Rep. Huberty is committed to “protecting” his fellow House members, NOT the low-income kids in Texas.

March 2, 2017 by

Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, Representative Dan Huberty (HD 127)(512-463-0520), declared that it is his job to prevent a vote on school choice from happening so that he can “protect” his members.  What he means by “his members” are the other representatives who don’t want to be embarrassed by having to vote against what President Trump, Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and other fellow Texas House Representatives are in favor of.

It’s clear that he isn’t interested in protecting the 100,000 kids that are on charter school waiting lists in Texas.

Here is a video of Rep. Huberty “protecting” his fellow House members.




Will Unions Cripple Kentucky’s Belated Charter-School Effort?

March 2, 2017 by

Opponents of reform are pushing a weak bill that maintains the local school boards’ monopoly.

An elementary school in Stanton, Ky., Feb. 18.

An elementary school in Stanton, Ky., Feb. 18. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Kentucky is one of only seven states that doesn’t allow charter schools, making it something of an educational backwater. Republicans have been trying to pass charter-school legislation since 2009, only to be stymied by Democrats, who had a lock on the governorship and state House.

But charters’ time in the Bluegrass State may have finally arrived. In 2015 Republican Matt Bevin, a charter-school champion, was elected governor. Then last year Republicans seized control of the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921 and unseated Speaker Greg Stumbo, a staunch opponent of school choice. Republicans now hold large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly—64 of 100 seats in the House and 27 of 38 in the Senate.

Even teachers unions and local school boards seem resigned to the inevitability of allowing charter schools. To limit the damage to their interests, they’re trying to exploit divisions among Republicans to keep charters tightly contained by conceding regulatory authority to the local boards.

Kentucky schools rank about average nationwide, though large disparities exist among districts. Last year 77% of middle-school students in the Cincinnati suburb of Fort Thomas scored “proficient” on state math tests. Four miles away in Newport, only 30% did. For Jefferson County (Louisville), the figure was 39%.

“We have a great city, a beautiful downtown, trails,” says Lynn Schaber, a Newport mom whose second-grade son attends a Montessori school. “But people aren’t happy with the school system. As they say around here, it’s trikes, no bikes. People move out of the city once their kids get older than 3 because of the poor schools.”

Like many suburban and rural districts in Kentucky, Newport has only one elementary, middle and high school. Parents in low-performing districts who can afford it send their kids to private schools or move to districts with better schools like Fort Thomas, where the median home price is about twice that of Newport. Thus, public schools and cities become segregated along socioeconomic, and in some cases racial, lines. Nearly 90% of Newport students qualify for free or discounted lunches, compared with about 15% in Fort Thomas.

Such gaping inequities are driving support for charter-school legislation that would bring Kentucky’s education system into the 21st century. Last month state Rep. Phil Moffett introduced a bill that would allow local school districts, college governing boards, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, the Louisville and Lexington mayors, and the state Board of Education to authorize charters.

Multiple authorizers would enable students to travel outside their home districts to attend a charter. By contrast, district authorizers could limit enrollment to students within their bounds. This would be a huge impediment to charter growth in rural and suburban areas where there are fewer students. Newport’s system-wide enrollment is just 1,600 students—fewer than in some big-city high schools.

Mrs. Schaber has joined five other parents to devise plans for a charter school that will enroll students from six small cities across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. She notes that parents frequently move between the cities, depending on their job and housing. So it makes sense to form a regional charter.

Charter opponents are pushing a weaker bill that would vest local school boards with the sole power to authorize and regulate charters. That would let those boards, typically controlled by the unions, throw up roadblocks. While charters could appeal district decisions to the state Board of Education, the process would be cumbersome and costly. Only charters backed by well-heeled donors would have the resources to navigate and battle the education bureaucracy.

The experience of other states is instructive. Iowa, Kansas and Virginia don’t allow multiple authorizers and have few charter schools. Arizona, Minnesota and New York do, and have an abundance. Charters in the latter group of states are among the highest-performing nationwide.

The weaker bill would also require charters to participate in and contribute to the state’s insolvent public pension system, among the worst funded in the country. So they could be forced to pick up the retirement tab for union teachers in traditional public schools.

