January 14, 2017


Betsy DeVos, the (Relatively Mainstream) Reformer: A long record refutes the radical image of the education secretary designee (Michael Q. McShane, Jan. 8th, 2017, Education Next)

According to a 2013 interview by DeVos with Philanthropy Roundtable, a visit to The Potter's House, a private school that serves low-income students in Grand Rapids and describes its approach as Christ-centered, sparked her interest. She described the school as a safe, loving environment that was "electric with curiosity." It was the sort of place that any parent would want for their child, and she was struck by how difficult it was for many families to send their children there.

"We knew we had the resources to send our kids to whatever school was best for them," she said in the interview. "For these parents, however, paying tuition was a real sacrifice. We started supporting individual students at the school, and that grew into a larger commitment"--a scholarship-granting organization that provides low-income students with private education.

But while she and her husband were able to support some students to attend private school, what about all of the other children? Granting some scholarships did not address the fundamental problem: a lack of opportunity for all. As she told Philanthropy Roundtable, "traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let's be clear, in many cases, they are failing."

For decades, DeVos has worked with nonprofit organizations and political action committees to expand educational opportunity, particularly (though not exclusively) for low-income students. While her primary focus--and the focus of many media reports about her--has been on vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts, organizations she has led or helped found have also advanced other reform initiatives, such as accountability for student learning and more-rigorous academic standards.

In the 1990s, she served on the boards of Children First America and the Education Reform Council, two early organizations devoted to promoting school choice. In the early 2000s, she started a political action committee to influence education policy in Michigan, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which she and her extended family continue to support. She also has served on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an education-reform advocacy organization founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

"She is smart, tough, and passionate about empowering parents, particularly low-income parents," Bush said. "She is not flashy, but is a person of real substance." Others who have served on boards with her describe her as a good listener, a consensus builder, gracious, and compassionate--in sharp contrast to the divisive image that emerged shortly after her nomination, which has caused considerable consternation in the education world.

Posted by at January 14, 2017 6:05 AM