The recent appointment of Betsy DeVos has proved one thing - conservatives are far more concerned about politics than they are about educating children. A sampling of their self-serving arrogance can be seen in the numerous Fox News opinion articles from the likes of Bobby Jindal, Ralph Reed, Liz Peek, and the entire New York Post Editorial Board.
The New York Post believes "The War on Betsy DeVos Is All About the Teachers' Unions". Conservatives have long believed that unions are bad for the country, but the data doesn't support that assertion when it comes to teachers. If these conservatives were being honest they would acknowledge that multiple studies show teachers" unions have a positive impact on educational outcomes, while another study showed that in areas where union membership was greater, children in low income families were more likely to achieve higher incomes.
Beyond that, if unions were the biggest obstacle to improving education, then why do so many countries that outperform the U.S. have higher rates of unionization among their teachers?
Of course the idea that unions need public schools to maintain their power ignores the fact that 12% of charter school teachers are represented by unions.
Ralph Reed feels that the opposition to Betsy DeVos is due to the "liberal war on religion" despite the fact that her faith and religiosity were not a reason given by any of the fifty Senators that voted against her appointment. Having said that, there are clearly concerns that DeVos, who was quoted as saying she wanted to confront the education culture "in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom" while her husband - Dick DeVos - stated it is "certainly our hope that more and more churches will get more and more active and engaged in education".
Given the multiple cases that have helped define the separation of church and state within public schools, it would seem there is little DeVos can do to push her faith as the Secretary of Education; however, she wouldn't be the first conservative to advocate for getting public funding to flow to private religious schools. If following the constitution constitutes a war on religion, conservatives should get ready for a battle.
Like many others, Liz Peek pretends our schools system is broken and that the ideas DeVos supports are the answer. Unfortunately for DeVos supporters like Peek, they are woefully uninformed on the problems of education. Data show that we have a poverty problem not an education problem. In fact, when adjusted for poverty, the U.S. test scores rank number one in the world.
The reality is that, if conservatives spent as much money and effort on ending poverty as they do trying to end public education, the system we have in place would already be producing the best results in the world.
Unlike the others that were mainly interested in presenting biased information to make liberals look bad, Bobby Jindal presented biased information to pat himself on the back in addition to making liberals look bad. In Jindal's mind, DeVos will save education because she agrees with the policies he has followed as the Governor of Louisiana. Jindal goes on to talk up the value of charter schools while ignoring the most recent data that show there is virtually no difference between the performance of charter schools and public schools. Making matters worse is the fact that the data used to show this doesn't include some of the best performing public schools in the country. This means charter school are only as good as the public schools people have deemed failing. That is faint praise to only be as good as the bad public schools.
Of course Jindal also fails to mention a number of other issues with charter schools that should trouble most people that claim to care about children, like the fact that charter schools spend less on teachers yet don't save tax payers any money. Charter schools are less transparent, give parents less control over the direction of their child's education, and take money out of local communities. Despite costs tax payers as much as their local public school, Charter schools serve fewer special needs and English learner students which tend to cost more to educate. Charters weed out students with lower test scores and expel more students, yet still don't outperform their local public school.
Beyond this, as Fox News contributor Todd Starnes noted, over the last eight years, where charter schools have increased by 47 % under President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. test scores have gone down. Odd that this free market competition has led to a general decline in outcomes given the rhetoric from conservatives.
When you analyze the data you see that charter schools aren't the panacea of education reform but just another type of school plagued by the problem of poverty.
Jindal also believes that Betsy DeVos has proven she is dedicated to improving the education system because she has "spent millions of dollars of her own money" on education reform. Well Governor, if spending her own money shows the level of commitment DeVos has to our children then it should be mentioned that teachers across the U.S. spend $3.5 billion of their own money to buy supplies for their classroom and for students who can't afford the necessities. In fact, some of the lowest paid teachers spend the largest percentage of their own money. How is it DeVos's spending shows her dedication, yet opposing her view of reform while spending a greater percentage of your income directly on students suggests you want kids to fail?
The concerns that most Senators - including two Republicans - had with DeVos was the fact that she had never been part of the public education system as a student, parent, or staff and that she couldn't answer some simple policy questions that are quintessential to the job.
The question these opinion writers should really be asking themselves is not does DeVos support charters, the reduction of unions, and the transfer of public funds to private institutions, since every person Donald Trump would nominate for this position would have backed these ideas; but rather, is Betsy DeVos the best candidate for this position. It seems ideologically inconsistent to suggest that DeVos's lack of experience is an asset while also arguing that teachers should be assessed, reviewed, and rated to determine if they are "highly qualified" for their job.
In the end, this hypocrisy and willful ignorance in supporting an unqualified candidate tells you all you need to know about the motives of the conservatives that back Betsy DeVos. Unfortunately, the well-being of America's children seems to fall a distant second to the political motivations of killing unions, weakening the separation of church and state and enriching the same corporate interests behind the explosion in defense spending.