Local school boards have lobbied Republicans to reject legislation with multiple authorizers and instead back the diluted bill, which they say will hold charters more accountable. “People love their local school board,” says Mrs. Schaber. “They want to support it.”

That may be, but allowing local school boards to regulate their competition is fundamentally unfair. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled last year that a law allowing Amtrak to regulate freight trains that compete for track time could not be sustained under the Fifth Amendment: “Giving a self-interested entity regulatory authority over its competitors violates due process.” The same principle should apply when children’s futures are at stake.

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer for the Journal.

The ‘Shaming’ of Betsy DeVos

February 28, 2017 by

The education secretary should use what her critics fear most: the bully pulpit.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Here’s a suggestion for America’s new secretary of education: Forget about federal education policy.

Not that policy isn’t important. But if Betsy DeVos wants to make her time count, she’d do best to use what her critics fear most: her bully pulpit. Because if Mrs. DeVos does nothing else in her time but lay bare the corruption of a system failing children who need a decent education most—and shame all those standing in the way of reforming it—she will go down as an education secretary of consequence.

“The temptation for an education secretary is to make a few earnest speeches but never really challenge the forces responsible for failure,” says Jeanne Allen,founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform.

“But the moms and dads whose children are stuck in schools where they aren’t learning need better choices now—and a secretary of education who speaks up for them and takes on the teachers unions and the politicians on their own turf.”

Excellent advice, not least because education is (rightly) a state and local issue and Secretary DeVos has neither the authority nor the wherewithal to transform our public schools from Washington. What she does have is the means to force the moral case out into the open.

New York City would be a good place to start. In Bill de Blasio, the city boasts, if that is the right word, a mayor who fancies himself the nation’s progressive-in-chief, along with a schools chancellor who has all the credentials Mrs. DeVos is accused of lacking, including experience teaching in public schools.

Unfortunately, these credentials haven’t done much to help students. Only 36% of New York City district-school pupils from grades 3 to 8 passed math, and only 38% English. For black students the numbers drop to 20% proficient in math and 27% in English. As a general rule, the longer New York City kids stay in traditional public schools, the worse they do.

It can’t be for lack of resources. Figures from the city’s independent budget office list New York as spending $23,516 per pupil this school year, among the most in the U.S. And instead of closing bad schools, Mr. de Blasio has opted for the teachers-union solution: More spending!

The result? More than two years and nearly half a billion dollars after his “Renewal” program for chronically failing schools was announced, there’s little to show for it.

How might Mrs. DeVos respond? How about a trip to the South Bronx, where she could visit, say, MS 301 Paul L. Dunbar, St. Athanasius and the Success Academy Bronx 1 grade and middle schools. These are, respectively, a traditional public middle-school for grades 6-8, a K-8 Catholic school, and a pair of Success charters serving K-7.

Imagine how Mrs. DeVos might change the conversation by speaking publicly about the differences among these schools? Or by meeting with neighborhood kids languishing on the 44,000-long wait list for a seat at a city charter? Or by asking the non-Catholic parents at St. Athanasius, whose children are there because of a scholarship program, to talk about the difference this school is making in their children’s lives?

Mayor de Blasio would howl. The teachers unions would show up to protest. But the furor a DeVos visit provoked would underscore her point about just whose interests are being sacrificed—and provide a tremendous force equalizer for outgunned parents and reformers taking on the education establishment.

Now imagine Mrs. DeVos making this same kind of visit to other cities where the public-school systems for decades have effectively been consigning their poor and minority students to a future on the margins of the American dream: Baltimore, Detroit, Fresno, Calif., etc. And not just the cities: Rural districts have their own share of complacent pols of both parties who need to be called to account.

Certainly the teachers unions and the Democrats they hold in their pockets account for the core of the opposition to the choice and accountability. But the GOP has made its own grim contributions to our two-tiered public-school system. This includes in Illinois in 2010, when nearly half the Republicans in the state House provided the margin needed to kill a Chicago voucher program.

In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy has to be reminded that the ruby slippers she wears must be very powerful or the Wicked Witch wouldn’t want them so badly. Mrs. DeVos finds herself in a similar position. She will do well to remember that the nastiness of her confirmation was in fact a backhanded recognition by her foes that they have lost the moral argument.

