School Choice Vs. No Choice: The Flaws with Betsy Devos’ Thoughts on HBCUs

By Shawnta Barnes, educator and mom from Indianapolis. To see more of her work, click here. 

Just last week, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in an attempt to show why she is an advocate of school choice, released a statement about historically black colleges and universities after a listening session with them.  Part of her statement said,

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are 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 quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

Apparently, DeVos was absent during part of history – Jim Crow and segregation.  HBCUs did not start because African Americans did not have equal access to education, they were created because African Americans had no access to pursuing a post-secondary education.  The ones who tried to integrate white colleges and universities found their lives in danger.  Is it too much to ask for our US Education Secretary to understand the US history behind the education for all people our education system serves?  

Backlash to DeVos’ statement came swiftly.

After receiving backlash to her statement, DeVos shared the following on Twitter, “Providing an alternative option to students denied the right to attend a quality school is the legacy of #HBCUs.”  For many, the statement does not erase another instance of DeVos showing she lacks the knowledge and information on key issues to serve as US Education Secretary.

If you don’t understand what our community has been through how can you offer us the best schools; how will you know what choices to offer us?  The African American community has proven, and HCBUs are just one of the many ways, that we will rise to the occasion and take care of ourselves.  If we wait around for the options DeVos will provide, our children will end up with the amount of education displayed in DeVos’ press release.