Teaching the Secretary of Education
Luke Helms, Foreign Policy Contributor
On Tuesday, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, faced a tough Senate confirmation hearing. DeVos is a well-known education activist that has advocated for school choice and school vouchers. She has very deep political ties, having previously served as Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan and chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. With a familial net worth of around $5.1 billion, it is understandable that many are concerned with the strings that this appointment could have. Taking a closer look into the implications of this hearing will leave many Democrats and Republicans uneasy.
Highlights from the three-hour hearing include:
- During her opening, DeVos said, “The answer is local control and listening to parents, students, and teachers.”
- When asked by Senator Patty Murray of Washington whether or not DeVos would promise to not privatize public schools or cut any funding from public education, DeVos merely avoided the question.
- Oddly enough, the topic of grizzly bears and guns came up. When asked by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, “Do you think that guns have any place in or around schools?”, DeVos, after a remark about state choice, replied, “Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.” Regardless of political stance, most will admit that this is a rather strange stance to ground yourself in for 2nd Amendment rights in schools.
- Many believe that the biggest mistake that DeVos made during the hearing was when she did not seem to understand what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is or how the law is written. When asked by Tim Kaine whether or not K-12 schools that receive taxpayer funding should be required to meet the requirements of the act, DeVos said that it should be a decision made by each individual state. However, IDEA is a federal law. It cannot be left up to states to make a judgment on a law that is federal.
One point that should trouble both Democrats and Republicans is that DeVos did not know the difference between proficiency and growth. Proficiency is the amount of students that meet a score determined to be proficient and growth is a student’s individual progress. Although the average person may not be able to distinguish these two terms, this is a critical concept that teachers must understand. If the Secretary of Education cannot tell the two apart, then why would anyone else be expected to?
A DNC email was sent out after the hearing which refers to DeVos as an “extreme right-wing billionaire” that is “dangerously and embarrassingly unqualified to lead the Department of Education.” Although it would mostly read as a furthering of the anti-Trump stance that the Democratic Party has taken, the email might have a fair point. Should someone who has never served as a teacher and been immersed in the education system be appointed to lead it? Conservatives and liberals alike should keep a close eye on what is going on with Betsy DeVos and the education system.