Monday, January 30, 2017

‘Unqualified’ DeVos Could Be Just the Education Secretary We Need

Trump's education nominee: unqualified and unprepared declares the New Jersey Star-Ledger. I left these slightly edited comments rebutting select passages from the editorial:

Betsy DeVos is not an educator, she has never directed a learning institution of any kind, she has no expertise in pedagogy, she has never run a government agency, and neither she nor her kids have ever attended a public school.

So? Maybe that’s exactly what we need, rather than another status quo “expert” the central planning establishment.

The person who runs the Department of Education must ensure that 50 million students - no matter where they are from, how they look, or what accent they pray in - receive equal access to public education through the enforcement of civil rights laws.

Civil rights, indeed. Former Jersey City, New Jersey mayor Bret Schundler properly identified the civil right involved; the right of parental school choice. There is also a more fundamental right involved—the moral right of parents, “no matter where they are from, how they look, or what accent they pray in,” to direct the course of their own children’s education

That requires a passionate commitment to public education and a belief in advancing equity and diversity throughout the vast system.

What about the diversity of individual children, each of whom are unique individuals with her own learning strengths and weaknesses, tolerances and temperaments, interests, and so on? It would be refreshing to have someone with “a passionate commitment” to real diversity instead of the usual elites who see a homogenous “50 million students” pushed through a centrally controlled “public”—i.e., government—school system.

We strongly advocate charters or any targeted school choice initiatives in failing districts, provided they are monitored carefully.

This is selective and discriminatory. Who’s to determine what constitutes failure? What about the parent whose “good” school district she judges to be failing her child? Who should do the careful monitoring? Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for the Newark parents getting the opportunity to choose a better school, even if a charter is the only other option, and I credit the Star-Ledger for standing up for these parents. But why only them? Where’s the equity in politicians “granting” only select inner city parents school choice, bad as they need it. Why shouldn’t any parent anywhere have school choice, rather than targeting school choice only at politically privileged groups?

Parents everywhere should have the same freedom. I support universal parental school choice through programs that recognize the civil and moral rights of parents—such as universal tax credits that would allow parents to opt out of the government school system, or Education Savings Accounts funded by the per-pupil dollars earmarked for the child’s assigned school district—that allow education tax dollars to follow the child into whatever school the parents choose, be it a charter, traditional public school, or private school.

Never mind the babble about “draining public money” from government schools. So-called public money is private money taxed away for allegedly educational purposes. All parents are taxpayers, and they have the moral right to direct the course of whatever education tax dollars are earmarked for her child. Neo-George Wallaces, those reactionary defenders of the monopolistic public school establishment who want to keep children in rather than out of their traditional government schools, should not be allowed to use taxpayers’ own money to keep their children trapped in schools the parents deem unsuitable to their child’s education well-being.

I don’t know about DeVos’s “qualifications” or “preparedness.” And I certainly don’t approve of government dollars going directly toward religious indoctrination. What I do know is that if DeVos is a “free-market zealot” and the architect of “the for-profit charter explosion in Michigan,” those are pretty good qualifications. The reactionary elites, the alleged champions of childhood education, forget that no “for-profit charter explosion” can happen without an explosion of demand from parents, the people education establishment statists always brush aside.

Not that charter schools are free market, or should be the end goal. A true free market involves the separation of education and state—no government-administered schools and no education taxes, which I doubt DeVos supports. And I don’t agree with vouchers as a means of school choice. But charters are a step in the right direction.

[I]f there's one [cabinet appointee] that should be torpedoed, it's this one.

If there’s one cabinet department that’s deserves someone outside the collectivist philosophy of the Establishment, it’s the Department of Education. So long as she keeps her religiosity to herself,  Devos could be a positive force for the civil and moral rights of parents and children. Education is constitutionally the responsibility of the states. The federal role is limited. But if DeVos succeeds in encouraging and expanding parental school choice across America in a way that respects education entrepreneurs’ freedom from crushing government mandates, she will have been a great Education Secretary.

Related Reading:

Newark's Successful Charter Schools Under Attack—for Being Successful

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