Dick DeVos is unsung hero in U.S. education

Dick DeVos is known to many throughout the country as a political figure. The multi-millionaire business tycoon ran a self-financed campaign for the governorship of Michigan in 2006, which he lost only by the narrowest margins to the then-incumbent Jennifer Granholm. But despite the fact that many considered DeVos’ gubernatorial run to be a great success, proving that a complete political novice could take on one of the most powerful Democratic machines in the nation on its own turf, DeVos has never again set foot in the political arena.


In fact, Dick DeVos has only spent a very small part of his career engaged in political-related activities. People around his home state of Michigan are more familiar with DeVos for his many other pursuits. He is a noted philanthropist throughout the state of Michigan. This is particularly true in his hometown of Grand Rapids where DeVos is widely credited with helping to save the town from experiencing the same fate as its sister cities like Detroit and Flint throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.


But one of the areas in which DeVos has contributed the most yet received the sparsest praise has been in the realm of education. DeVos has been one of the most innovative figures in the world of education since the 1980s. Although he possessed no formal training in the field, the autodidactic DeVos helped to design curricula and create entirely new models of schooling that have proven to be enormously successful. In fact, some of DeVos’ charter schools provided early models on which a large number of charter schools today operate. And DeVos was working on developing these new paradigms at a time when charter schools were virtually unheard of. Today, there are nearly 7,000 such schools.


One example of DeVos’ enormous success in changing the way that kids are educated throughout the country is his West Michigan Aviation Academy. DeVos has been a lifelong pilot and general aviation enthusiast. He is type rated in an unusual breadth of aircraft, being fully licensed to fly everything from Sikorsky S-76 helicopters to Gulfstream 550 intercontinental-range business jets. DeVos realized that aviation could be a great way to get kids interested in learning about science, mathematics and engineering.


The West Michigan Aviation Academy uses this philosophy to help disadvantaged kids from around the West Michigan area achieve their dreams. The school has produced consistently high standardized test scores, showing that disadvantaged kids can perform at a high level with the right curricula.


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