your cheat sheet

Your Daily DeVos: With final vote looming, Democrats hold the floor

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has exerted plenty of influence as a billionaire philanthropist, Michigan political figure, and school-choice advocate.

But she’s usually done so out of the spotlight. Now, as U.S. senators consider whether to confirm her as secretary, she’s coming under sharp scrutiny from lawmakers, policy wonks, journalists, and the general public.

That can make for an overwhelming crush of new information, and we’re here to help you keep up.

We’ll be highlighting the most important developments in the unspooling DeVos story until a final confirmation vote. Nominate the stories that help you by emailing us or tweeting with #dailyDeVos.

Here’s what caught our eye today:

Monday, Feb. 6

1. DeVos’s final confirmation vote is set for noon on Tuesday — and it’s still looking like Vice President Mike Pence will have to cast a historic tie-breaking vote.

2. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow offered some intrigue late Monday, telling CNN that there might be another Republican preparing to vote no.

3. California Sen. Kamala Harris cited Chalkbeat’s reporting on DeVos’s influence on charter schools in Detroit while explaining her opposition. Watch it here.

4. Democrats plan to hold the Senate floor all night as they speak out against DeVos, in what’s been described as a vigil, an all-nighter, a talkathon, and a protest.

Sunday, Feb. 5

1. Further evidence that DeVos has gotten unusual attention for an education secretary nominee: She was pilloried on Saturday Night Live (at 5:45 in the video below).

2. DeVos’s confirmation could come on Monday, and Vice President Mike Pence said he expects to cast the decisive vote. But critics kept up pressure over the weekend, with in-person protests, a New York Times editorial calling for another Republican to oppose her, and even a statement from an organization of rabbis.

3. Unusually, an independent group is running television ads to support DeVos — and paint her critics as out-of-touch liberals who are “full of rage and hate.” Plus, someone is paying people to lobby online in favor of her nomination.

Thursday, Feb. 2

1. DeVos got the votes she needed in the Senate’s education committee on Tuesday, but her nomination is now in danger after two Republican senators said they would cast their final votes against her. Vice President Mike Pence may end up casting the deciding vote.

2. Her confirmation also gained one notable opponent — another billionaire school choice advocate, Democrat Eli Broad, who urged senators to vote against her.

3. If DeVos isn’t confirmed, she’ll be the first Cabinet picked derailed by the party of the president in nearly 100 years.

4. A looming complication: If the Senate confirms its own member, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to become attorney general, before the DeVos vote, Sessions wouldn’t be able to cast a vote the Republicans need.

5. Inspired by DeVos’s own giving, a Pennsylvania teacher launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy Sen. Pat Toomey’s confirmation vote. (Toomey has said he’s definitely voting for DeVos, who gave his campaign nearly $58,000.)

6. DeVos cited graduation rates for online charter schools that are significantly higher than their official rates in a defense of those schools in response to Sen. Patty Murray.

Monday, Jan. 30

1. The Senate education committee is set to vote on DeVos’s confirmation tomorrow — and she’s likely to get the votes she needs. Here’s why.

2. Twenty years ago, DeVos quietly supported a transgender woman’s request to use the women’s restroom at a call center.

3. Does DeVos support teaching intelligent design? Comments she made at her confirmation hearing have left some observers concerned.

4. Some liberal Christians say DeVos isn’t right for the job because of a perceived lack of concern for students with disabilities.

Friday, Jan. 27

1. Democrats are going to vote as a bloc against DeVos, according to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. (That still won’t be enough to keep her from being confirmed.) And several senators are asking for more information about donations made to her political organizations.

2. DeVos’s influence has stretched far beyond Michigan: the Orlando Sentinel says her extended family has spent $2 million in Florida politics and that she helped get that state’s voucher program off the ground.

3. Special education advocates are playing an unusually large role in DeVos’s confirmation fight.

4. Should it matter that DeVos’s school-choice advocacy group never paid a $5.3 million fine levied against it in Ohio? Some of Cleveland’s editorial writers think so.

Thursday, Jan. 26

1. DeVos is expected to be confirmed. But some Senators have received tens of thousands of emails, letters, and phone calls opposing her nomination.

2. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she’s supporting Ben Carson’s nomination to lead the federal housing department in order to be able to “turn up the heat” on DeVos.

3. After stumbling over a question about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act during her confirmation hearing, DeVos tried to reassure a lawmaker this week that she understood the law and was committed to enforcing it.

4. DeVos’s empire includes investments in Whole Foods, energy bars made of crickets, and lumber manufacturers. There’s also a Gary Busey connection.

