Editorial: DeVos will be good for public education

The Detroit News

The Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos is scheduled for Tuesday, and the fight over whether she is qualified to serve as the nation’s top education chief has escalated to fever pitch. DeVos is a sound choice, and would strive to improve education for all kids.

DeVos’ hearing will take place before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; if approved, her appointment goes to the full Senate.

The hysteria surrounding the West Michigan native, fanned by teachers unions, is overblown, and much of the criticism overlooks the work DeVos has actually done.

Take for instance American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s comments earlier this week.

“Her drive to privatize education is demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children,” Weingarten said during her talk at the National Press Club. She also claimed that DeVos is “the most anti-public education nominee in the history of the department.”

Give us a break.

Weingarten and her followers would have us believe that DeVos, if appointed, would go on a mission to eliminate the public school system as it now exists.

For one thing, that’s impossible. It’s up to states to set their school choice policy. As secretary of education, DeVos could only encourage states to adopt more choice-friendly laws — not force it.

That hasn’t stopped DeVos critics from misstating her involvement in school choice initiatives in Michigan and elsewhere — with most of the attention centered on charter schools in Detroit.

The narrative pushed by the left is that the city’s experience with charters is a failure. But Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has studied charter performance in urban areas and found Detroit to be a model for other communities, despite having one of the highest-poverty urban charter populations.

And let’s not forget that charter schools — the boogeyman to the public school establishment — are public schools. They are simply free (in most cases) from union constraints and consequently are the target of union ire.

As Weingarten admitted, 90 percent of U.S. students are in traditional public schools. If she really cared about the welfare of students and not the system that is letting down so many of them, then she should willingly partner with DeVos to ensure all schools are doing a better job. Given how academic performance in this country has flatlined, despite increased education funding, Weingarten deserves to be worried.

While DeVos is known largely for her work to promote school choice, she’s equally strong an advocate for school accountability. The groups she’s supported in Michigan and nationwide have fought for meaningful school grading systems and third grade reading benchmarks, among other reforms — for all schools.

DeVos has also received strong support. A group of 20 governors, including Gov. Rick Snyder, recently sent a letter to the Senate in support of her nomination.

“Betsy DeVos will fight to streamline the federal education bureaucracy, return authority back to states and local school boards, and ensure that more dollars are reaching the classroom,” they wrote.

That’s exactly what she should do. We look forward to seeing the framework of opportunity and accountability that DeVos stands for promoted on a national level.