Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Go to menu with buttons for all pages on BC
Click here to go to the Home Page
Est. April 5, 2002
January 26, 2017 - Issue 683

Betsy DeVos
Chicago Public School’s Room 205

"DeVos does not factor addressing poverty
into any of the necessities for effective
public education because she basically
believes it does not matter."

Betsy DeVos revealed her intense disdain for public schools during her confirmation hearing to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education: little regard for students with disabilities, a general unwillingness to enforce federal laws governing public education, and a reluctance to hold voucher and corporate charter schools accountable for the standards public schools have to meet. She was quite direct in her determination to make public education a free market entity as desired by the Cartel of education reformers. Because of her avowed commitment to privatize public schools, she was not questioned as to what she would do to support students enrolled in the nation’s high poverty urban and rural public school districts.

But based on her record to date, one can reasonably predict that she will do nothing! I thought about this last week while listening to a documentary, The View From Room 205 on Chicago’s WBEZ Radio. Developed and narrated by radio journalist Linda Lutton, it followed a fourth-grade class in the William Penn Elementary School for a year which is located in Chicago’s Lawndale community. William Penn’s feeder neighborhoods are located in a zone of concentrated poverty where more than forty percent of all residents live below the poverty level (>$25,000 a year) with average yearly earnings of $12,000.

Parents of these students exhibit the following characteristics: in jail or previously incarcerated, unemployed or employed in irregular and low-wage jobs, and grappling with drug addiction. Students experience depression (and no access to mental health resources), regular experience with neighborhood violence and homicides, and limited access to technology in and outside school while even the most poorly resourced schools rely on technology and the internet for instruction. Moreover, a substantial number of them have special needs--cognitive, emotional, and learning disabilities.

One of Lutton’s objectives was to determine if an extra focus, by teachers and administrators, on these students would result in their increased scores on the annual Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test on which they and the school had performed poorly in recent years. PARCC, Common Core (CC) and related exams have been the assessment mechanisms through which the Cartel, corporate philanthropists, and education companies have endeavored to improve the academic outcomes for under-performing public school students, the overwhelming number of whom are poor and minority. But it was the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law promoted and signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and the Race to the Top (RTTT) legislation promoted and signed by President Obama in 2009 which escalated the testing frenzy.

Bill and Melinda Gates, who helm the wealthiest foundation in the world, have long taken the position that all students need to be successful academically is a highly qualified teacher to stand in front of them—irrespective of any background or neighborhood factors that intrude upon their daily lives. This view was reinforced by a flock of academics: Harvard’s Dr. Paul Peterson and his bevy of doctoral students, who have since established a satellite operation at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, and his Harvard colleagues, Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, who published No Excuses Closing the Racial Gap in Learning (2003) that purported to make the case that poverty and other neighborhood and background influences should not be used as reasons for the failure of poor students’ of color low achievement.

Their recommendation is that failing public schools should model the example of those excellent schools that are successfully educating poor students throughout America. The problem with this perspective is that this alleged group of so-called excellent schools in no way mirror the students and context of Chicago’s William Penn Elementary. The schools the Thernstroms reference tend to enroll a low percentage of special needs students and have substantially more resources than William Penn. Moreover, they quickly suspend or expel students who present minor or major challenges.

U.S. Education Secretary-Designate DeVos shares the aforementioned perspectives. She does not factor addressing poverty into any of the necessities for effective public education because she basically believes it does not matter. During her thirty-year crusade to eradicate K-12 public education, she has contributed more than a billion dollars to a variety of anti-public education advocates, politicians, grassroots leaders, clergy, and others. DeVos and her Cartel colleagues have also individually and collectively funded these initiatives throughout the country. She has been aided by the last four U.S. Education Secretaries in Republican and Democratic administrations whom she had directly and/or indirectly financed in their previous positions.

DeVos has influenced privatization advocates in other urban school districts. My fieldwork in privatization-targeted districts during the past five years has revealed her handiwork in Cleveland, Ohio; Camden, Newark, and Trenton, New Jersey; Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina; Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. In all of these venues, a local clergy, political, or corporate leader has emerged after DeVos has put privatization seed money into their respective communities. All of these districts have numerous pockets of poverty or are totally poverty-ridden. The collective strategies for academic improvement mirror the “no excuses” and “voucher-charter” schemes of the Cartel.

Betsy DeVos, who is nearly assured of confirmation, will ignore poverty as she implements her education privatization program for America. Even if she is not confirmed (which is highly unlikely) or she withdraws due to the intense criticism she has experienced, her replacement will be as rabid about privatizing public schools as she is. Public education stakeholders need to develop more comprehensive strategies to fight for the survival of public education.

They need to hold Democratic elected officials, at every level of government, as accountable as they are trying to hold Betsy DeVos. To date, they appear to be “re-arranging the deck chairs” as the Titanic of public education is sinking.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion by Jamala Rogers