Tour DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to visit Colorado this week

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will visit Colorado this week as part of her first major tour of schools since being confirmed, the federal education department announced Monday.

The department declined to identify which Colorado schools — public or private — DeVos will visit, saying that announcement will come Tuesday. Multiple school districts, charter school networks and education advocates contacted by Chalkbeat said they were unaware of any pending visit by DeVos.

The tour — which begins Tuesday in Wyoming and will include stops in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana in addition to Colorado — aims to highlight “groundbreaking work happening in schools across America.”

DeVos, a proponent of school choice, is expected to visit a mix of schools including district-run, charter, private and home schools, as well as traditional four-year colleges and community colleges.

“There are so many new and exciting ways state-based education leaders and advocates are truly rethinking education,” DeVos said in a statement. “It is our goal with this tour to highlight what’s working. We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand student-centered education opportunities.”

While DeVos has visited numerous schools this year, mostly on the East Coast and in her native Michigan, this is her first extensive multi-state tour.

Two Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Jared Polis, previously invited DeVos to tour schools in Denver and Boulder, respectively.

Neither lawmaker’s office immediately said whether DeVos’s staff had notified them of her upcoming visit.

Officials from the state’s three largest school districts — Denver, Douglas County and Jefferson County — all said Monday that DeVos was not planning on visiting this week.

This will not be DeVos’s first trip to Colorado since taking over the federal education department. This summer she rallied conservative policymakers at a conference in Denver. DeVos’s speech was met with a protest organized in part by the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association.

In her speech, DeVos highlighted states that have introduced vouchers or new school-choice programs including North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona.

Before being tapped to lead the education department, DeVos used her personal fortune to advocate for school choice policies including private school vouchers and charter schools.

She’s criticized states and school districts — including Denver Public Schools — for not embracing private school vouchers.

The Colorado Supreme Court has twice ruled vouchers unconstitutional. However, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has given new life to a lawsuit out of Douglas County that has been tied up in courts since 2011.

DeVos’s visit to Colorado comes as the state education department prepares to finalize its federally required education plan. Colorado’s plan hit a roadblock after DeVos’s team pushed back on a state testing opt-out policy.

The federal education department is demanding the state hold schools accountable if they fail to test 95 percent of their students annually in math and English. Since 2015, Colorado has been one of the national epicenters of the testing opt-out movement. Hundreds of schools could see their quality ratings lowered depending on how the state decides to comply with the law.

DeVos is not scheduled to meet with Colorado’s Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, a spokeswoman for the state education department said.

DeVos in Detroit

Betsy DeVos’s first Detroit visit featured Girl Scouts, robots, and talk of beluga whales

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes pictures on her phone during the FIRST Robotics World Championship, held in Detroit on April 27, 2018.

Betsy DeVos was all smiles on Friday as she toured the world’s largest robotics competition and congratulated student contestants.

The event was her first visit to Detroit as education secretary. DeVos, a Michigan-based philanthropist before joining the cabinet, has a long history of involvement with the city’s education policies.

It was a friendly environment for the secretary, who has often faced protesters who disagree with her stance on private school vouchers or changes to civil rights guidance at public events. (Even her security protection appeared to be in a good mood on Friday.)

Here are four things we noticed about DeVos’s visit to downtown and the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

1. She got to talk to some local students after all.

DeVos didn’t visit any Detroit schools, and didn’t answer any questions from reporters about education in Michigan. But as she toured the junior LEGO competition, she did stop to talk to a handful of Girl Scouts from the east side of the city.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

2. She knows a thing or two about beluga whales.

She also stopped to stop to chat with students from Ann Arbor who called themselves the Beluga Builders and designed a water park that economizes water. DeVos asked how they came up with their name, and they told her how much they love the whales. “They have big humps on their heads, right?” DeVos said. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

3. She is an amateur shutterbug.

She stopped often during her tour to shoot photos and videos with her own cell phone. She took photos of the elementary and middle school students’ LEGO exhibits and photos of the robotics competition.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

4. She was eager to put forth a friendly face.

As she stopped by students’ booths, she often knelt down to children’s eye level. When she posed for group pictures, she directed students into position. And she shook lots of hands, asking kids questions about their projects.

next stop

Robotics is bringing Betsy DeVos to Detroit for the first time as education secretary

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (U.S. Department of Education)

Betsy DeVos is set to appear in Detroit for the first time as education secretary on Friday, though she’s unlikely to encounter local students when she’s there.

DeVos is scheduled to attend a student robotics competition being held downtown in a bid to promote science and math education. The event is also likely to again highlight DeVos’s past influence over education policy in the city, which has been heavily scrutinized.

Before becoming President Trump’s education chief, DeVos, a prominent Michigan philanthropist, was a key architect of policies that many blame for the dire state of Detroit’s schools.

We’ve outlined that debate in full, but the key points are that the state’s charter law puts no restrictions on where or how many charter schools can open, which has created school deserts in some neighborhoods, and far too many schools in others. Both district and charter schools struggle financially with less-than-full enrollments, while student performance suffers across the board.

DeVos’ critics say she has blocked attempts to bring order and oversight to Detroit schools. Defenders note that parents now have more options and that charter school students in the city do slightly better on state exams than their peers in district schools.

DeVos also had a tense exchange with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” about Michigan schools back in March.

“Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it,” she said.

DeVos’s announcement says she plans to meet with students on Friday. But while the event is happening in Detroit, the students DeVos encounters at the FIRST Robotics World Championship on Friday will almost surely hail from elsewhere. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat noted that just one city high school in Detroit qualified to send a team.