Education Opinion

Dueling Editorials Over Detroit Charters

By Walt Gardner — December 12, 2016 1 min read
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It’s quite common for editorials to differ about controversial issues in education, but I’ve not often seen two that differ so sharply about the same issue in the same school district (“How Trump’s Schools Chief Helped Turn Around Detroit,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 10; “We don’t need a charter-school lobbyist as education secretary,” USA Today, Dec. 6). I’m referring now to the selection of Betsy DeVos by President-elect Donald Trump as the next education secretary.

To Ingrid Jacques, the deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News, DeVos is just what the city needs. She cites DeVos’s success in promoting charter schools as early as 1994 that has resulted in nearly 100 opening in Detroit, and the finding in 2015 by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes that students in those charters gain three months of extra learning a year compared with their peers in traditional schools.

But to Stephen Henderson, the editorial page editor of The Detroit Free Press, the pick is a disaster. He says that DeVos is in essence a lobbyist, with no relevant credentials or experience in public education. He doubts that DeVos is qualified to help set standards, guide accountability and oversee research. In fact, Henderson questions if she is even interested in any of these things.

I think charter schools are a viable option for parents who are dissatisfied with traditional public schools. But I do not believe that the secretary of education should be a cheerleader for them. Yes, some are outperforming their competitors, and those that fail do close. Nevertheless, DeVos has shown that she is an ideologue with a specific agenda. How likely is it that she would be receptive to evidence that jeopardized the millions of dollars she and her husband have contributed to their view of public education? The family’s Great Lakes Education Project is a powerful force in Michigan.

I don’t object to noblesse oblige on the part of billionaires as long as it doesn’t come with strings attached. But in DeVos’s case, the strings are more like chains, with the predictable results.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.