Dick DeVos is a public figure and widely known throughout much of the United States. Although he is primarily a businessman and philanthropist, most people associate his name with Republican politics. This is partially deserved as DeVos was the 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate for the state of Michigan. In that race, he only narrowly lost to the then-incumbent governor, Jennifer Granholm. DeVos is also publicly known as the husband of the current Education Secretary under the Trump Administration, Betsy DeVos. All told, his association with Republican politics has been indelibly etched into the public mind.
However, the real Dick DeVos is hardly a career politician. To the contrary, he has spent the vast majority of his career in business, building dozens of highly successful companies and serving on the boards of many more. DeVos has also been a grassroots community activist from the free-market side of things, helping to save his hometown of Grand Rapids by fomenting huge amounts of economic growth at a time when that city was on the brink of falling into economic despair.
But there is one area where few people known of DeVos’ hefty contributions. And it also happens to be in this area where his efforts may ultimately prove to have made the most difference.
DeVos has long been interested in education, particularly, how to help the nation’s struggling inner-city kids who have been forced, by accidents of birth, into educational institutions that more closely resemble prisons than schools. One of DeVos’ first efforts was the Detroit New Urban Learning School, a charter that he personally helped to design from the ground up.
DeVos took a couple of simple principles that should have been obvious to the public education system and he applied them to great success with the New Urban Learning School. For example, the school simply doesn’t tolerate criminal activity or serious disruption. Students who engage in highly disruptive behavior are expelled. But that has hardly ever been a problem at the school because it tends to attract students who are there to learn and who have education-oriented families.
Another aspect of the schools that DeVos has created is that they don’t design curricula around the lowest common denominators. Students are put in classes that are appropriate to their talent levels. The results have been astounding. Taking its students entirely from some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country, the New Urban Learning School has consistently posted top-end standardized test scores, a feat that many in public education deemed to be impossible.
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