Thursday, September 28, 2006

The DeVos Homeschool Forum

I attended a forum featuring Betsy DeVos, wife of Michigan gubanatorial candidate Dick DeVos in Grand Rapids last night. Betsy DeVos was personable and seemed "real" considering her prominence in the state. Her willingness to meet with homeschoolers during the campaign demonstrates their desire to understand our issues and concerns. In her remarks, she affirmed Dick DeVos's commitment to retain a parent's right to direct their children's education and specifically the choice to homeschool. In a relaxed conversational style, she also told us a little about her family (she homeschooled two of her four children for a few years) and the campaign. She then took a variety of questions from the audience of about 20 homeschooling parents.

The topics ranged from nucelar power plants to the demise of Detroit. I had three main questions. No surprise to regular readers, they were: credentialing, national standards and testing, and NCLB. From her answers, she seemed unaware of how the ACT and Work Keys had been integrated into the Michgan high school exam or the impact of this change on all Michigan students. She also didn't answer whether Dick DeVos supported NCLB and possible future federal mandates. She deflected by saying there needs to be a "cost/benefit analysis" done first. She also seemed unaware of the push for national standards and testing from other prominent Republicans. These reforms affect all Michigan students, including her son who is currently enrolled in a private Christian high school.

Her lack of knowledge would be understandable and even excusable for most candidates' wives. However, Betsy DeVos said that education was a key area of concern for her. Their family's interest in education is strong and spans nearly two decades. Dick DeVos served briefly on the Michigan State School Board in the early 1990's. The DeVoses also spearheaded a failed state voucher initiative in 2000. She is also the leader of All Children Matter, a political action committee devoted to school choice. Clint Bolick, President of Alliance For School Choice called the DeVoses. "giants in the education-reform movement." Perhaps naively, I hoped for more detailed answers from one so involved in education reform.

But I must also give the DeVoses credit and praise for their philanthropic efforts. Betsy's heart and dedication to helping low income students was obvious. She truly does want every child to get a good education and achieve their full potential. The DeVos's aren't all talk either. They put dollars behind their words and give generously to help many disadvantaged families.

While I was disappointed with the lack of clear answers, Betsy DeVos seemed willing to listen and learn. She was composed and professional, but also very approachable. Despite watching her son play golf in the cool fall rain earlier in the day and a busy campaign schedule, she stayed afterward, chatted, and even took a few photos. Thankfully, they're on my mom's camera so I have an excuse for not publishing them here. I looked much too short and frumpy next to the very tall and photogenic Betsy DeVos.

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