“The opposition to change is not polite and always on the offense,” says Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools in New York. “Betsy’s going to need to play offense or we will lose another generation of children.”

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Opposition Mounts for Education Nominee Betsy DeVos 

February 6, 2017 by

Nomination for secretary of education would fail if a third Republican abandons her during the confirmation vote

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, at a Jan. 17 confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, at a Jan. 17 confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s choice to be secretary of education, is at risk Tuesday of becoming the first cabinet nominee in 28 years to be rejected by the Senate, due in large part to the efforts of people like Tim Royers, a high-school history teacher from Nebraska.

Named his state’s teacher of the year, Mr. Royers started organizing his fellow honorees against Mrs. DeVos when they gathered for a celebration last month in Florida. When Mrs. DeVos, a school-choice activist, seemed to stumble in her confirmation hearing days later, Facebook messages began flying among the teachers about how to use the moment to lobby lawmakers.

Similar efforts by parents, teachers and others around the country helped jam Senate phone lines for days. With two Republican senators now opposed to Mrs. DeVos, her nomination would fail if a third Republican abandons her during the confirmation vote, expected on Tuesday.

Republicans hold 52 Senate seats, and Democrats have 48. If no additional opponents to her nomination emerge, the Senate will be tied, 50-50, leaving Vice President Mike Pencewith the deciding vote and making her the only cabinet nominee in history to win confirmation on a tiebreaking vote by a vice president.

For a Democratic Party that lacks the votes to stop Mr. Trump’s nominees on its own, the DeVos confirmation process has become a small victory, bringing national attention to the president’s views on education that Democrats believe are out of the mainstream.

The confirmation fight also provides an example of the power of social media to drive political events.

“I have heard from thousands—truly thousands—of Alaskans who shared their concerns about Mrs. DeVos,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) in announcing that she would oppose the nomination. “They’ve contacted me by phone, by e-mail, in person.”

Mrs. DeVos, a 59-year-old billionaire, has spent decades pushing for charter schools, which are publicly funded but mostly privately run, and advocating for school vouchers, which provide public funds for children to attend private schools.

Those opposing Mrs. DeVos question her loyalty to the traditional public school system. Supporters say her 30-plus years of dedication to the school-choice movement and to widening educational options for low-income families makes her a good fit for the job.

Mrs. DeVos’s confirmation hearing has become a focal point in the battle.

One key moment was an exchange in which Mrs. DeVos said that states should decide whether federally funded schools have to meet the requirements of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures that students with a disability receive an education fitted to their needs.

When Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), whose son has cerebral palsy, followed up to ask whether Mrs. DeVos understood that the disabilities act was a federal law that applied nationally, Mrs. DeVos replied, “I may have confused it.”

The comments were a red flag to some educators, who worry the federal government will provide money to charter schools without holding them accountable for providing services mandated under the disability law.

In a second exchange, Mrs. DeVos said states should determine policies on guns in schools. Referencing a mention by Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) of a grizzly bear fence surrounding a Wyoming school, Mrs. DeVos said, “I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Senate Democrats quickly posted video clips of the two exchanges on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Facebook page, where they have been viewed more than 34 million times.

Mrs. DeVos in the hearing “was not as articulate as she could have been,’’ said Ed Patru, spokesman for the group Friends of Betsy DeVos. “She doesn’t have an inordinate amount of experience fending off a dozen hostile, grandstanding senators whose singular goal was to trip her up and embarrass her.”

Mr. Patru said Mrs. DeVos cares more about the education of kids than about reaching the “self-serving political goals of teachers unions.”

Unions don’t deny they are playing a role but say such attacks are misplaced. “When you believe that the only way that children do well is if the people who are closest to them have no power and no voice, that is wrong,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Outside of Congress, the hearing catalyzed opponents of Mrs. DeVos.

In Maine, Talya Edlund, a fifth-grade teacher, recruited neighbors and others to lobby the Senate, in part because of Mrs. DeVos’s comments on students with disabilities.

“That to me crystallized that this was not someone who knew the law or had a depth of knowledge regarding the issues that serve our most fragile students,” Ms. Edlund said.

