Betsy DeVos & Michigan Education

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By Jim Barrett | December 18, 2016 | Lansing State Journal

Much has been written in the national media lately about President-Elect Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to become the U.S. Education Secretary, and the role she’s played in education reform in Michigan. Most of these national media accounts are overly simplistic and just wrong, and as someone who has worked closely with Betsy DeVos for decades, I’m here to set the record straight.

We must begin with a common understanding of how poorly our school systems are performing. Today, less than 50% of Michigan’s K-8 students are proficient in any grade or any subject, and less than 20% of our high school juniors are considered prepared for college or meaningful careers. Despite the fact Michigan is a top-10 state for education spending, we’re a bottom-10 state in terms of performance.

For nearly 30 years, Betsy DeVos has been leading the charge for expanded choice, improved quality and enhanced accountability in education.

On choice, Betsy Devos supported Proposal A in the early 1990s, which was a sea of change for K-12 funding and introduced school choice and charter schools. We later fought to remove the artificial cap on charter schools and allow for online learning.

On quality, Betsy DeVos and the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) supported Gov. Granholm’s proposed “Michigan Merit Curriculum” and having all high school juniors take a college entrance exam. We continue to defend and support high standards and high expectations for all students. GLEP was also the driving force behind the new K-3 reading bill in the state, which will provide support and assistance for struggling readers but will also end social promotion.

On accountability, Betsy DeVos and GLEP have been pushing for a simple A-F letter grading system to use for school accountability, so that parents receive meaningful information about school performance in order to make informed school choice decisions. We support local control, but also believe failing schools should get better or be closed. Period.

Most of mis-information being distributed is about DeVos and the role she and GLEP played in the recent legislation to rescue the Detroit Public Schools. We opposed the anti-choice Detroit Education Commission, which was intended to prop up the new traditional district by limiting enrollment in charter public schools. What we did support, and it was included in the final bill, was tough accountability for all schools, and for the first time any district or charter school in Detroit on the bottom 5% list for 3 consecutive years will be closed, as well as all failing charters throughout the state.

As Secretary of the U.S. Education Department, the rest of the country will soon see the discipline and passion of Betsy DeVos. And the country will be better off because of her service.

Jim Barrett is chairman of the Great Lakes Education Project and was president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce for 32 years.