With Republicans stubbornly sticking to the questioning rules Democrats first crafted (hey, no fair!), Democrat senators in the DeVos hearing are desperately trying to cram as much outrage into their one round of questioning as possible. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) grilled DeVos about the “unaccountable” charter schools in Michigan. As DeVos tried to respectfully answer by explaining the education situation in Detroit, Bennet rudely interrupted her multiple times and specifically denied her the opportunity to discuss the desperate situation in Detroit right now. (Video at the bottom of this post.)

Devos politely acquiesced to the Senator, but was not deterred from defending Michigan’s approach to charters and traditional public schools. She claimed all reports that Michigan charters were unaccountable were “false news…not correct at all” and reminded the committee that before the reform she supported only charter schools were held to account for their failures. Under new legislation all schools within the Detroit system and beyond were now accountable.

Bennet also questioned the success of charters in Michigan.

In a Fact Check press release from ArSquared.org, Bennet’s claims were proven to be not much more than political grandstanding.

The fact is that multiple studies have confirmed that charter schools championed by DeVos have improved education for Michigan’s children. Indeed, a recent analysis found that students in charters demonstrated greater proficiency in all four subject areas than students in traditional public schools, as measured in the state’s annual assessment, the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP). The analysis found that:

  • Detroit charters outperform their traditional counterparts at DPS in each M-STEP subject area – English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies.
  • Of the top 25 performing schools in M-STEP Math performance in Detroit, 80% are charter schools.
  • Of the top 25 performing schools in M-STEP English Language Arts (ELA) performance in Detroit, 84% are charter schools.
  • Detroit charter school students have higher average rates of proficiency in Math and ELA than their traditional counterparts as measured by the M-STEP.
  • English Language Learners in Detroit perform better on ELA M-STEP assessments at charter schools, with proficiency rates that are 50% higher than traditional schools.

In reading, 47 percent of charter schools perform significantly better than their traditional public school market, which is more positive than the 35% for Michigan charter schools as a whole. In math, 47 percent of Detroit charter schools perform significantly better than their local peers, the same proportion as for the charters as a whole statewide.

Furthermore, independent rankings have found that Michigan has one of the nation’s strongest performing charter school systems in the country. According to the National Alliance For Public Charter Schools, Michigan ranks 3rd in the country for the “healthy” level of its charter sector, a testament to DeVos’ work in the state.

These successes could have been more widespread but bureaucratic regulations prevented DeVos’ reform efforts from taking effect more broadly. The Detroit News noted as much in an editorial following DeVos’ selection:

“One of the criticisms of charter schools is that they too often don’t perform much better academically than the traditional public schools. But there’s a good reason for that. Policymakers have saddled charter schools with the same curriculum and testing requirements as the traditional public schools, and so they are forced to teach for the most part in the same way. Most schools in the public sector have not fully embraced technology or new methods of learning.”