Jessica Tilli, a public-school teacher in Philadelphia, helped organize a rally outside the office of Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.). “I have never done anything like this before,” said Ms. Tilli, who said she acted out of concerns that Mrs. DeVos isn’t qualified to lead the nation’s education system.

“She’s hostile to the ideal of public education,” Lizzie Scott, a mother of two public-school children in Brooklyn, said of Mrs. DeVos, whom she said she researched after the nomination. “It’s really upsetting to me that senators could think that she’s qualified for this job.”

Ms. Scott organized a letter-writing campaign, held a rally in New York, and started a Facebook page to speak out against Ms. DeVos.

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which advocates for charter schools, commended Mrs. DeVos’s overall performance in the hearing. “She articulated a belief that every child deserves a quality education in a quality school, and that parents need to have a choice in making that goal a reality,” he said.

Meanwhile, some of the 2016 teachers of the year who had begun organizing in Florida decided to step up their efforts after the hearing. “It was like a live war room,” Mr. Royers said of their conversation on Facebook.

Mr. Royers contacted friends on Capitol Hill, who urged the teachers to move beyond posting comments to Facebook and Twitter. The message: hit the phones.

Their targets included two Republicans from rural states: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Ms. Murkowski of Alaska. Both said last week that they would vote against the nomination. Public schools in rural states receive an outsize share of federal funding designated for those serving low-income families and might be most sensitive to the potential for funds being diverted to charter or private schools.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at and Tawnell D. Hobbs at

Who’s Afraid of Betsy DeVos?

January 17, 2017 by

Trump’s Education nominee is the top Democratic target.

Democrats are searching for a cabinet nominee to defeat, and it’s telling that progressive enemy number one is Betsy DeVos. Donald Trump’s choice to run the Education Department has committed the unpardonable sin of devoting much of her fortune to helping poor kids escape failing public schools.

Progressives and their media allies have spent the last week roughing up Mrs. DeVos in preparation for her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, which will feature the charms of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Liberals claim that Mrs. DeVos, wife of former Amway president Dick DeVos, is unqualified to lead the Education Department because she’s never been a teacher.

Yet the same crowd howls that bankers shouldn’t be regulating banks. Which is it? Managing a bureaucracy isn’t like running a classroom, though both require a steely resolve. Most Education secretaries have been former teachers or school superintendents—not that student test scores are better for it.

Perhaps Mrs. DeVos’s most important qualification is that she has the courage of her convictions. Progressives are willing to brook billionaires who use their wealth to expand government or augment their political influence. Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker, whose family is a major Democratic patron, served as President Obama’s Commerce secretary. But a conservative who’s dedicated her private fortune to liberating poor kids trapped in lousy public schools? The horror!

The DeVoses have donated tens of millions of dollars to charity including a children’s hospital in Michigan and an international art competition in Grand Rapids. They’ve also given to Christian organizations, which the left cites as evidence of concealed bigotry. Yet education has been their main philanthropic cause.

During the 1990s, they patronized a private-school scholarship fund for low-income families and championed Michigan’s first charter school law. In 2000 they helped bankroll a voucher initiative, which was defeated by a union blitz. The DeVoses then turned to expanding charters, which have become Exhibit A in the progressive campaign against her. Unions claim Michigan charters are inferior to the state’s public schools and that 80% are run for profit.

These claims are spurious. Detroit charters are low performing—only 19% of students are proficient in English—but they’re better than the alternative. Charter students in Detroit on average score 60% more proficient on state tests than kids attending the city’s traditional public schools. Eighteen of the top 25 schools in Detroit are charters while 23 of the bottom 25 are traditional schools.

Two studies from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (2013, 2015) found that students attending Michigan charters gained on average an additional two months of learning every year over their traditional school counterparts. Charter school students in Detroit gained three months.

Eighty-percent of Michigan charters utilize a private education service provider. Yet only about half are operated by a for-profit entity, and almost all of these are mom-and-pop businesses run by Michigan residents. While unions have fought to keep failing public schools open, Mrs. DeVos backed a 2009 law allowing the state to close public schools—charters included—that scored in the bottom 5% of the state for three consecutive years. Only seven of the 54 schools with two strikes in the past two years were charters.