5. From the National Review: The U.S. education system is too unwieldy to respond to anything but one big, bold idea like school choice, DeVos’s focus.

Wednesday, Jan. 25

1. A lot of Senators have issued statements about why they will or won’t support DeVos’s confirmation. Here’s a vote tracker so you can keep up.

2. DeVos’s family spokesman says she supports gay marriage. She faced sharp questioning during her confirmation hearing about her family’s support of groups that have promoted “conversion therapy.”

3. A recent report showing that the Obama administration’s school-improvement grants didn’t work might help DeVos advance her own very different agenda.

4. DeVos’s lack of personal experience with public education actually makes her an outlier among Trump’s cabinet picks.

Tuesday, Jan. 24

1. DeVos will have a chance to make around 150 political appointments to the education department, Ed Week reports. Many might not have worked in education.

2. Sen. Lamar Alexander defended school vouchers as not being “subversive or new” in a speech (and Medium post) urging his colleagues to confirm DeVos.

3. A Carnegie Mellon professor wonders whether DeVos’s backing of Neurocore, which hasn’t published evidence about the efficacy of its treatments for ADHD and other conditions, spells trouble for education research.

Monday, Jan. 23

1. DeVos isn’t getting the second confirmation hearing that Democrats wanted. Her vote was delayed, though, to give senators time to parse a very lengthy ethics agreement. Look for a vote on Jan. 31.

2. She isn’t selling her interest in Neurocore, a company that claims to help people deal with issues like attention deficit disorder with “biofeedback technology.”

3. DeVos’s remarks on grizzly bears and guns in schools led to snickers, protest signs, and plenty of outrage among gun-control advocates. But officials in Wyoming don’t think the idea is ridiculous at all.

Catching up: Chalkbeat’s DeVos coverage up to now

• Where it all started: What you should know about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary pick — and what her choice might tell us about his plans.

• The first thing DeVos did after being nominated: clarify that she really doesn’t like the Common Core standards.

• DeVos’ appointment would end decades of a bipartisan education policy consensus. Here’s what the moment feels like from inside the reform movement.

• We had a lot of questions before DeVos’s confirmation hearing. She didn’t answer all of them — but she did seek to appear mainstream, her bear fears notwithstanding.

• Many Detroit school supporters blame DeVos for policies that have led to the dire state of their schools. They’re onto something — but the truth is a little more complicated.

• Remember: The biggest upcoming decisions about schools won’t come from the Trump administration, and they won’t be made by DeVos. They’ll happen in state legislatures.

• Learn about Indiana’s voucher program, which mirrors what DeVos has pushed for (and increasingly serves middle-class families). She’s influenced Tennessee’s program, too.

• DeVos got invited to Colorado, so lawmakers there could show her another vision of school choice.

study up

Trump education nominee pleads ignorance about high-profile voucher studies showing negative results

At his confirmation hearing, Mick Zais, the nominee to be second-in-command at the Department of Education, said that he was not aware of high-profile studies showing that school vouchers can hurt student achievement.

It was a remarkable acknowledgement by Zais, who said he supports vouchers and would report to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose signature issue has been expanding publicly funded private school choice programs.

The issue was raised by Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who asked whether Zais, who was previously the South Carolina schools chief, was “aware of the research on the impact of vouchers on student achievement.”

He replied: “To the best of my knowledge, whenever we give parents an opportunity to choose a school that’s a good fit for their child the result is improved outcomes.”

Franken responded, “No, that’s not true. The academic outcomes for students who used vouchers to attend private school are actually quite abysmal.”

Franken proceeded to mention recent studies from Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, DC that showed declines in test scores after students move to private schools with a voucher.

Zais responded: “Senator, I was unaware of those studies that you cited.”

Franken then asked if Zais’s initial response expressing confidence in school choice was anecdotal, and Zais said that it was.

What’s surprising about Zais’s response is that these studies were not just published in dusty academic journals, but received substantial media attention, including in the New York Times and Washington Post (and Chalkbeat). They’ve also sparked significant debate, including among voucher supporters, who have argued against judging voucher programs based on short-term test scores.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the research confusion was a bipartisan affair at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing.

Although Franken, who referred to a New York Times article on voucher research in his question, was broadly accurate in his description of the recent studies, he said that a DC voucher study showed “significantly lower math and reading scores”; in fact, the results were only statistically significant in math, not reading.

Franken also did not mention evidence that the initial negative effects abated in later years in Indiana and for some students in Louisiana, or discuss recent research linking Florida’s voucher-style tax credit program to higher student graduation rates.

