Indianapolis’ reputation as a hub of school choice was briefly in the spotlight during a “60 Minutes” segment Sunday evening — only to be wildly overshadowed by controversial comments by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
But the interview has made headlines and attracted criticism on Twitter instead for DeVos’s other comments, including her curious admission that she did not visit struggling schools and her refusal to acknowledge that students of color might face harsher discipline because of institutional racism.
Cold Spring went through a dramatic change in 2016, when it “was allowed to get rid of the local teachers’ union and create an innovative curriculum,” “60 Minutes” reporter Lesley Stahl highlighted.
The changes at Cold Spring — which included a longer school day and increased focus on science and engineering — are the result of a new model that is transforming the city’s largest district. As an innovation school, Cold Spring is still under the umbrella of Indianapolis Public Schools, but it’s run by a non-profit that employs most teachers and has near complete control over daily operations. Cold Spring admits students by lottery rather than serving the neighborhood.
DeVos is defined by her support of school choice policies such as vouchers for private schools, charter schools, and enrollment across district boundaries. On “60 Minutes,” she argued that those policies are empowering low-income families.
Betsy DeVos: Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don’t have the power, that can’t decide: “I’m gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child” if they don’t have that choice – and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don’t have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.
Stahl pushed back by pointing out that when students attend choice schools, neighborhood schools lose money. But DeVos asserted that studies show that neighborhood schools improve when they face more competition. (Research does suggest that public schools show small improvements in test scores when they have competition from voucher programs.)
Cold Spring was also the location for one of the most awkward moments of the segment, when Stahl asked DeVos if it hurt to be “the most hated Cabinet secretary.”
“Sometimes it does. Sometimes it does,” DeVos responded. “Again, I think … I’m more misunderstood than anything.”