Forget Jim Crow, Betsy DeVos says historically Black colleges formed due to 'school choice'


Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos lauded historically black colleges and universities as "pioneers" of "school choice," completely missing the point of why Black students needed separate higher learning institutions in the first place.

Donald Trump is expected to sign a new executive order setting a funding goal for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This comes after a "listening session" he held in the Oval Office with the presidents of HBCUs around the country.

Yet his recently appointed and highly controversial Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, issued a statement that somehow managed to embarrass the administration on what ought to have been an inclusive White House initiative:

HBCUs have been real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater equality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.

DeVos seems to have no understanding of the fact that HBCUs were the only choice for Black students for much of American history. Jim Crow laws across the South severely limited which colleges and universities Black students could attend, and the few who were accepted to white schools were greeted by deadly riots.

DeVos's claim that school segregation was good for "choice" may be an accidentally revealing attitude. Studies suggest that her favored education reform of school vouchers have no beneficial effect on student outcomes, but increase school segregation around the country. Indeed, "school choice" has long been used as a dog whistle in white communities as a justification to remove white children from majority-Black schools.

As the day wore on, DeVos doubled down on her bizarre claim in a series of tweets:

In other words, she is continuing to push the historically inaccurate idea that school segregation was an "alternative option," without a clear explanation of what it was an alternative to.

It was already apparent that DeVos is unqualified to lead the Department of Education, from her failure to understand student growth vs student proficiency, to her ignorance that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal mandate, to her noncommittal attitude towards fighting sexual assault on college campuses.

But her latest statement shows DeVos is not just unqualified — she has no grasp of a basic civil rights conflict that took up the better part of the twentieth century. The foremost official in charge of teaching our children about our nation's history has apparently no understanding of the consequences of Jim Crow segregation on our education system. And that does not bode well for the future of that system, or the students it purports to serve.