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Former Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Defends Betsy DeVos

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The former CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is defending President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Jim Barrett writes in a column at the Lansing State Journal that the national media is spreading “misinformation” about DeVos and that he is “here to set the record straight” about her.

“For nearly 30 years, Betsy DeVos has been leading the charge for expanded choice, improved quality and enhanced accountability in education,” he continues.

Barrett now chairs the board of the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) – a pro-school choice organization that DeVos has funded and served as a board member. Both the Chamber of Commerce and GLEP have promoted the Common Core standards.

“We appreciate the work of the State Senate in supporting the Common Core State Standards, which we believe will make our students more competitive in a global economy,” said Gary Naeyaert, executive director at GLEP, in October of 2013.

DeVos’ website says she was chairman of the GLEP board from 2001-2008, and has remained a board member since then. Upon her nomination as education secretary, DeVos stated immediately, “I am not a supporter” of Common Core. “Period.”

Barrett continues his defense of DeVos:

On accountability, Betsy DeVos and GLEP have been pushing for a simple A-F letter grading system to use for school accountability, so that parents receive meaningful information about school performance in order to make informed school choice decisions. We support local control, but also believe failing schools should get better or be closed. Period.

He points out as well that DeVos and GLEP promoted Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s “Michigan Merit Curriculum.”

“We continue to defend and support high standards and high expectations for all students,” he adds.

Karen Braun, a member of the leadership team at Stop Common Core in Michigan tells Breitbart News, “A quick read of this statement might make most nod their heads and say, ‘DeVos and GLEP support local control.’ Not so fast.”

Braun refers to DeVos’ statement at a Michigan rally with Trump that it is time to “put an end to the federalized Common Core.”

“Like Betsy DeVos stating she is against ‘federalized’ Common Core, Barrett works in a caveat that gives insight into what DeVos actually believes about local control,” she says. “He adds, ‘failing schools should get better or close. Period.’”

Braun continues:

Failing by what standard of measure? What are the A-F grades based upon? The new ESSA [federal education law] requires accountability in areas that include more than just student performance measures based on common national standards. They would also include social emotional learning or so called “soft skills” that they believe determine success. Things like grit, tenacity, gratitude, enthusiasm, and the culture of the school would all be measured and factored into the career readiness of the student and the letter grade of the school. The students and school that measure up get to move on or stay open; those that don’t shut down.

“DeVos, Barrett, and GLEP do not support local control but a new model of education,” Braun warns.” It is a centralized competency-based education system for workforce development – which kills creativity and destroys local and parent control.”

“Big data – not parents – drive the decisions and the direction of their student’s future,” she concludes. “It is a system to meet the demands of the state and the workforce, but leaves the dreams of the child out in the cold.”

Recently, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute and the Washington D.C.-based American Principles Project published a study, titled “After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core.” The paper focused on how the mission of the Common Core standards – to provide a school-to-work force of young people who will ultimately satisfy the need for low-pay workers within the United States – is not in keeping with the goals of Catholic education.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business and industry groups, however, have been vocal champions of the Common Core.

“[T]he Common Core is undoubtedly and unacceptably workforce-oriented, thereby misinforming student character and impoverishing academic content,” authors Anthony Esolen, Dan Guernsey, Jane Robbins, and Kevin Ryan write. “Catholic schools typically embrace character education and rely heavily on language arts, history, and religion curricula as crucial means to educate and inspire students toward a virtuous life. Adopting the new standards may seriously compromise this essential effort.”

The study’s authors continue:

The workforce educational model currently being promoted by the government relies heavily on the concept of training. It aims to train students in certain skills of information-processing and mathematical abilities that transfer rather directly to today’s world of work. Training consists of learning how to accomplish a task and “getting the job done.” At the heart of the Common Core agenda is a century-old dream of Progressive educators to redirect education’s mission away from engaging the young in the best of human thought and focusing instead on preparation for “real life.” While a reasonable but quite secondary goal, workforce-development is dwarfed by Catholic schools’ transcendent goals of human excellence, spiritual transformation, and preparation for “the next life” as well.

While officials of both parties – such as Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton – are now avoiding any association with “Common Core” due to the standards’ political toxicity, establishment politicians continue to espouse the “high standards” and “accountability” rhetoric that characterizes the unpopular reform.

Wisconsin-based Kirsten Lombard, editor of Common Ground on Common Core: Voices from across the Political Spectrum Expose the Realities of the Common Core State Standards, told Breitbart News, “Where the true customers for education should be the parent and the child, school-to-work (STW) programs have replaced them with government and business, increasingly making of the classroom a career-tracking and a labor-fulfillment center.”

Lombard explains that classical education – the kind promoted by the Catholic scholars at Pioneer Institute – allows children and teens to think critically and prepares them for a variety of opportunities in careers or higher education. That kind of education, she says, has been replaced by the STW mentality.

“Where we used to talk about equipping children to determine their own futures through real and solid education, we now talk almost exclusively about strengthening the workforce through education and ensuring that our classrooms are producing students ready to work,” she said.

While some students will choose vocational training based on their own interests, Lombard says big business and government should not be making that decision for them.

“The bottom line is that, in a truly free society, business takes care of itself,” she said. “Neither the state nor the federal government has any legitimate role in either facilitating or managing the job training of private enterprise.”


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