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Betsy DeVos Watch: A Detroit educator responds to the Secretary of Education’s awful comment about Detroit Public Schools

November 7, 2019

Last week, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, gave a speech on the 2019 National Assessment of Education results. 

In that speech, DeVos referenced several school systems across the US. However, her most damning comments were directed at the public schools in Detroit.

What is worth noting is that Betsy DeVos, along with the rest of the DeVos family has contributed millions of dollars to Republican legislators, many of which have been attacking the Detroit Public Schools for decades and in 2016 were calling for the Detroit Public Schools to dissolve.

This is all well documented in a 2016 Michigan Campaign Finance Network article, Big Donors Have Been Big Players In Fight Over Detroit Public Schools Turnaround. 

In fact, the organization that Betsy DeVos created in 2001 to push her privatized education agenda, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), was also calling for the Detroit Public Schools to dissolve. You can see from the graphic below that GLEP has also contributed significantly to (mostly) GOP legislators who are supporting what GLEP is calling for.

DeVos’s rhetoric on this issue is important, so we asked a Detroit educator, Kaitlin Popielarz, to weigh in on this issue. What follows is a clear deconstruction of what Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, had to say about Detroit Public Schools in her speech from October 30th.

Betsy DeVos: And then there’s Detroit.

The city’s academic struggles are infamous. Faced with the Motor City’s bankruptcy and consistently poor student achievement, the state government has been obliged to intervene and take control not once, but twice.

Kaitlin: In Detroit, we know that the state-takeover in 1999 and 2008 was due to austerity policies enacted by Governors Engler, Granholm, and Snyder, and backed by DeVos through venture philanthropy, paid-for legislation, and the corporatization of the public good. Detroit Public Schools were successful for decades before forced state intervention. In Detroit, we know that emergency management of Detroit through forced state takeover has only wreaked havoc on the stability of Detroit public schools and communities. DeVos has worked for decades to dismantle Detroit public schools and Detroit’s teachers unions to no avail. Detroit continues to resist through grassroots community mobilization and organization. Significantly, Detroit students continue to excel and achieve within academics, the arts, STEM, athletics, and service. Many young people in Detroit are also involved in grassroots organizations, such as Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM), in order to work toward intersectional social justice within education. 

Betsy DeVos: Still today, more than 90 percent of Detroit’s community schools’ eighth graders cannot read at grade level.

Kaitlin: In Detroit, we know that NAEP scores, along with other state and nation-wide high stakes standardized test results, are often conflated and misunderstood. Education “reformers” like DeVos utilize the NAEP scores to advocate for harmful education reform efforts that privatize and charterize public education and the public good. In Detroit and across the country, educators have critiqued the use of NAEP scores, in addition to other state and nation-wide high stakes standardized testing practices, which push harmful policies and reforms upon predominantly low-income Students of Color:£Proficient£.aspx 

Betsy DeVos: Things have gotten so bad there that students and families are suing for a right to read.

American students should not have to sue their way to literacy—to learning.

Kaitlin: The right to literacy lawsuit largely names and challenges many of the education “reforms” that DeVos has implemented for decades in Detroit and in Michigan. The right to literacy lawsuit is a direct critique of the education “reforms” that DeVos advocates and implements, which only further exacerbates systemic racial and socioeconomic segregation within public education. For more information on the literacy lawsuit and what it’s actually fighting for, please see these links: 

These are the kinds of well thought out, reasoned and well sourced responses we need when responding to the propaganda of the Neo-Liberal Education Model that DeVos and others are using on a daily basis.

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