New Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently characterized America’s historically black colleges and universities as pioneers in the school choice crusade that she leads. That our highest federal government official could be so misinformed about the origins of those institutions speaks for itself about her lack of qualifications for her Cabinet post.
Nearly all of America’s historically black colleges and universities were established as segregated institutions by predominantly white state and federal legislatures. They were invariably underfunded, as compared with their white counterparts, so that their students often received undergraduate and graduate and professional educations below the quality of white students,
This is not to say that historically black colleges and universities were failures. Far from it. They triumphed over adversity, and still do.
But the K-12 charter schools that DeVos advocates—and generously donates to—are commonly for wealthier parents, neighborhoods, and communities. Numerous non-partisan studies that nevertheless question the overall success of these charter schools do not phase her or her like-minded critics of public schools. Some go so far as to argue that charter schools are favored by God.
Back to DeVos’ historical ignorance. After the southern states that had formed the Confederacy were allowed back into the Union following the end of Reconstruction and the start of segregationist Jim Crow Laws, state governments were given a choice about what kind of federally funded land-grant colleges to establish: either desegregated schools like their counterparts in Maine and other northern, midwestern, and western states or entirely separate higher education systems. Every southern state chose the latter. But then every southern state legislature and governorship by then was back in the hands of whites.
Contrary to Secretary of Education DeVos, the southern African American educators, students, and parents did not have any choice.