The nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education has reignited the age-old battle over education policy. The heat is already intense not just because it involves the future of our children but also because a lot of money is at stake. Essentially, it’s a debate between those in the education establishment who support the status quo because they have a financial stake in the system and those who seek to challenge the status quo because it’s not serving kids well.
Both sides will take their case to the public hoping to sway senators who will vote on confirmation. Here’s my take.
First, it’s important to have someone who isn’t financially biased shaping education. As a highly successful businesswoman, DeVos doesn’t need the job now, nor will she be looking for an education job later. Her key qualification is that she cares deeply about our children and will do everything in her power to offer them a brighter future. She founded two of the nation’s leading education reform organizations and helped open the door to charter schools in her home state of Michigan. I have known her for many years; she is smart, dynamic, no nonsense and committed. That’s why the education establishment is so animated to stop her.
Second, it’s important to have someone who will challenge the conventional wisdom and the status quo. In 1970, it cost $56,903 to educate a child from K-12. By 2010, adjusting for inflation, we had raised that spending to $164,426—almost three times as much. Further, the number of people employed in our schools had nearly doubled. But despite the enormous investment, the performance of our kids has shown virtually no improvement. The establishment predictably calls for more spending and smaller classrooms—in other words, more teachers and more pay. But more of the same is demonstrably not the answer.
The interests opposing DeVos’s nomination charge that charter schools in Michigan—and particularly in Detroit—haven’t lived up to their promise. But recent studies show that choice and competition are having a positive impact on kids’ learning in the state. A recent analysis by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies found that students in Detroit charters are performing better than their counterparts in traditional public schools in every subject tested by the state’s annual assessment. Meanwhile, recent studies by Stanford University found children in Detroit charters showing stronger academic improvement, gaining an extra two months’ learning in math and reading per year, as compared with the typical public school student in the city.
DeVos’s detractors have also accused her of opposing oversight and accountability for her state’s charter sector, leading to poor results. This is another misleading charge. What she opposed was a new government bureaucracy intended to stifle choice and limit competition in Detroit education. In fact, the organization she chairs did endorse an A-to-F letter grading system to hold schools accountable statewide. It has also been pointed out that while more than 100 Michigan charters have been shut down for various reasons over the past 20 years, not one traditional public school has been shuttered because of poor performance.
The declassified report from our intelligence agencies confirmed that Russia hacked and used other techniques (including social media, state-funded media and “third-party intermediaries”) to try to undermine confidence in our election system, denigrate Hillary Clinton and help elect President-elect Donald Trump. (By the way, by also flat-out labeling RT as a Russian propaganda outlet, the report whacks Trump’s pick for national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who went on the station many times and insisted it was no different from CNN.) Russia “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report states.
Trump defensively tried to prove the unprovable — that Russia had no impact on the election. But he ignores the bigger slam to his credibility: Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks Trump is a soft touch. Isn’t his ego just a tiny bit bruised by Putin’s conclusion that, as they used to say of Soviet-friendly westerners, Trump is a “useful idiot” ? Trump liked to say during the campaign that Putin thought he was “smart.” In fact, Putin, it seems, figured Trump is a fool. While using public flattery to woo Trump, Putin worked stealthily to stop the more aggressive candidate, Clinton, who plainly had Putin figured out.
Virtually the whole Congress opposes treating Russia as a benign force. Lawmakers would line up behind him if he chose to replace President Barack Obama’s passive stance toward Putin with something much more robust and effective. He’d be hailed as a forceful strategist and tough guy. This would require him to encourage Congress to pass a stiff sanctions package. He would need to make forceful remarks at his inauguration and beyond that show he considers Russian behavior to be unacceptable. He would have to nominate tough anti-Putin hawks to the Nos. 2 and 3 positions at the State Department. He would have to make clear he supports defensive arms to Ukraine. Moreover, he would need to direct the intelligence community to uncover the extent of Putin’s wealth and corruption. (Perhaps that information needs to be widely shared along with Putin’s ongoing human rights abuses.)
