DeVos critics cling to status quo of mediocre public schools

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Opponents of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are creating a false narrative that her push for school choice will result in a new form of segregation.

I get why President Trump gets the juices going for those who oppose him and want to drive him from office. I get some of the conspiracy fever around presidential adviser Steve Bannon. However, I’m amazed at how crazed the left has become about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The latest example of DeVos Derangement Syndrome is the meme that DeVos, by pushing hard for school choice and the vouchers to support that choice, is really pushing for a new form of segregation in schools. In a major speech at the annual summer conference of the American Federation of Teachers, USA Today reported, president Randi Weingarten likened DeVos to a climate-change denier because she claims DeVos won’t acknowledge “the good in our public schools and their foundational place in our democracy.”

From that jumping-off point, Weingarten says school choice is a dog whistle or code phrase to create a parallel school system to the public schools, and she likens this to what Virginia and some other Southern states and cities did in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown v.  Board of Education decision, which struck down segregated school systems in the South. These Southern entities closed public schools and set up and funded private schools that were not open to black children. Using this history, Weingarten actually labeled DeVos’ school choice efforts to be “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

Weingarten is only channeling a view on the left that is gaining tremendous currency. To me, it’s probably among the most disgusting arguments against allowing parents to make the best school choices for their children.  It is a feverish attempt to play into this crazed opposition to DeVos and to go nuclear with the most severe form of racial slurs.

Of course, there has been righteous pushback to this preposterous meme. Education Week reported that Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, a school choice advocacy organization, called for Weingarten’s resignation. Weingarten’s characterization of school choice, Allen said, “is a deeply offensive, highly inflammatory insult to all the parents and people — of all races, backgrounds, and regions – who have worked to bring options, opportunities and reforms to an education system that has failed them for generations.” This is exactly the point.

Isn’t the basic logic of Weingarten’s meme that parents who support charters and vouchers are not smart enough to avoid being suckers for the scam DeVos and Trump are running? Aren’t supporters of this viewpoint just defenders of the status quo? The tired position that essentially the only problem with public schools is that they are not given enough money to succeed.

Because of Weingarten’s speech, she and DeVos squared off again on DeVos’ position that the taxpayer money we spend on schools is really an investment in individual students. The teachers’ union tweeted at DeVos: “Betsy DeVos says public should invest in individual students. No, we should invest in a system of great public schools for all kids.”

DeVos responded: “I couldn’t believe it when I read it, but you have to admire their candor. They have made clear that they care more about a system — one that was created in the 1800s — than about individual students. They are saying education is not an investment in individual students.”

This difference is no small matter.  I think people such as Weingarten are holding many caring parents and their kids hostage because of their idealized view of the public schools. Maybe I have an idealized view of individual parents and their wisdom in choosing the best for their kids.

The bottom line in all this is that we must be careful to recognize that many of America’s public schools are good and some are great. However, vast numbers of them are mediocre at best, and significant increases in funding will only marginally change that.

DeVos will be gone from her post in four or eight years, but millions of parents will be dreaming of and demanding better for their children. Telling them to sacrifice their kids to the status quo by spinning outlandish conspiracies and playing the race card will not win. To all parents, trust your instincts and fight for your kid.