The real reason unions fear Mrs. DeVos is that she’s a rare reformer who has defeated them politically. Prior to being tapped by Mr. Trump, she chaired the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has helped elect hundreds of legislators across the country who support private school choice. Last year AFC and its affiliate groups spent $5 million on elections compared to the teachers unions’ $138 million. Yet 108 of the 121 candidates AFC supported won their races.

AFC has built a broad coalition that includes black and Latino Democrats, undercutting the union conceit that vouchers are a GOP plot to destroy public schools. In 2000 four states had private-school choice programs with 29,000 kids. Today, 25 states have vouchers, tax-credit scholarships or education-savings accounts benefitting more than 400,000 students.

Even if they can’t defeat Mrs. DeVos’s nomination, unions hope to leave her so politically weakened that she won’t be able to implement her agenda. The character assassinations—e.g., that she supports anti-gay groups—are primarily intended to turn the bureaucracy and public against her.

Yet their nasty campaign reeks of political desperation. You know progressives have lost their moral bearings when they save their most ferocious assault for a woman who wants to provide poor children with the education they need to succeed in America.


The Library Lockout at Our Elementary School

January 9, 2017 by

When the librarian was let go, parents volunteered to help. But that’s a union job only, we were told.


My 6-year-old daughter, Scarlett, is a first-grader at A.N. Pritzker Elementary, one of 600 schools in the Chicago Public Schools system. Scarlett enjoys reading, but she has recently faced a serious problem getting the books she wants. The Chicago Teachers Union is preventing her and her classmates from using the school library.

Due to a combination of budget cuts and enrollment numbers that were lower than expected, Pritzker’s librarian was laid off shortly after this school year began. Without a librarian, Pritzker students aren’t allowed to use the library. Dozens of parents have offered to volunteer in the library to keep it open. There was so much interest that the parent-teacher organization created a rotating schedule of regular volunteers to help out.

But before parents could begin volunteering, a teachers union member filed a formal complaint with the school system, objecting to the parents’ plan. Several weeks later, a union representative appeared at a local school council meeting and informed parents that the union would not stand for parental volunteers in the library. Although the parents intended to do nothing more than help students check books in and out, the union claimed that the parents would be impermissibly filling a role reserved for teachers. The volunteer project was shut down following the meeting and the library is currently being used for dance classes.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers, of which the Chicago Teachers Union is an affiliate. In response to President-elect Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to lead the Education Department, Ms. Weingarten said in November that “we have an obligation to all children in America.” One part of getting children the education they need, she added, is ensuring that parents have a voice in their children’s education.

The Chicago union’s actions do not match Ms. Weingarten’s rhetoric. How does forcing the closure of an elementary school library square with the union’s stated mission of fighting for children? How does opposing parents who want to volunteer their time so that children can check out books constitute giving parents the voice they need?

On its website, the Chicago union expresses concern at the “extremely limited in-school and life experiences” available to many poor and minority students. The union says it is focused on closing the “opportunity gap.” But by shuttering the Pritzker library the union is limiting experiences and creating an opportunity gap for the 47% of Pritzker students who come from low-income families, as well as the school’s nonwhite pupils—74% of the student body.

If history is any guide, the union will blame budget cuts for the library’s closure. City Hall deserves its share of criticism for not resolving the public school budget crisis, but the union is hardly blameless. During recent contract negotiations the union demanded that the Chicago Public Schools both provide pay increases and continue covering pension contributions that the city wanted teachers to begin paying for themselves. To avoid a strike, the city agreed to both demands. This only reduces the pool of money available to pay additional instructor salaries and maintain head count.

My daughter Scarlett misses her library books. So do her classmates. If the union has the students’ best interests at heart, it will withdraw its opposition to parents volunteering in the school library.

Mr. Hendershot is a lawyer in Chicago.

School Choice Saves Money

December 31, 2016 by

A study from Wisconsin adds up some of the economic evidence.


Democrats opposed to school choice often claim that charter schools and vouchers siphon taxpayer money from traditional public schools. That’s rarely true because choice schools typically spend less per child. And now a study shows that Milwaukee’s landmark voucher program will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Readers may recall the story of St. Marcus Lutheran, one of Milwaukee’s top schools, which graduates about 90% of its students, more than 90% of whom come from low-income families. St. Marcus participates in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and is in high demand. So when an empty public-school building came on the market in 2014 for an appraised value of $880,000, St. Marcus saw it as a chance to add a second campus for as many as 600 more students.

