The United States Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos last week as the Secretary of Education, which will put her in charge of federal assistance to public colleges and universities, including Temple.
DeVos’ position also puts her in charge of federal regulation of the public school system.
Before being chosen by President Donald Trump to run the Department of Education, DeVos spent years and millions of dollars supporting programs that promoted school choice and charter schools, according to her website.
School choice programs allow parents the option to choose between home, charter, private and public schools. DeVos has also supported school vouchers, which are city dollars children receive in order to attend any school, whether it be independent, private or public.
DeVos has pushed to make education mimic a free-market economy, which stops education from looking like “a giant monopoly” to education economists who share her similar views, said Will Jordan, an urban education professor at Temple.
“Maybe I am old fashioned, but democracy depends on a high-quality education system,” he said. “But the conversation is changing. It’s a private commodity now. We want it for ourselves. We want it for our kids.”
“As somebody who studies educational policy, one of the things people need to realize is that good policy-making is really hard to do,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a higher education professor. “We don’t need just well-intentioned people, we need smart people with experience in education.”
Goldrick-Rab said privatization of public higher education is a serious problem that has only started to change in the last 50 years, when the U.S. started investing in public education.
But this system has begun to fall apart, Goldrick-Rab said, as states begin to pull money from public colleges and universities. She said this has gotten even worse with the rise of for-profit colleges, like the University of Phoenix.
“When schools look like they can’t do their job, it’s not an accident,” Goldrick-Rab said. “It’s intentional underfunding. And in the meantime, taxpayer money is going to for-profit universities.”
During her confirmation hearing, DeVos said while “somebody has got to pay” for higher education, she hopes to work with lawmakers to make college more affordable.
“We have this idea in America, we all believe in options,” said Maia Cucchiara, an associate urban education professor. “We all want to have choices. I think choice is a good thing, but you need to have systems in place to make sure the choices are solid.”
The privatization will manifest as an expansion of charter schools with fewer and less strict regulations, said Martha Carey, who holds a doctorate in urban education from Temple.
DeVos was chairperson of the American Federation for Children, which promotes school choice across the country. In Spring 2016, she argued against a bill in the Michigan State House that would give the state control over charter schools in Detroit.
Charter schools differ from public schools because they receive public funding from the state, but are privately run.
“If charter schools had a record of doing a better job educating all kids than public schools, then that would be a really good argument for widespread education,” Cucchiarra said. “Some do better, some do worse, but they tend to educate a more advantaged part of the population. They educate kids whose parents had the resources and capacity to get them out of the public system.”
Cucchiara said a lot of people in the U.S. believe the public school system is failing.
“The problem is, charter schools have taken a lot of kids, but they take the easier kids,” she said. “Then public schools are left with tougher kids to educate and fewer resources and then everyone says the public schools are doing horribly.”
“But there is another way of thinking about it,” Jordan said. “Education is a public good.”
Jacob Garnjost and Lila Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TheTempleNews.
CORRECTION: The article misstated Martha Carey’s position. She holds a doctorate in urban education from Temple.