ASU-GSV:

With this Administration, you'll find a partner that wants to empower you and collaborate with you, not dictate to you from on-high.

No, instead we would like to let you dictate from on-high to customers whose interests, concerns and rights we promise not to protect. We are here to help out businesses, not those lowly citizens. We are here to clear the field so that you can plough it.

It may be worth it to hold your nose and read the whole speech, because it is shaping up to be a good capsule of the DeVos manifesto for education. It's an ugly, anti-democracy, ill-informed, anti-public education song, but I'm afraid we'll be listening to it for a while.


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  2. Insightful analysis as always. Thanks, Peter.

  3. Agreed with the others - great piece (as always). But I do have a comment about the title. I for one find it refreshing that DeVos is boldly trampling public education. It beats the heck out of the stealth trampling that Duncan and King (and others) have done (while pretending to support public education. Much easier to fight an enemy who attacks from the front.

  4. Inventing problems to sell solutions.

    The NGSS snake oil peddlers are now telling us that science students are struggling to compete with other countries because we have been teaching in "silos" (latest mumbo-jumbo talking point).
    The problem with this line of BS is that 'other countries' they reference, also teach in so-called "silos". Just can't take the fabricated nonsense any longer.

    They preach "accountability" - yet have none. They sell their wares and like true snake oil salesmen, they disappear while laughing all the way to the bank.

  5. I love this gem:
    "This is a curious stance for a woman who has been married for four decades and a devoted follower of Jesus her entire life. Why has she not disrupted her marriage with a better, more modern spouse? And why is she still worshipping in a church established centuries ago, set up to honor and worship a God who is (at least) around for two millennia? "

  6. How is a trained teacher led classroom in a private school much different from the Prussian model other than funding? She is in saying that echoing an idea from groups such as the Exodus Mandate that tell us that all Christians should withdraw from public schools. I wonder if she has read John Taylor Gatto's books on education which bring up the ideas of a "Prussian" model just like she did.

    1. Jeffery
      Apparently you don't speak her second language: Mumbo-Jumbo

  7. DeVos is wrong about falling behind. They are always comparing apples and oranges. In other countries, not all kids are tested, regardless of ability as they are here. Here we test kid with learning disabilities with the same tests as those without. Not all grades are tested and not countries participate. I had an argument about this with some one. Turns out only one grade level was tested and that was more than 10 years ago--they haven't participated since. Here we let kids go as far as their will will take them. Most countries weed them out so that by the time they get to secondary or college prep---only a quarter to a halve of them are still in the system. Besides---this kinde of testing only measures one thing---how well you do on tests. They do not predict real ability, creativity or practicality.

    1. I have been saying this for years! After living in Korea for a couple years, I realized we were being sold a major lie about our education system.

  8. Dear Betsy, nice to see you channeling your Neal Boortz. And good job! You realized the Uber analogy is crap and switched to cell phone providers because everyone has experienced poor coverage at some point. But this theologian who has read his Bible deeply and understands what it says has a warning for you: Start reading the prophets.

  9. Florida actually has failed a generation of kids. We've had 17 years of standardized testing, holding back those who aren't at some predetermined (and always changing) level, boring millions of children with the incessant testing...pretesting...midyear testing...infrastructure testing...