I first laid eyes upon Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, at television journalist Campbell Brown's forum for GOP presidential contenders. It was the summer of 2015, back when Trump was little more than a punchline, and Jeb Bush, despite drooping in the August heat that day, still seemed like the real contender. Because the event wasn't an official debate, Bush, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, et ai, couldn't appear on stage together-which meant that Brown asked the same questions of each, and got similar nonanswers, in an endless conversational format.
And then suddenly there was Betsy DeVos, a Brown chum, holding forth about an education "moonshot." It wasn't what she said that interested me so much as what she represented. Could the education reform coalition's major selling point, its bipartisan appeal, really stretch to incorporate DeVos's extreme rightwingviews? Here is someone so extreme that she routinely drops the word "government" in front of "public school" (as if government had no represented. ness meddling in education). Wouldn't it be better for her to remain in the favored domain of the DeVos family, the shadows, or at least in Michigan?
Privately, fans of charter schools and school choice express dismay over Trump's choice of DeVos for Secretary of Education. It's not just her far-right views. It is the outsized role she has played in shaping Detroit as an education laboratory in which an out -ofcontrol lab fire now burns.
To understand the damage DeVos has done in Detroit, it helps to have a bit of historical context. We are so used to thinking of Detroit as America's urban hell hole that it can be hard to comprehend the optimism that took hold there two years ago as the city was coming out of bankruptcy. Finally, it seemed as though the Motor City might be on the cusp of a real revival. And not the kind of comeback driven by hipsters opening cupcake shops or the rebranded subsistence farming known as "urban gardening." but a real renaissance where middle-class residents return to Detroit.
It was out of this spirit of hopefulness that the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren emerged back in 2014. And it was a real coalition. American Federation of Teachers was there, but so were pro-charter groups, along with members of the corporate and civic elite. People who'd been at deep odds, if not at war, had come together around a single, shared point of agreement: If Detroit doesn't have some way to oversee its schools-both what remains of the district schools and the fast-growing, completely unregulated charter sector-the city can forget about the future. Bankrolled by a local philanthropy, the Skillman Foundation, the coalition had the wind at its back and the political acumen necessary to get a bill through the state senate. Even the state's Republican governor, Rick Snyder, was on board.
But the feel-good story ended abruptly last summer when it ran into a wall of GOP opposition. Except that "wall" and "opposition" make it sound as though there was a whole bunch of people involved in the kneecapping that went down. There was just one couple: Betsy and...