Dick DeVos is widely known for his involvement in Republican politics. This is largely the result of two main factors. The first is DeVos’ own run for the governorship of Michigan. In 2006, self-financing nearly his entire campaign, DeVos ran for governor against the strongly popular incumbent, Jennifer Granholm. Although he lost, the closeness of the race and the fact that a traditionally Democratic state was willing to give so much of the vote to a largely independent candidate was testament to DeVos’ skill and work ethic.
However, DeVos never really revisited politics after his brief flirtation with it. Still, DeVos is associated in the public mind with the Republican Party, first and foremost. The second reason for this is the fact that DeVos’ wife, Betsy DeVos, is currently the U.S. Secretary of Education and has long been a major figure within the Michigan Republican Party. While this may be good or bad, depending on who you ask, the truth is that Betsy DeVos’ political activities have almost nothing to do with her husband. In fact, if you want to know where it is that Dick DeVos’ real passions lie, it is, instead, in the world of business, philanthropy and education.
Although his wife is widely known for her work in education, it is Dick DeVos himself who has the real accomplishments under his belt in the realm of education reform. DeVos is an autodidactic education reformer, having no formal training but having developed a number of revolutionary models for the education of inner-city youth that have proliferated across the nation due to their high rates of success.
DeVos first started working on education reform back in the late 1980s. It was during that time that he became interested in solving some of the dire problems that public education in places like Detroit and Flint were facing. DeVos saw that these cities had lost virtually their entire productive class. What was left was a population that did not value education and, indeed, often engaged in behavior that was positively antithetical to the educational advancement of young people.
DeVos knew that the bottom strata of the inner-city public school student body were effectively hopeless. While such frank statements are not nice, they reflect an enduring reality that must be understood for any real progress to be made. At the same time, he also understood that the top 20 percent of the students in these failing schools had real potential, which was often completely squandered due to the toxic learning environment into which these kids were being placed. Many of these educational milieus were so awful that they were fully capable of turning even the best and brightest inner-city kids into hardened criminals.
Developing a new model that would separate the truly talented from the rabble, DeVos was able to demonstrate conclusively that students coming from even the most disadvantaged neighborhoods were capable of competing at a top academic level, routinely scoring among the top high schools in the state.
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