The Media is Wrong about Trump’s Secretary of Education Pick and Her Work in Detroit

Guest Post by Max Eden and Ben DeGrow

Who’s responsible for Detroit’s decline? If you ask Republicans, they’ll say big labor. Democrats will say big business. And The New York Times, it seems, will say Betsy DeVos.

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The Times has run two recent pieces blaming Trump’s secretary of education nominee for the sorry state of Detroit’s schools. The first, a column by Tulane professor Doug Harris, said that she’s “responsible for … the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” The second, an article by Kate Zernike, described how DeVos “bent Detroit to her will” by helping to scuttle one component of a comprehensive reform package passed this year by the Michigan Legislature.

While it’s odd to blame a private citizen for the state of Detroit’s schools, it’s reasonable to review Betsy DeVos’s record as an education advocate to assess her beliefs. And thanks to Harris, Zernike, and others, a misguided consensus is forming around the idea that she’s a school choice ideologue who’s opposed to common-sense school accountability.

It’s a baffling conclusion. The best evidence regarding DeVos’s convictions can be found in the work of the organizations she supports, and those organizations’ support of what’s sometimes called the charter accountability agenda.

That agenda has three pillars:

(1) A-to-F school grades to help parents understand their options;

(2) default closure for persistently low-performing charter schools; and

(3) standards for charter authorizers to ensure their incentives are aligned to encourage quality schools.

The DeVos-backed Great Lakes Education Project fought for all three (and argued that district schools should be equally accountable) during the debate over the $617 billion rescue package for Detroit Public Schools.

It fought against a proposed Detroit Education Commission that would put life-or-death power to open, close, and locate charter schools in the hands of a politician: all seven members of the proposed commission were to be appointed by the mayor of Detroit…


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