If Trump does not make such moves and sticks with Putin, he’ll have proved Putin and Trump’s critics right — he really is a patsy for Putin. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., said on “Meet the Press” Sunday, “In a couple weeks, Donald Trump will be the defender of the free world and democracy. You should let everybody know in America —Republicans and Democrats — that you’re going to make Russia pay a price for trying to interfere. Even though it didn’t affect the outcome, they tried to interfere, and they need to pay a price. I don’t care what their motives were.”
A new ballot petition being circulated around Idaho would put directly a question many people uneasily dance around:
Is abortion murder?
It comes from a group called Abolish Abortion Idaho (website http://www.abolishabortionid.com), based at Hayden. It calls for not repealing the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, but defying it. There’s the possibility coming changes at the court could lead to a repeal anyway, but the effort here is no gray-area endeavor. It’s a frontal challenge based around the group’s core principles and, it has to be said, those of a lot of Idaho’s elected officials.
The web site argues: “Idaho Code already says that abortion is murder but that it may not be prosecuted. [This appears to be accurate.] This petition will establish equal justice for the preborn by prosecuting all who would murder them. The initiative is about equal protection under the law for preborn babies, and it eliminates the ability of a special class of people to commit a serious crime without the fear of prosecution.”
To that end the proposal would set state policy that abortion, any abortion at any stage of development, be prosecuted the same as any heinous serial killer murder you can recall. The proponents add, “There will be no exceptions for rape and incest, since the baby should never pay for the crimes of the fathers. The traditional exceptions for abortion when the life or health of the mother are threatened have been eliminated as well.”
AAI is rigorously consistent here. If you do believe abortion is murder, as so many Idaho political figures have said so clearly for so many years, then why should each provable case not be prosecuted as such? No crime, after all, is ordinarily more rigorously prosecuted than murder.
To be clear: I’m not, in this column, arguing the merits of that determination of abortion as murder. But in Idaho and around the country many politicians who have made the “abortion is murder” argument, have spent decades tinkering with the laws (to make abortion more difficult, inconvenient and expensive), while knowing that Roe v. Wade means their beliefs will never be put to the test.
The nature of the test is alluded to by AAI, but in a way you might generously call over-optimistic: “The goal of the initiative is not to punish mothers, but it is to abolish abortion. Once abortion is illegal with a severe associated penalty, we expect that very few women will ever be prosecuted under this new law.”
There are two ways to take this. If the group means to suggest little prosecution because prosecutors would rarely bring the cases, that suggests the change in law would have no teeth, and be pointless.
But if they’re suggesting the law’s intended punishment – ranging from a very long prison sentence to the death penalty – would be an effective deterrent, they’re fooling themselves. Murders of the type prosecuted now haven’t stopped, and won’t, because deep penalties are attached to them. Neither do many other heavily-punished crimes.
And if the goal “is not to punish mothers,” why not, if they’ve committed murder? You could go after doctors and nurses too (as some anti-abortion activists have in other ways). But if the law drove abortion activity away from doctors’ offices and toward other means, including self-performed abortions, how can you be rigorously in favor of legally stopping abortion without going after mothers?
This ballot issue would put the core of the question right out there. If it gets on the ballot we’ll get a chance to see what Idahoans really think about abortion – and about the consequences of following through on what has been to now mostly rhetoric.
I have a great-grandson, a third-grader, attending Dworshak Elementary School so I saw the third-grade Christmas production.
I was amazed that third graders were capable of performing at this level. Bill Maxwell, the music director, and all those that helped should be commended.
To me, it was unbelievable how well they did with acting, dancing and clever singing parts and executed perfectly with every child singing their hearts out.
I would love to see it again on a stage. The room just wasn’t big enough for everyone to see all the performers.
What a wonderful experience for those children to be a part of this production.
Karen M. Taylor