Why Betsy DeVos is NOT Good For America’s Education System

Earlier today, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the United States Senate as the Secretary of Education in President Trump’s cabinet. Despite overwhelming public opposition, a hearing in which DeVos showed multiple times her lack of educational experience and knowledge, and two Republican senators who stood up and voted against her appointment, Vice President Pence cast the deciding vote, breaking the tie and pushing the confirmation through.

Betsy DeVos is an ardent supporter of charter schools and vouchers over the existing public school system. This is most evident in her leadership of the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit group which pushes these same agendas. DeVos, however, has no formal education experience or qualifications, as stated earlier. I, as a former elementary school teacher and holder of a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, have both the experience and qualifications to speak first hand as to why charter schools are rarely a good idea for our children’s’ education.

In 1999, I gained my first (and only) full time teaching position as the 5th grade teacher at the Hope Academy Brown Street charter school campus. It was an eye opening experience. When I took the class, I found the administration had filled the classroom with as many kids as they could (33). A few of those were kids whose parents wanted a great education for them. Many, however, were those which had major discipline problems, some of which had been expelled from the public school system as a result. My assistant and I received NO support from the administration whenever those discipline problems became too disruptive, such as when one of my students began choking another because he said something insulting about her mother.

My assistant quit within a week after I took over the class, frustrated by the environment both in the room and in the school. Any attempt from parents to withdrawal their kids from the school was delayed until the school received its money from the state, which is paid on a “per head” basis. As soon as that money was received, my class size went from 33 to 21. Unfortunately, the ones that left were the ones that were there to learn, either going back to the public school system or even shelling out the cash for a private school education, money they probably didn’t have in the first place, which is why they came to the charter school first. Sure, my class size was down, but now I only had students who did not know how to control themselves for various reasons, from parents who were barely home because they were working almost all the time to make ends meet to those with severe behavior and/or learning disorders that I did not have training to work with (elementary ed, not special ed) and nobody to turn to which did.

I was let go with just a few weeks remaining in the school year and given generic statements of “this isn’t a good fit”. I found out the real reason I was let go was because they did not think I would return the following year and did not want to pay my full contract for this year. Since there was no union representation and my contract was “at will”, I could not fight my termination at all. Also, because I was let go before the end of the year, I had no way of getting another teaching position. I was unemployed with no income and no way to get back in the classroom to finish the school year. Fortunately, I was able to find work outside of the education field, eventually moving into the tech sector, which I remain in to this day.

To learn more about the issues with charter schools, I suggest you do some research on White Hat Management, the management company which ran the Hope Academy school I taught at and which has been continually under fire since the beginning of the charter school movement for how they (mis)manage their programs. Also look at the schools DeVos herself promoted in the Detroit area and the actual results those schools produced. From my observations, the only charter schools which are successful are exceptions, not the rule, and are usually run by either joint programs between a school district and a university education program (such as the Toledo School of the Arts, a charter school run by the Toledo Public Schools and Bowling Green University) or schools started by altruistic sports stars like Andre Agassi or David Robinson that donate not just money but TIME to their programs to ensure they succeed. Unless that starts to change, I see no good coming from DeVos pushing her pro-charter school agenda on the rest of the country.