Diane Ravitch is probably the most vocal voice in the country when it comes to opposing many of the “ed reforms” being pushed by Washington think tanks and those hoping to profit from education these days. She is a highly-honored education historian and the author of best-selling books. Her blog gets 100,000 views a week.
She IS NOT a fan of President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. And she minces no words in this letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Alexander was himself Secretary of Education under the first President Bush. And Ravitch was an assistant secretary, so they go back a long way.
Here are excerpts from her letter to the chairman:
“I was just reading your book of sayings, the Little Plaid Book. For those who don’t know, this is your book of “311 rules, lessons, and reminders about running for office and making a difference whether it’s for president of the United States or president of your senior class.”
The main lesson of the book for me is that you should be honest with people. You shouldn’t bore them. You shouldn’t lecture them or try to impress them. You should get to know them, listen to them, respect their concerns, and try to understand their problems.
Rule 151 is very important at this time in our national life. It says, “When stumped for an answer, ask yourself, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ Then do it.”
Rule 168 says, “Read whatever Diane Ravitch writes about education.” It doesn’t say that anyone should agree with what I write, it just says you should read it.
When I worked for you in the early 1990s in the Department of Education, I absorbed important lessons about character and ethics in public life. You were a model of dignity, integrity, and respect for others. You never raised your voice. You smiled and laughed often. You were always well informed. You picked the best person for whatever job was open.
Now you are in the position of selecting a new Secretary of Education. I watched the hearings, and it was evident to all but the most extreme partisans that Ms. DeVos is unqualified, unprepared, and unfit for the responsibility of running this important agency.
Frankly, it is unprecedented for a Secretary of Education to disapprove of public schools. At least eighty-five percent of American school children attend public schools. She has no ideas about how to improve public schools. Her only idea is that students should enroll in nonpublic schools.
Since Michigan embraced the DeVos family’s ideas about choice, Michigan has steadily declined on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In 2003, Michigan ranked 28th among the states in fourth-grade reading; the latest results, in 2015, showed that Michigan had dropped to 41st.
In 2003, Michigan ranked 27th in fourth- grade math; by 2015, it had declined to 42nd among the states.
Michigan has hundreds of charter schools. 80% of them are run by for-profit operators. The Detroit Free Press conducted a one-year review of the charter sector and concluded it was a $1 billion a year industry that operated without accountability or transparency and that did not produce better results than public schools. When the legislature tried to develop accountability standards for the charter industry in June 2016, Ms. DeVos successfully lobbied to block the legislation.
We have experience and evidence about vouchers, which have been imposed by legislatures, not by popular vote. Milwaukee, Cleveland, and the District of Columbia offer vouchers, and these districts are among the lowest performing in the nation on national tests. Milwaukee and Cleveland have had vouchers for more than 20 years, and neither district has seen any improvement in its public schools, nor do the voucher schools outperform the public schools. When the taxpayers’ precious dollars are divided among two or three sectors, none of them flourishes.”