DeVos Is a Hero to Detroit's At-Risk Kids

DeVos Is a Hero to Detroit's At-Risk Kids
Nicki Kohl/Telegraph Herald via AP
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Detroit is America’s poorest big city and its children are the biggest victims. According to the National Kids Count report by the Anne E. Casey Foundation, 59 percent of Detroit children are living in poverty. In 2014, more than 80 percent of the children born in Detroit were to unmarried mothers. The problems of educating such a high percentage of at-risk children would be difficult for even the best-run public school system. Sadly, the children of Detroit are served by a severely struggling and compromised K-12 system dominated by a teachers' union that is concerned first and foremost with feathering its own nest.

In a sign of just how much corruption exists inside the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) system, 12 principals were convicted last year of federal bribery charges for a kickback scheme with a school supplier vendor that robbed Detroit’s kids of $12 million. I shudder with sheer anguish over this. So many children and young adults were robbed of resources that were intended for their benefit but instead enriched the very adults entrusted to prepare them for a better future.

As a former teacher and creator of highly-specialized educational programs for adjudicated, delinquent and abused youth, then as an educator-business leader who worked directly with Detroit Empowered School principals and local leadership councils (from 1991 through 1994), I was fortunate enough to work with many of the city’s earliest charter school founders. Those first courageous pioneers risked everything to create better opportunities for Detroit’s children. They are the unspoken heroes of the past 25 years, able to move forward because of the quiet, persistent and out-of-the-spotlight work of another hero – Betsy DeVos.

DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, has fought valiantly against union bosses and the political leadership in Detroit that continues to make excuses for failure and incompetence. DeVos has advocated passionately for school choice in order to give children trapped in failing schools a chance to learn and develop skills to find meaningful jobs.

Predictably, the defenders of a broken DPS have attempted to blame DeVos for the city’s failure to educate kids. Much of the teachers' union ammunition currently finding its way into the national media coverage of the DeVos nomination is the handiwork of Stephen Henderson, the Detroit Free Press’s liberal editorial page editor. Henderson has cherry picked data to discredit the enormous contributions that DeVos has made in education. But where has Henderson decided to send his own children to school? The Henderson kids attend a high-performing charter school that wouldn’t be available to them were it not for the efforts of DeVos, who spearheaded the Michigan law that authorized it.

Like Henderson and scores of other elites in the city, Detroit’s parents are voting with their feet and abandoning the failing DPS. Today, more than 50 percent of Detroit kids attend a charter school. Here’s why:

According to the results of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, the state’s standardized test, Detroit’s charter school students are outperforming their counterparts in traditional public schools in math, English language arts, science and social studies. Furthermore, 80 percent of the city’s highest performing math schools are charter schools and 84 percent of Detroit’s best schools for English language arts are also charters. And research conducted by Stanford University found that Detroit kids in charter schools are obtaining the equivalent of three months of additional learning each school year in comparison to DPS students.

The teachers' unions and education establishment have also claimed that DeVos is opposed to accountability measures for charter schools in Detroit. Nothing could be further from the truth. DeVos proudly defeated a teachers' union-supported scheme to give the Detroit mayor the power to arbitrarily shut down charter schools to stop the hemorrhaging of students from the city’s failed public schools. But DeVos’s attackers fail to acknowledge the fact that she then successfully advocated for passage of a new Michigan law that gives every Detroit public school and charter school an A-F grade. Schools receiving a failing grade for three consecutive years would be shut down.

The gains in student achievement driven by charter schools in Detroit have been replicated around the nation and in other large urban school districts such as New York City and Washington, D.C., where demand for these schools is high because parents are yearning for better educations for their children. In New York, more than 40,000 kids are on waiting lists for charter schools and in Washington there are nearly 9,000 families on waiting lists. DeVos has stood shoulder to shoulder with these families.

The reason the teachers' unions and education establishment are lying about DeVos is simple. They know she is a game-changing education reformer. DeVos is a fierce advocate for the interests of children, especially at-risk kids that are too often left behind by failing public schools. Thanks to DeVos, hundreds of thousands of children in every corner of the nation have gained access to better schools and a brighter future.

As secretary of education, DeVos will always put the interests of children first. She will help raise the bar on education, give parents a larger voice in their child's education and hold our K-12 schools accountable for doing a better job of preparing the next generation to succeed in the modern economy.

Dr. Anna Amato is the President and CEO of edtec central, a charter school organization serving the Detroit metropolitan area

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