Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: Fail

Betsy DeVos has managed to become a household name – not because of her popularity or her innovative policy as Education Secretary (“unbelievable” might be a better word than “innovative”) – but because of her unpopularity. Betsy DeVos is the most hated Cabinet secretary.

“There is no one in America more unpopular than Betsy DeVos,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). “To have somebody who scorns public education, who never went to a public school, her children never went to a public school… to be in charge of public education is an outrage.”

When Betsy DeVos was asked why she thinks she is so unpopular, she said, “…I think there are a lot of really powerful forces allied against change,” continuing that she was “more misunderstood than anything.”

Though Betsy DeVos is responsible for enforcing federal education laws and administering federal education funds, she has no background or credentials as an educator or policymaker. DeVos does, however, have a history of using her phenomenal wealth to influence education policy. Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Education Secretary was so controversial that her confirmation required a tie-breaking vote from Mike Pence, after every Senate Democrat and two Senate Republicans voted against her.

In several recent televised interviews, Betsy DeVos did little to reassure skeptics, one year later, as to her knowledge or qualifications for doing her job. Blundering through the interviews, DeVos was unable to answer many of the basic questions that an Education Secretary really should know how to answer. Perhaps most damning is the condition of the public schools in DeVos’ home state (Michigan), and her apparent lack of knowledge about the topic.

In addition to her general dearth of qualifications and experience, here are some more specific reasons for Betsy DeVos’ unpopularity.

DeVos on Civil Rights Protections

Early in her career in the Trump Administration, Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education, along with the Department of Justice, overturned guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. Insisting that court rulings and other documentation should enforce Title IX for all students, DeVos and the Department of Education deny that transgender students are left without protections, although transgender advocates disagree.

The Department of Education, on DeVos’ watch, also rolled back guidelines that outlined the rights of students with disabilities as part of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act). Claiming that the guidelines were rolled back because they were outdated, the Department of Education held that students would not be impacted, although, again, advocates for those with disabilities don’t agree.

DeVos on Campus Sexual Assault

In September 2017, Betsy DeVos reversed 2011 guidelines for universities on how to handle complaints of sexual assault on campus. The Obama-era guidelines were to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for resolving sexual assault complaints instead of the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which placed a higher burden of proof on the victim.

In an interview with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl, DeVos said that she didn’t know whether actual sexual assaults on school campuses outnumbered false accusations. DeVos’ apparent efforts to de-emphasize assault survivors in favor of falsely accused perpetrators is an alarming step backward, bringing to mind the “blame the victim” philosophy, where one might ask the accuser, “What were you wearing at the time?”

DeVos on School Choice

Betsy DeVos is a vocal proponent of school choice, and of “allowing public dollars to be used for students and families to choose the school option that’s best for them.” DeVos proposed a budget that would include 1 billion dollars for public school choice and public funding for charter schools, claiming that expanding school choice and using public funds for the (unregulated) expansion of charter schools would improve the quality of public schools.

We only have to look at the schools in Michigan, Betsy DeVos’ home state, to discover how this plan has worked (or not). Michigan schools currently rank 36th in the U.S. News Education Rankings, and most Michigan charter schools have consistently yielded mathematics and reading scores well below the state average.

DeVos on for-Profit College regulations

In June 2017, Betsy DeVos stopped protections put in place by the Obama Administration that would have allowed debt forgiveness to students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges. The measure, which would have gone into effect in 2018, would also have cut off funds to those institutions that failed to prepare students for gainful employment while at the same time providing students with education loans. Currently, lawsuits against DeVos by attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia are in process, urging that the Obama-era regulations be enforced.

DeVos on Arming Teachers

To address the issue of school shootings, Donald Trump has put Betsy DeVos in charge of a new Federal Commission on School Safety, which will “study the matter.” DeVos says that providing teachers with guns to protect their classrooms is “best decided at the local level. But for those who are capable, it’s an option that should be considered.”

Running the Asylum

In Betsy DeVos, the United States has an Education Secretary – the person who is responsible for setting our public school standards and managing public school funds – who has never been a teacher, who knows nothing about curriculum management, and who has never attended a public school, nor have her children. DeVos claims that her unpopularity stems from the “forces” that are allied against change. If by change, Betsy DeVos means decimating our schools, along with the well-being, finances, and civil rights of those inside them, then, yes, it’s accurate to say that forces are against change.

Betsy DeVos’s Stumbling ’60 Minutes’ interview, Annotated | 
Washington Post [2018-03-12]

Betsy DeVos Pushes Back against Criticism over “60 Minutes” Interview | 
CBS Evening News [2018-03-12]

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