But the City of Milwaukee demanded a $1.3 million surcharge to compensate for what it said was the higher cost of school choice. St. Marcus had to walk away because it couldn’t afford the city’s surcharge for the building.

That’s when the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit that advocates for limited government and education reform, decided to look at the relative cost and benefits of choice schools. And, what do you know, it found that students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program will provide the city, state and students nearly $500 million in economic benefits through 2035 thanks to higher graduation and lower crime rates.

Using data from a crime and graduation study by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the Milwaukee study finds that through 2035 Wisconsin will receive a $473 million benefit from higher graduation rates by choice students. More education translates into higher incomes, more tax revenue and a lower likelihood of reliance on government welfare or other payments. Meanwhile, greater economic opportunity also prevents young adults from turning to crime, which the study estimates will save Wisconsin $1.7 million from fewer misdemeanors and $24 million from fewer felonies over the same 20 years.

Progressives typically assert that social spending yields all sorts of economic benefits, yet they refuse to see the benefits that voucher programs and charter schools provide. Why not look at the evidence?

Trump’s Education Pick: A Win for Public-School Parents

December 14, 2016 by

When Donald Trump selected an advocate for school choice, Betsy DeVos, to be secretary of education, he was acknowledging what many parents have noticed for some time: District-run public schools aren’t educating students well.

Earlier this month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed that the performance of U.S. 15-year-olds on its Programme for International Student Assessment in math fell 18 points between 2009 and 2015. As the Obama administration was carrying out its main education initiative, “Race to the Top,” the United States was sliding further downward, falling from a tie for 26th place to a tie for 31st among the OECD’s 35 nations, coming out ahead of only Greece, Chile, Turkey and Mexico.

The news does not come as a surprise to American parents. My colleagues and I at Harvard University have uncovered a major discrepancy between the satisfaction levels of parents with children at public schools and those with children at private and charter schools as part of the 2016 Education Next survey, which is administered annually to a nationally representative sample of Americans.

Three-fourths or more of all parents with children in charter, public or private schools say they are either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the schools. But the percentages of parents who say they are “very satisfied” differ markedly across the three sectors.

According to our survey, 46% of private-school parents say they are “very satisfied” with the quality of their child’s teachers, and 32% of charter-school parents are equally enthusiastic, but only 23% of parents with students in public schools report that they are as satisfied. On the topic of schools instructing students in “character or values,” 59% of private-school parents report high satisfaction and 38% of charter parents, but only 21% of those sending their children to public schools do. Regarding school discipline, 46% of private-school parents are highly satisfied, 34% of charter-school parents and 17% in public schools. Questions about safety and expectations for students yield similar results.

Using an online survey, we were able to look at a representative cross-section of parents in the United States consisting of 774 individual parents with children in public schools, 426 in private schools and 317 in charter schools.

What we found is that parents with children in private schools are more likely to be homeowners, have higher incomes and college degrees. But charter parents, as compared with parents of students in public schools, have lower incomes, less education and are less likely to be homeowners. Twenty-one percent of charter parents are black and 36% are Hispanic, as compared with 10% and 25% in the public schools.

Public-school parents are more satisfied with the school’s location—probably because the school is typically a neighborhood institution. Also, they express greater satisfaction with extracurricular activities at the school. However, they are more likely to report as serious such problems as students destroying property, missing classes, fighting, and using drugs.

As we were completing our analysis, we unearthed a U.S. Education Department surveyfrom 2012 that posed similar questions to a nationally representative sample of parents, and we found that the Obama administration has never reported the charter-school results from this survey, although the raw data are publicly available for others to analyze.

Digging into this data, we discovered that this survey, too, reveals both private-school parents and charter parents to be more satisfied with their schools than parents with children assigned to public schools. They are also more satisfied with teachers, academic standards, discipline and “the way the school staff interacts with parents.”

