Monday Reading List: The Political Philosophy of the New Secretary of Education

Everyone in the education world wants to know how to interpret the meaning of Betsy DeVos as United States Secretary of Education. Philissa Cramer of Chalkbeat breaks it down:

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to use federal funds to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools. That’s exactly what DeVos has zealously worked to make happen on a state-by-state basis for decades ... DeVos and her husband played a role in getting Michigan’s charter school law passed in 1993, and ever since have worked to protect charters from additional regulation. When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.

Understanding DeVos's positions on these two issues - school choice and accountability - is critical to understanding her political philosophy. Choice without accountability, which DeVos favors, has been an unmitigated disaster in Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, and several other states that have pursued similar agendas. Kevin Carey, writing in The New York Times, breaks down the difference between vouchers and choice on the one hand, and public charter schools on the other hand:

Market-based school reforms generally come in two flavors: vouchers and charter schools. They differ in both structure and political orientation. Charter schools are public schools, open to all, accountable in varying degrees to public authorities, and usually run by nonprofit organizations. Vouchers, by contrast, allow students to attend any school, public or private, including those run by religious organizations and for-profit companies. While charters enjoy support from most Republicans and some Democrats, vouchers have a narrower political base, those who tend to favor free markets to replace many government responsibilities. Working primarily in Michigan, Ms. DeVos has been a strong advocate of vouchers, and her charter work has often focused on making charter schools as private as possible.

I have never supported voucher programs, and those of us who have worked in education policy for a long time are comfortable with these distinctions. The general public, however, does not differentiate between accountable public charter schools, and unaccountable private voucher schemes. If charter schooling advocates support funneling billions of public dollars to unaccountable private voucher programs to win a few extra dollars for charters, they could permanently ruin their ability to garner Democratic support for even the highest quality public charter schools.

Andrew McGill, writing in The Atlantic, thinks we need to understand how education levels determined voting behavior this election cycle:

The education gap persists even when controlling for a county’s median income, its industrial base, and whether it has lost local manufacturing jobs. All those factors predict support for Trump, but not to the degree that education does. Neither does population density, a decent indictor for whether voters live in a rural or urban area. Counties with well-educated residents consistently broke against Trump even when they weren’t particularly wealthy, as Nate Silver recently noted was the case with his hometown in Michigan. They voted Democratic even when surrounded by relatively red-leaning neighbors (see Harrisonburg, Virginia, or Asheville, North Carolina).

It's an interesting hypothesis, but I continue to believe that Whiteness explains the election better than any other factor.

Michael Arceneaux of The Root worries that the president-elect's temperament will have a chilling effect on the arts:

Trump’s pattern with criticism is overbearing in its clarity, and with the power of the presidency, soon there may be hell to pay for those who dare speak ill of him. While the casts of Hamilton or Saturday Night Live will be free from his reach, other artists may not be so lucky. Now, more than ever, do I worry about artists in public spaces who will be punished for displeasing President Trump. Republicans have a longstanding history of attacking the rights of artists. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan immediately attempted to defund the National Endowment for the Arts ... In 1994, Newt Gingrich took on the NEA, branding the independent federal agency “wasteful” and “elitist.” During this same period, then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani used the Brooklyn Museum of Arts to wage a battle over public funding of the arts. Just this year, select Georgia lawmakers took on the national exhibition “Art AIDS America” once it reached Kennesaw State University.

I have heard this concern from a number of artists, especially independent producers. If I'm being totally honest, the fact that I'm a guy with a semi-popular blog, who happens to be critical of the president-elect, gives me a bit of pause. I experience daily harassment on twitter and in my comments section, some of which is quite ugly.

Have a great week!