Monday Reading List: Education on SNL, Vouchers, and School Safety

The Senate confirmation of education secretary designee Betsy DeVos is imminent, with sources reporting that the vote is scheduled for Tuesday at noon. In the meantime, journalists around the world are wondering why #BetsyWithTheGrizzBear is so unpopular. I have a theory:

No, I don't mean that she's unpopular BECAUSE of Kate McKinnon's devastating portrayal in this SNL sketch. The sketch, however, neatly encapsulates the caricature of DeVos that has emerged:

For an administration obsessed with appearances and theatrics, it's revealing that they have done very little to portray a different image of DeVos. Why not send her on a talk show, to prove that she does in fact know what she's talking about? Could such a move worsen her image? Maybe they think so?

Moving from politics to policy, Ian Whitaker of The Atlantic looked into a DeVos-backed voucher scheme in Nevada and found problems:

More importantly, the voucher was baked into the existing budget for public education, allowing parents to take money the state would otherwise spend on schools and use it on things like private-school tuition, tutoring, and even homeschooling. It was the closest any state had come to the universal voucher originally envisioned by the economist Milton Friedman, who saw unfettered choice as the only hope to ensure poor families had access to good schools. But data from Nevada, consistently ranked at the bottom in the nation for student achievement, quickly showed that a vast majority of applicants were not from low-income areas, but the wealthiest neighborhoods in Reno and Las Vegas. In fact, applicants came disproportionately from neighborhoods that already had access to the highest-performing public schools.

I'm not surprised to learn this, as voucher enthusiasts frequently overlook the role of power in these circumstances. Moreover, it's important to remember that a voucher does not provides poor families with "the same options that wealthier families have," which is a misleading talking point. Even the most generous vouchers cover only a fraction of the cost of the elite education experiences that wealthy families enjoy.

Daarel Burnette, II at Education Week looks at the uneasy relationship between schools and law enforcement in St. Paul, Minnesota:

Administrators, teachers, and students are...actively debating whether the district’s efforts to remake school security have gone too far or not far enough. They’re talking about what role, if any, the district’s school resource officers should play in keeping schools safe. Black high school students said in a districtwide survey released in June that they don’t see school resource officers as trusted adults they can turn to for help. They complained that their interactions with police were mostly negative, and questioned why those officers carry guns or are in schools at all. Teachers’ union officials agree in principle that teachers shouldn’t burden school police officers with basic classroom management, such as dealing with an unruly student. But the union also says the district isn’t providing enough counselors, school nurses, or social workers to handle the social ills that plague the schools.

This is a long, complicated story that raises many questions about perception and reality around school safety.

Finally, The New York Times has a fun interactive math quiz for readers, to see whether or not you are "college ready." Give it a try, and have a nice week!