Among the 9% of parents who choose for their children to attend schools such as public magnet schools and other schools that require students to pass admissions exams or show evidence of academic excellence, satisfaction levels are comparable to those at charters. But magnet and exam schools have greater resources and run more specialty programs in math, science and the performing arts. Meanwhile, most charters have more limited resources and accept all applicants unless too many people subscribe, in which case they hold a lottery.

Given the higher satisfaction levels at private and charter schools, and the hundreds of thousands of parents on wait lists for charter schools, public schools are under pressure. By appointing Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump is listening to parents and acknowledging that it’s time to begin thinking outside the public-school box.

Mr. Peterson is professor of government at Harvard University, where he directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

How Trump’s Schools Chief Helped Turn Around Detroit

December 12, 2016 by

Her history of promoting charter schools goes back to 1994, when she worked closely with former Republican Gov. John Engler to pass Michigan’s charter law. These alternative public schools, free from union constraints, have flourished—especially in Detroit, where more than half of students attend charters. Only New Orleans has a higher percentage of students in charter schools.

But time and again, Michigan has resisted comprehensive reform. In 2000, Ms. DeVos and her husband funded a ballot initiative that would have created vouchers for students to use state funding at private schools. But the measure was defeated 69-31.

In 2003, a retired industrialist named Bob Thompson tried to give Detroit $200 million to establish a network of high-quality charter schools. His generous offer was originally accepted by then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrickand Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But the Detroit teachers union protested and the politicians withdrew their support. In frustration, Mr. Thompson also changed his mind.

But despite facing backlash, Ms. DeVos hasn’t given up. In 2011 a Republican-controlled legislature voted to lift the cap on the number of charters, which had been set at 150 university-authorized schools. This has helped them flourish further.

Michigan allows the schools to be chartered by a variety of institutions, including public universities, which run most of the schools, instead of making school districts the sole authorizer. Mr. Engler, with help from Ms. DeVos, designed the law this way to foster competition.

Since the mid-1990s, a dozen authorizers have opened nearly 100 charter schools in Detroit. Critics pretend this has led to a Wild West environment, where anything goes. There is indeed a need for more communication among authorizers regarding school location. But only seven new charters opened in Michigan last year. In Detroit there has been a net gain of only three charter schools over the past seven years. That’s hardly out-of-control expansion.

Michigan’s charter model has also been criticized for its purported lack of accountability. Critics claim that schools aren’t held to high standards. But more than 100 charters have been closed in the last 20 years, both for academic and financial reasons. Not a single traditional public school in the state has ever closed because of poor performance.

These arguments came to the fore early this year when legislation tied to a bailout of Detroit Public Schools was put forward that would have limited charter-school growth through the formation of a city education commission. The point of the commission was to boost enrollment at Detroit Public Schools, which is down by 100,000 in the past decade. The district was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The Great Lakes Education Project, the school-reform group funded by the DeVoses, fought hard against the unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. They prevailed, and lawmakers ultimately agreed in June on a $617 million bailout of the Detroit district, as well as some stronger accountability measures for all schools. For instance, persistently failing schools—including both traditional ones and charters—will be closed after three years of probation. About 30 schools fit that category, and dealing with the worst offenders would allow better schools to thrive.

There’s still work to be done. Detroit Public Schools have consistently scored dead last among America’s urban districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The city’s charters are doing better. In 2013, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that Detroit charter students gain three months of extra learning a year compared with their peers in traditional schools. A 2015 study showed similar results. Detroit, it said, was one of four districts nationwide to “provide essential examples of school-level and system-level commitments to quality that can serve as models to other communities.” That’s despite the city’s having one of the highest-poverty urban charter populations.

Michigan still has in place an extremely restrictive anti-voucher constitutional amendment. When the 2000 ballot initiative flopped, it was Detroit youth who suffered. Vouchers also could have saved the city’s parochial schools, which for generations helped educate many of the poorest children. In 1985, there were 54 Catholic schools. Today, only eight remain.

Frustrated with the roadblocks in her home state, Ms. DeVos turned to promoting school choice nationally. Now half of states allow private-school options in some form. That includes Michigan’s neighbors in the Midwest—Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio—which boast both more choice and higher test scores.

