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COLUMN: DeVos education policies a national failure 23 years in the making

On Jan. 11, the U.S. Senate plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, who was chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Department of Education.

If she is confirmed, one of Michigan’s most prominent champions for charter schools may soon be responsible for policies that affect America’s 50.4 million students in K-12 programs.

Her legacy in education reform represents a lack of support for charter-school accountability and lower standards that are in stark opposition to what millions of parents demand for their children’s education.

It was 23 years ago that DeVos and others made the promise to Michigan residents that it was possible to have better standards and a choice in where their children attended school. This promise culminated in nothing but a resounding failure for the state’s charter school system, and that’s why she, too, should fail her Wednesday confirmation hearing.

Accountability to the taxpayers has always been the bedrock of public schools. Michigan’s charter schools are ranked among the worst in accountability because they are not subject to state or federal oversight.

A study by the National Education Policy Center found that charter schools are extremely unlikely to respond to requests for information about funding or student and teacher performance. The study found that only 20 percent responded to Freedom of Information Act requests, while the other 80 percent did not respond or said they were not legally obligated to respond.

This lack of transparency creates a severe blind spot to anyone who attempts to hold these schools accountable.

These failures are not simply in the accountability of the charter schools, but also in the higher standards charter schools claim to have. DeVos claimed charter schools would provide students with better teachers and a better learning experience. Several independent studies have shown that charter schools have a less qualified work force when measured by experience and certification levels. Michigan charter schools also have a higher teacher turnover rate and work-place dissatisfaction than the national average for public schools.

These failings directly translate to student performance. Nearly half of Michigan’s charter schools ranked in the bottom 25 percent of all public schools in academic performance.

Lower standards, poor treatment of teachers, and poor academic performance: These are the common threads in DeVos’ vision for education in America. It is a failed experiment that can hopefully serve as a lesson in what not to do if she is confirmed and brings her support for charter schools to the White House.