Out of all of Trump's cabinet, one department head sets the gold standard for inexperience and incompetence -- Betsy DeVos. The billionaire head of the Education Department has absolutely no experience with public schools on any level, but is now the architect of federal education policy.
On Monday DeVos issued the following statement on Historically Black Colleges and Universities:
A key priority for this administration is to help develop opportunities for communities that are often the most underserved. Rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn't working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.
HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.
As anyone who is familiar with the history of public education in America is aware, HBCUs grew out of the segregated education system, where black students couldn't get into the same schools whites attended. So rather than call HBCUs an example of "school choice," a better term for them would probably be "schools because we have no choice."
If DeVos had bothered to look through the information on her own department's website, she would have found this:
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions that were established prior to 1964 and have the principal mission of educating Black Americans. These institutions were founded and developed in an environment of legal segregation and, by providing access to higher education, contributed substantially to the progress Blacks have made in improving their status.
Even that doesn't tell the complete story of what actually happened. A law passed in the 1890s mandated that states that received federal funds for higher education offer that education to black students as well as whites. In response, southern states created separate schools for African-American citizens. That is why most of the HBCUs are located in former Jim Crow states. And HBCUs have been historically underfunded compared to their white counterparts.
While she doesn't use the term, DeVos's statement appears to be drawing a comparison between HBCUs and charter schools. Charter school laws differ widely in states that offer them, but basically a charter school is founded by a group of parents, educators, community members, or some combination of the above. They operate under a charter granted by a state education department, which typically gives them more flexibility in the education programs they offer to their students. They also have an extremely poor track record, particularly when it comes to charter schools in minority neighborhoods.
A 2016 Brookings Institution report found that in some areas charter schools are leading to school resegregation. The report notes that charter schools tend to be more racially homogenous than traditional schools and their students are more likely to be on the economic extremes than regular schools.
It's tempting to pass off Betsy' DeVos's statement about HBCUs as another example of her ignorance of the education system she is now in charge of. But, when put in the context of the Brookings report, could there have been a more sinister message in what she said?
We know her boss, America's Orange Tyrant, has a questionable record on matters of race. Given what we have seen already from Trump and his crew, would it be out of the question to believe this was yet another example of dog whistle politics -- a signal that if communities want to move toward resegregating their education system, the federal government will look the other way?