Anyone reading conservative media outlets such as National Review over the last month or so would conclude that the only opposition to Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos comes from teachers’ unions and other leftists. The narrative presented is that DeVos is a champion of educational freedom who is being unfairly pilloried by forces afraid of losing their power.
But in fact, some of the strongest voices against the nomination come from the conservative parent activists who have been fighting in the education trenches for years. Since DeVos’s nomination they’ve waged a campaign to publicize the truth about her history and her strong ties with organizations that subordinate parents’ rights to progressive-education ideology. But with very few exceptions (for example, Susan Berry at Breitbart and Michelle Malkin), established pundits and media outlets on the right generally fail even to acknowledge such concerns exist. Are the conservative media taking a page from the liberal-media playbook – suppress any news that doesn’t fit the narrative?
One serious conservative concern about DeVos is her support for the inferior Common Core national standards and her work in Michigan and elsewhere to defeat efforts to replace Common Core with something demonstrably better. Michigan parents have tried for years to eliminate Common Core, only to be opposed at every turn by DeVos and the organizations she founded and led. And although she now claims she’s “not a supporter” of the national standards, any education activist in Michigan can tell you she certainly was a supporter – and an effective one — in the very recent past.
Related to her support of Common Core is her preferred school-choice program, which would enforce “accountability” by requiring voucher-recipient private schools to administer state Common Core-aligned tests and comply with other government regulations. (Mike Petrilli of the strongly pro-Common Core Fordham Institute thinks this increased regulation of private schools is a good thing, and a reason to support DeVos.) Of course, if private schools must administer the state tests, they must teach Common Core – in other words, they must become just like the public schools parents are trying to escape. What kind of “choice” is this?
And for all the leftist wailing about DeVos’s enthusiasm for Christian education, her version of “accountability” could seriously impair what makes Christian schools Christian. Imagine what type of voucher program – incentivized by the federal government – might be established by California or New York, or even by red states whose leaders cower before threats of powerful bullies. Certainly such states wouldn’t allow public funds to go into a school that “discriminates” in employment (read: that doesn’t allow a man in a dress to teach first-graders).
The bottom line is that any school-choice program with these types of “accountability” strings will end up destroying private schools. That’s why thoughtful conservatives are so leery of the concept. (See this good discussion by Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute.)
DeVos is also closely tied to Jeb Bush’s foundation in Florida, now known as ExcelinEd, and therefore presumably to its progressive-education policy prescriptions: more government preschool; replacing genuine education with “competency-based” training (a recycling of the old outcome-based education); marginalizing teachers in favor of increased digital training; ramped-up collection, mining, and sharing of student data, etc. Parents of all political stripes are justifiably concerned about all these policies, and about DeVos’s potential willingness to advocate for them from her new position.
Parent activists have done everything they know to do to get these concerns before policy-makers (see here, here, and here). But as a rule, the establishment conservative media do not deign to acknowledge their existence.
Perhaps these media really don’t understand education issues and lack either the time or the inclination to investigate them. But this is the type of lazy journalism for which the liberal media are rightly excoriated.
Perhaps, also, some conservative media fear weakening the new president by possibly contributing to the defeat of his nominees. But this stance is not only dishonest but self-defeating. It denies evidence from serious conservatives – evidence of which the president and his advisers need to be made aware. And it mirrors exactly what the liberal media routinely do: Picking and choosing the “acceptable” facts and burying the rest. Doesn’t President Trump denounce this every day?
Or maybe some of the conservative media are so connected with DeVos that their objectivity suffers.
One reason for Trump’s victory was media elites’ arrogant dismissal of the concerns of decent, thoughtful Americans. If that attitude has infected the conservative media as well, genuine conservatism may be in for a rocky ride.