Charter schools in Detroit have given parents at least one viable alternative to failing public schools. That’s thanks in large part to Betsy DeVos. Now, with the coming official title of education secretary, she has the opportunity to give parents all across the country the same kind of say in their children’s education.

Please watch this video in which Ms. DeVos speaks at the SXSWedu in Austin, TX.

Why Trump’s Education Pick Scares Unions

December 1, 2016 by

Betsy DeVos favors school choice and helped pass Michigan’s first charter-school bill.

Betsy DeVos on Nov. 19; Randi Weingarten in 2012. ENLARGE
Betsy DeVos on Nov. 19; Randi Weingarten in 2012. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS; REUTERS

After Donald Trump nominated Betsy DeVos to become education secretary, teachers union honcho Randi Weingarten tweeted: “Trump has chosen the most ideological, anti-public ed nominee since the creation of the Dept of Education.” Since what’s good for the unions is often bad for the schools, and vice versa, Ms. Weingarten’s apoplexy is reason to cheer.

Ms. DeVos is chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an organization dedicated to helping parents choose the best school for their kids. Ms. Weingarten leads the American Federation of Teachers, which is focused on what’s best for the adults.

Detractors say Ms. DeVos is opposed to public education. But she told an interviewer in 2013 that her definition of educational choice includes schools of all kinds. “What we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home,” she said. “We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.” In the early 1990s, Ms. DeVos and her husband, a former president of Amway, were involved in passing Michigan’s first charter- school bill.

Ms. Weingarten brings a different set of priorities to the education debate. She has fought to keep persistently failing schools open because they still provide jobs for her dues-paying members. She has fought to ensure that government officials, rather than parents, decide where a child attends school. Union influence over education policy in the U.S. is unrivaled, and Ms. Weingarten prefers it that way. Her top concern is better pay and working conditions for her members. Students don’t pay union dues.

That doesn’t make her a bad person, but it should cast doubt on claims, too often swallowed whole by education reporters, that union interests are perfectly aligned with those of students and families. A union-negotiated work rule that says teachers can’t be evaluated by how much their students learn is a job-protection measure, but it obviously harms kids and school quality.Educationphilanthropists often work to accommodate the teachers unions. Ms. DeVos chose to fight them head on by backing political candidates who support school choice, the same way unions support candidates who don’t.Michael Petrilli, a veteran of George W. Bush’s Education Department who now runs the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote last week that the DeVos pick shows Mr. Trump’s seriousness. “She was one of the first people in ed-reform to understand that we weren’t going to beat the teachers unions with op-eds and policy papers,” he wrote. “She pushed the private school choice movement to invest in serious political giving much earlier than the mainstream reform groups did, and, so far, with far greater success.” In the 2016 election, the American Federation for Children invested in 121 races in 12 states and won 89% of them.

Mr. Trump clearly has tapped a fighter, and education reformers are thrilled. The school voucher program in Washington, D.C., that President Obama has spent two terms working to shut down—at the urging of the unions, natch—is likely to flourish under the new administration. Mr. Obama and his Education Department supported charter schools but not vouchers. Ms. DeVos embraces school choice writ large, and states interested in expanding educational options for low-income families will proceed knowing that Washington has their back.

Mr. Obama tended to regulate what he couldn’t legislate, and education policy was no exception. The administration imposed its will from Washington in areas traditionally left to the states—from Common Core curriculum standards, to bathroom rules for transgender students, to race-based school discipline policies. With any luck Ms. DeVos will promptly end this meddling.

Reformers are also hoping that the Trump administration learns from the past. To the dismay of many conservatives, George W. Bush greatly expanded the role of the federal government in K-12 schooling through the No Child Left Behind Act. Insisting that school districts break down test results by subgroup—low income, special education, racial minorities—increased transparency. But rewarding and punishing school districts based on yearly progress was overreach that even some who supported the law now regret. It legitimized a more muscular role in education for the feds.

Mr. Trump has proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program that students could use to attend public or private schools. But this idea presents similar hazards. Federal dollars will bring federal regulations, and reform-minded individuals like Betsy DeVos won’t forever be in charge of implementing them. Better to let the states lead on school choice. Now that Republicans control 33 governorships and both legislative chambers in 32 states, what’s stopping them?