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Betsy DeVos: Michigan Charter School's Front-runner

Save Public Education

Save Public Education


DeVos Changing Education

Betsy DeVos, former Secretary of Education under President Trump (USA Today July 18, 2022) "...vowed to change American education. For the most part, she didn't." Tracing DeVos' educational reformations may yield an understanding of public education's current transformation and transgressors, especially in Michigan.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are run by private operators. A major issue facing the foundation of charter schools is its objective to open in failing school districts where children of color are in the majority. "When public schools start to disappear and your only choice is a charter school — and we see that happening in some neighborhoods, in big cities in Chicago, in Detroit and in New Orleans — the choice that you have, well, there should be a warning that's on the door that says this charter school could close or this school could close at any moment," said Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education.”… the charter school system and the laws that have been created in many states have also made it right for people who want to take a profit…”

According to Education Week, “Philanthropy has been a major force in the expansion of charter schools in urban areas serving low-income students.” And this is where money and the profit status of charter schools gets confusing. “Although the schools themselves are not-for-profit, they may contract with a for-profit company to manage some or much of the school,” according to Education Week. Why this is a potential problem is because large donors can suddenly have a larger input into the happenings of a charter school... charter schools that are reliant upon large donors may feel the pressure to cater to the money and not what’s best for the school. Source: Detroit Press.

A Million Dollar Mission

DeVos’s home state, Michigan, demonstrates the devastation of her hardline school choice reforms; to this end, the Detroit Metropolitan area has been the epicenter of charter schools’ expansion. About 80 percent of state charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit management companies, a much higher rate than anywhere else in the country, and with very little oversight from the state. The DeVoses were the biggest financial backers of the effort to oppose any new state oversight of charters.

DeVos being appointed as Secretary of Education helped to stem the tide of progress in public education. Her mission in education is to deregulate and privatize education using vouchers. “The DeVos family fortune funds pro-education privatization, anti-union and pro-school voucher groups” according to Lisa Graves from The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch (2016).

Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, "In nominating Devos Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America." Education historian Diane Ravitch stated that DeVos is the most radical, anti-public-school education secretary since the Office of Education was established in 1867. "Never has anyone been appointed to lead in the past 150 years who was hostile to public education," said Ravitch.

Opponents to charters cite the following drawbacks:

1. Fewer Outdoor Activities

Smaller charter schools often have fewer options for sports and other extracurricular activities. Extracurricular and sports are a huge part of children’s education experience.

2. Less Stable

Charter schools are not as stable as traditional schools. They operate on contract, and they can shut down at any time of the year even in the middle of the school year.

3. Corruption

Up to $1 billion has been wasted on charter schools that never opened or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons.

4. Teachers Workload

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Teachers at charter schools often have intense work schedules. They are held to longer hours and higher levels of stress due to the higher standards. They have no recourse to protect their working conditions.

“...charters have lost their sheen, in part because of the charter scandals that have rocked Michigan and other states, and in part because they haven’t produced the results they promised,” Tom Pedroni, an education professor at Wayne State University, said. And a major sticking point is charter schools might intentionally seek to open in locations where the performance of traditional public schools is expected to decline.

A Vice News report from 2020 found that in Detroit, Michigan, about 100 charter schools opened between 1995 and 2015. During that same period, nearly 200 traditional public schools have shut down. Many neighborhood families found their way to the nearest charter school after the closing of a nearby public school—this was not a school of choice but rather a school of convenience.

The Network for Public Education says even though some charter schools do well, there's systemic issues with charter schools, like mismanagement, taking funds away from traditional district public schools and a lack of democratic control. Many Michigan charters are run by for-profit companies. The DeVos family donated more than $1 million to Republican lawmakers in 2016 during a successful effort to oppose new oversight of charters. Her donation caught the eye and ear of Donald Trump.

Charter investment Is Big Business

Gary M. Sasso, Ph.D. Dean of the College of Education at Lehigh University disclosed that there are specific tax loopholes that make it quite attractive to invest in charter schools. Banks, equity, and hedge funds (hedge funds require less regulation than other investments) that invest in charter schools in “underserved” areas can take advantage of a tax credit. In a report/ebook on the corporate takeover of K-12 schools, Don Hazen, Elizabeth Hines, Steven Rosenfeld (2016) maintain that the wealthy’s focus on charters seeks to weaken unions, and to “deflect from the fact that they have benefited most from income inequality.

The National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has condemned choice as a looming disaster for public schools in America. Garcia observing that DeVos' "efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers--which take away funding and local control from our public schools--to fund private schools at taxpayers' expense.

