The Corner

Politics & Policy

Critic of Trump’s Education Secretary Proclaims That School Choice ‘Destroys Communities’

The latest attack on Donald Trump’s incoming education secretary Betsy DeVos is coming from academia’s foremost public-school activist, Diane Ravitch, who characterizes DeVos’s reforms as a “hoax.”

In an interview with Chicago’s WBEZ, Ravitch sets out in no uncertain terms her ideological commitment to secular, government-run education. She offers the obligatory attack on DeVos’s past support for vouchers — maintaining a zero-tolerance policy on state programs involving religious schools — but she mainly targets DeVos’s philosophy on education reform.

Ravitch maintains that DeVos’s original sin is her commitment to choice:

The problem with choice is that it destroys communities, and the biggest problem with choice is that it destroys a public institution. [A public school is] a democratic institution under public control and it should be supported by everyone in the community — even those without children or whose children are grown. School choice was the battle cry of Southern segregationists.

Got that? If a family wants the freedom to choose where their child goes to school, they are complicit in “destroying communities,” and got their ideas from southern segregationists. This exemplifies blind faith in government to deliver the best results for everyone, and it provides cover for liberals’ preference for centralization (about which Ravitch has reservations). Republicans ought to continue the move away from Democrats’ Washington-first approach to education, and early signs indicate that is what the Trump administration will do.

Throughout her career, Ravitch has written about the importance of the government guaranteeing civil rights in schools, but now she is working against minority students by painting choice as a driver of inequality. Where they have been effectively administered, school-choice measures have provided the only proven check on the inequality endemic to the old system of district-school monopolies.

Elsewhere, Ravitch expressed opposition to raising the cap on Massachusetts charter schools, and it is tempting to argue that this shows colossal ignorance about the effectiveness of those schools. But her ideology is the most likely cause. Ravitch’s aim is the strength of public schools as an institution (which means administrators and teachers, as well as their unions), and in current reform battles, that position puts her at odds with charter schools, tax credits, and vouchers — even where they produce incredible results for low-income students. Taking this line of thinking leaves students and their best interests behind.

DeVos ought to take the opposite approach and regard student outcomes, not public-school interests, as paramount.