Tour DeVos

Which Colorado schools will Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visit?

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Ashland Elementary School.

When we learned that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would visit Colorado as part of her “Rethink School” tour this week, we began brainstorming all the places she could go.

The Douglas County School District would seem a good fit, with its large roster of charter schools and ongoing legal efforts to get a private school voucher program off the ground. The politics in Denver are altogether different, but DeVos does have a standing invitation to visit — not from the district, but from Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, its former superintendent.

Well, we contacted both districts, and a DeVos visit is not planned, according to district communications folks.

Charter schools run by former Republican lawmakers? A couple come to mind: Colorado Early College, a network founded former state lawmaker Keith King, and Liberty Common High School in Fort Collins, headed by former Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer.

We reached Schaffer by email. His reply: DeVos isn’t coming “unless she knows of our standing Thursday 10 a.m. tours and the Secret Service is doing unannounced drop-ins these days.”

A private school? Entirely possible. DeVos could visit any one of the private schools profiled by the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank that supports using public tax dollars to subsidize private school education.

DeVos’s team is waiting until Tuesday to share which schools the controversial school choice advocate will visit.

We do know that DeVos’s trip to Colorado is part of her first multi-state tour and will include 13 schools in six states.

The 21 schools DeVos has visited so far have been, as you’d expect, a mix, according to EdWeek. She has visited 10 traditional district-run public schools, six private schools and five charter schools.

So it’s a guessing game until then. And we want you to join in the fun!

Tell us in the comment section below, or on Facebook or Twitter, which Colorado school you think DeVos will visit. Remember, the goal of DeVos’s visit is to profile innovate programs that are “rethinking” education.

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.