“Research has shown that charter schools nationwide actually serve a higher proportion of students of color because charters tend to open in areas with a minority concentration. And as suggested by Dr. Sasso, “underserved” areas yield better tax credits for charter school investors. Hazen et al argue, that, "Bringing the profit motive into non-commercial public education has created a business model that is frequently prone to nepotism, self-dealing and corporate enrichment, and diverting multi-millions from classrooms into private hands.”

Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. Charter-school growth has also weakened the finances and enrollment of traditional public-school districts like Detroit’s, at a time when many communities are still recovering from the economic downturn that hit Michigan’s auto industry particularly hard.

Fraud, Waste, and Abuse

Even charter school supporters now criticize Detroit, Michigan as one of the most unregulated markets in the country. About 80 percent of the state’s charters are operated for profit, far higher than anywhere else. Competition for students is so vicious that schools are reportedly bribing parents with iPads and cash to drive up enrollment.

In September of 2016, the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Education Department issued its final audit report titled a “Nationwide Assessment of Charter and Education Management Organizations.” The report assessed “the current and emerging risk” that is posed by charter management organizations for fraud, waste and abuse…. The report also cited examples of criminal cases of outright fraud due to charter management organizations and education management organizations having far too much control of charter schools and charter school boards.

Standardized Tests Scores

Poor standardized test scores are used to intimidate public school teachers, administrators, and students by threatening the closure of neighborhood public schools. Standardized tests are biased, misleading, and continue to marginalize minorities in public education. When public schools show lowered test scores, charter schools stand ready to move in. Yet, charter schools appear not to have challenged the very test that has further marginalized minorities.

Research shows that public schools and charters show the same gains in standardized tests. “Overall, after more than 20 years of proliferation, charter schools face the same challenges as regular public schools in boosting student achievement” Matthew Di Carlo. And according to late education researcher Gerald W. Bracey, PhD, standardized tests cannot measure "creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, integrity” (Strauss);

Greed vs Need

Parents and teachers at Detroit public schools believe closing schools won't improve education in their city. The state released a list of 38 Michigan schools that could be shut down for low standardized test scores. Twenty-five of them are in Detroit. Charter school investors may be inclined to wait eagerly in the shadows to pounce upon the inner city in favor of charters; even though that will mean shutting down mostly traditional public schools, which in Detroit serve the neediest students, according to New York Times (12/12/2016). However, DeVos argues that Detroit Public Schools should simply be shut down and the system turned over to charters, or the tax dollars given to parents in the form of vouchers to attend private schools.

Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K–12 education from public to charter, most of it directed to schools that serve students of color. Their gains and rewards may be driven by monetary aspirations, not because of any humanitarian virtues. The students affected by these policies are profit margins. And if one follows the money trail of the wealthy privatization front-runners, such as the likes of Betsy DeVos, it is clear to see how poor schools’ districts can translate into big bucks for a few.

October 15, 2022, marked a discussion of the first charter school being open in Grosse Pointe, MI; a very exclusive suburb of Detroit. The charter prospectus has already caused criticism, sparked pushback from teachers and others in the state, as well as rejection of the curriculum.

When should educating increase the wealth of some yet proliferate the disenfranchisement of others? Are charter schools manifesting Brown vs. The Board of Education in reverse? It seems unlikely that a consensus can be achieved if a profit margin is the driving force behind a schools' curriculum.


Valerie Strauss, "The Myths of Standardized Testing,” Washington Post, Apr. 15, 2011.

The DeVos Empire

The DeVos Empire


Since their inception a century ago, standardized tests have been instruments of racism and a biased system.

Students of color, particularly those from low-income families, have suffered the most from high-stakes testing in U.S. public schools.

Today, a movement is growing across the country to resist testing abuse and overuse, and to promote authentic assessment.


© 2017 Linda Joy Johnson


Setank Setunk on March 02, 2017:

Your concerns are valid. Charter schools are a counter to the disastrous standardized system in use since the mid-1970's yet are not a cure-all. Our current system, to include teacher education, has supplanted fundamentals with progressive indoctrination. Although Progressives and Liberals preach diversity, tolerance and inclusiveness, they pursue a one size fits all approach to education.

The enormous size of the U.S. and it's diverse population preclude the possibility for such a system to work. A uniform education system requires teaching universal educational instruments: reading, writing, math and physical science. Anything else should be scrutinized locally. We need competent Educators which means we must look to the private sector. After all we should not teach our children what to think but how to think.

The States, and in cases of dire need, the Federal Government, should ensure that education funding is uniform and that a standard is set for the primary instruments. All other aspics of the educational experience should be localized.

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