Of all the Trump Cabinet members who will lose their jobs when Donald Trump leaves the White House, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is one whose departure is eagerly anticipated, and already celebrated, by those for whom she is supposed to be an advocate. When Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, American educators everywhere cheered and drank toasts, because it also meant that Betsy DeVos’ tenure (some have called it “a reign of terror”) will come to an end.
DeVos, continually ranked the most unpopular Cabinet secretary of the Trump administration, (and scoring the moniker, “Cruella DeVos”), has never been a teacher, and has no work experience in a classroom or in a school, public or private, yet she was appointed to run the agency that governs schools in the U.S. Many Republicans saw DeVos’ job inexperience as an asset, because they believed it would prevent her from being influenced by teachers’ unions. But DeVos’ lack of experience has brought with it a dearth of understanding of American education systems, as well as a profound lack of empathy for educators and students alike.
“By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities,” said said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, upon DeVos’ nomination.
During her confirmation hearing, DeVos demonstrated the depth of her lack of knowledge of education policy in her struggle to answer even basic questions. She has consistently shown a profound lack of comprehension and a disregard for federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities, and other marginalized students.
Billionaire Betsy Devos has not been a friend of the public schools. Her agenda as Secretary of Education has included expanding school choice, including private school choice; increasing privatization and deregulation of charter schools; and promoting the use of taxpayer dollars to fund private and in particular, Christian schools. Her vision has also included education reform, which, carried out by expanding school choice and school vouchers, would, in her words, “advance God’s Kingdom.”
In an interview on 60 Minutes, DeVos admitted that she intentionally hadn’t visited any low-performing public schools in her home state of Michigan, although she’s spent millions of dollars in Michigan in her attempts to expand school choice.
DeVos maintains that “public schools have ‘displaced’ the Church as the center of communities,” and her goal has been to “reverse that troubling trend.”
Betsy Devos’ goals might be admirable if she were Secretary of Education in a theocracy. She might be considered successful if she ran such an agency in an alternative universe where a leader was not expected to know what she was doing, where there were no special needs students or poor students, and where everyone shared the goal of “advancing the kingdom.” But Betsy Devos leads an agency in a country where the agency’s leader is expected to understand and care more about concepts such as “competency,” “growth,” and “student and teacher advocacy” than about “deregulation” and “advancing God’s kingdom.”
It’s not just K-12 teachers who have been rejoicing at the imminent departure of Betsy Devos as Education Secretary. The entire educational system she oversees— the higher education community, as well as K-12 principals, school administrators, and parents, along with national teachers unions and their local affiliates all heaved sighs of relief when the presidential election was called for Joe Biden in November.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s tweet, “Bye Betsy,” was retweeted over and over on Twitter following Joe BIden’s win.
Under DeVos’ oversight, the U.S. Department of Education has been the subject of a record number of lawsuits. DeVos gained a reputation for frequent contention between herself and career employees of her agency, and for sparring with the agency’s union. Like her boss, Donald Trump, she takes no responsibility for what hasn’t gotten done on her watch, but instead blames the bureaucrats at her agency.
DeVos has been the target of much criticism from educators— even former education secretaries—for failing to advocate for and do enough to improve education for most students. She has also been widely criticized for failing to provide concrete guidance to schools for how to operate during the coronavirus pandemic, simply insisting that they needed to be open.
Betsy Devos considers one of her great accomplishments as Education Secretary to be her changes to Title IX rules that govern sexual assault and misconduct in schools and colleges. DeVos’ overhaul Title IX expands the rights of the accused in a sexual assault or misconduct case by giving the accused the right to a live hearing with multiple panel members, as well as the right to cross examine accusers. It also narrows the definition of sexual harassment.
Other achievements that Betsy Devos will be remembered for include rolling back or revising numerous Obama-era regulations, including those that protect transgender students. And who could forget her revocation of regulations aimed at protecting and discharging the debt of students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges? Or her revocation of Obama-era guidance meant to stop the “school-to-prison pipeline” by reducing the number of school suspensions and expulsions, especially for students of color, whose rate of receiving disciplinary actions is disproportionately high?
No one with a stake in the American education community, and no one who cares about the civil rights of their fellow humans, will forget Betsy Devos’ legacy. They are hopeful and optimistic, however, that, with Joe Biden as president, and Dr. Jill Biden, herself an educator, as First Lady, the voices of the education community—and not just those of the private school community or the “Kingdom of God,” will be heard, honored, and respected again. Joe Biden’s nominee for Education Secretary will be welcomed, but Betsy Devos’ departure will be just as welcome.
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