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A union president invites Betsy DeVos on field trip to progressive public schools. Yes, there are some.

Update on Thursday night, April 20th: USDOE statement from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on her visit to Van Wert City Schools today with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Van Wert City Schools in Van Wert, Ohio, with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. The Secretary and Ms. Weingarten toured the Early Childhood Center, elementary and high school campuses and hosted a roundtable with parents, students and local and state leaders. After the visit, Secretary DeVos gave the following statement:

“I want to thank Van Wert City Schools for hosting today’s visit and for their dedication to their students of all ages and abilities. I appreciated the chance to hear the ideas of Van Wert’s students, parents, administrators and elected officials and their plans to address the unique challenges and opportunities facing their community.

“Ms. Weingarten and I had a very productive conversation and identified several areas of collaboration. I look forward to continuing the conversation around how we can best give all students an equal opportunity to a great education that serves their needs.”

Today marks Secretary DeVos’ sixth visit to a traditional public school, and 10th school visit. The Secretary has also visited two universities and two community colleges.

Original blog from Wednesday:

On Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will escort Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to Van Wert, Ohio, for a tour of the local public schools.

Her purpose: To expose the secretary to improving public schools and perhaps persuade DeVos to rethink her commitment to school choice.

It's unlikely DeVos will reverse course after her day with Weingarten, but she deserves credit for taking up Weingarten on her offer to tour the rural northwest Ohio district.

Despite the invitation to DeVos, Weingarten has been highly critical of President Donald Trump’s education secretary. She's accused DeVos of undermining public education with her defense of vouchers and for-profit charter schools. And she's blasted DeVos' embrace of a federal budget that cuts $9 billion from public schools while investing $1.3 billion in privatization.

(For her part, Weingarten has agreed to accompany DeVos later on a tour of a "school of choice.")

It’s not by chance that Weingarten invited DeVos to Ohio; the state provides a case study of school choice gone wrong. Because of loose laws on who can authorize charters, Ohio has about 400 charter schools serving 120,000 students at an annual billion dollar cost to taxpayers. In its review of national charter school performance, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford found charter students in Ohio receive, on average, 14 fewer days of learning in reading and 43 fewer days in math when compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools in the district. Ohio is imposing more accountability on the charter sector amid growing public alarm over misspending.

Writing in the Van Wert Times Bulletin this week, Weingarten compares the performance of the Van Wert schools with the state’s charters, praising the district's 96 percent graduation. The leader of the 1.6 million-member AFT also applauds the contribution of teachers in the evolution of Van Wert schools, heralding the early childhood and pre-K program and the LifeLinks Community School that targets teens at risk of dropping out. (LifeLinks sounds a lot like Marietta's Graduate Marietta Student Success Center.)

Weingarten contrasts the Van Wert success saga with Ohio's charter school cautionary tale,  writing: “In contrast, Ohio’s charter schools have been plagued by fraud, mid-year school closings, lying about student attendance to receive additional funding, mismanagement, and an overall lack of accountability that has led even charter proponents to call Ohio the ‘Wild, Wild West’ of charter schools. One study by state auditors found more than $27 million in improperly spent funds at Ohio charters. The Akron Beacon Journal found that ‘charter schools misspend public money nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.’"

Since assuming her post in February, DeVos has touted school choice at every opportunity, even in a widely condemned characterization of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as "pioneers of school choice." In her eight school visits thus far, DeVos went to four traditional public schools, two charters and two private schools.

While her school visits may be evenly distributed, attendance is not. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 5 percent of public school students attend charters and about 5.4 million students or 10 percent of elementary and secondary students attend private schools. The percentage of U.S. students in private schools decreased from 12 percent in 1995-96 to 10 percent in 2013-14. The percentage is projected to continue to decrease to 9 percent in 2025–26, according to the NCES.

I doubt these polar opposites will bond in their four hours together in Ohio. But it can't hurt for DeVos who never attended or enrolled her own children in public schools to see one up close.




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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.