In a separate exchange, Washington Sen. Patty Murray grilled Jim Blew — the administration’s nominee for assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development — on the performance of Michigan’s charter schools. Murray said that DeVos was “one of the architects of Detroit’s charter school system,” describing the results as “disastrous for children.”

Blew disputed this: “The characterization of the charter school sector in Detroit as being a disaster seems unfair. The most reliable studies are saying, indeed, the charter school students outperform the district students.”

Murray responded: “Actually, Michigan’s achievement rates have plummeted for all kids. In addition, charter schools in Michigan are performing worse than traditional public schools.”

(Murray may be referring to an Education Trust analysis showing that Michigan ranking on NAEP exams have fallen relative to other states. The study can’t show why, or whether school choice policies are the culprit, as some have claimed.)

Blew answered: “The most reliable studies do show that the charter school students in Detroit outperform their peers in the district schools.”

Murray: “I would like to see that because that’s not the data that we have.”

Blew: “I will be happy to get if for you; it’s done by the Stanford CREDO operation.”

Murray: “I’m not aware of that organization.”

CREDO, a Stanford-based research institution, has conducted among the most widely publicized — and sometimes disputed — studies of charter schools. The group’s research on Detroit does show that the city’s charter students were outperforming similar students in district schools, though the city’s students are among the lowest-performing in the country on national tests.

Coming to Tennessee

Betsy DeVos to address Jeb Bush’s education summit in Nashville

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
Betsy DeVos is scheduled this month to make her first visit to Tennessee as U.S. secretary of education.

When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush convenes his foundation’s annual education summit in Nashville this month, he will welcome the person he championed to be the nation’s education chief: Betsy DeVos.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education announced this week that DeVos will address its summit on Nov. 30 after Bush opens the gathering of education leaders from across the nation.

The speech will mark DeVos’s first official visit to Tennessee since the Michigan billionaire became President Trump’s secretary of education in February.

It also will reunite two old friends. Bush and DeVos worked closely together to advance school-choice initiatives in Florida, and Politico reported this month that it was Bush who recommended DeVos for the cabinet job to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who led Trump’s White House transition team.

The upcoming addresses by DeVos and Bush are expected to offer a one-two punch on the merits of school choice, even as one of the movement’s primary vehicles — charter schools — have dropped substantially in popularity, according to a recent Education Next poll among both Democrats and Republicans.

The group’s 10th annual summit also will convene in a state that has consistently rejected vouchers as an alternative for students attending low-performing public schools.  Even as money has increasingly flowed into Tennessee to promote vouchers and voucher candidates, including cash from DeVos’s American Federation for Children, the proposal to provide students with state-funded tuition to attend private schools failed again this year to clear the state’s House of Representatives. (The Senate has passed the legislation three times. Lawmakers will take up the matter again in January.)

In announcing DeVos’s address on Thursday, the foundation trumpeted her as a longtime “advocate for children and a voice for parents.”

“As secretary, DeVos continues to advocate for returning control of education to states and localities, giving parents greater power to choose the educational settings that are best for their children, and ensuring that higher education puts students on the path to successful careers,” the announcement says.

DeVos will face a friendly audience of mostly like-minded reformers at the Nashville summit, but the reception she will receive outside is less certain; the city last year voted mostly for Democrat Hillary Clinton, even as the state gave Trump a solid win.

DeVos has been greeted by jeers and protests across America during her recently completed “Rethink School” tour. In Tennessee, anti-DeVos educators and parents congregated outside of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s home offices on the eve of her confirmation vote by the Senate panel he chairs. Both of Tennessee’s senators also were deluged with phone calls before they ultimately cast their votes for Trump’s pick.

Bush launched his foundation in 2009 to promote the education model he led in Florida as governor: expanding private and charter school choice initiatives, holding back third-graders who failed reading tests, and awarding letter grades to schools based largely on test score performance.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

Last year’s “ExcelinEd” summit in Washington, D.C., convened more than a thousand educators, policy experts and legislators from 47 states. Speakers included former education chiefs Arne Duncan, William Bennett and Rod Paige and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as the foundation’s interim leader during Bush’s failed 2016 quest for the White House.

This year’s event likely will include a focus on expanding the role of education technology in schools. Both DeVos and Bush have embraced tech-infused personalized learning and fully virtual schools. Online charter schools, though, have faced a wave of negative research and press, including a recent Chalkbeat investigation into a struggling school in Indiana. One of several sponsors of the summit is K12, the largest operator of virtual charters.

(Disclosure: The Summit’s list of sponsors also includes several supporters of Chalkbeat. You can find our list of major donors here.)