Editorial: Biden’s Win Means Betsy DeVos’ Departure, and Teachers Everywhere Are Celebrating

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. 

Bye Betsy – meaning of the new teachers meme due to Devos leaving from Secretary post! Scamadvisor [2020-11-07]

Teachers React to Donald Trump & Betsy DeVos on Education and Schools |
Joe Biden [2020-10-25]

Betsy DeVos: Dismantling Civil Rights Policy in Education Since 2017

As U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has a civil rights record that is either despicable or stellar, depending on whom you ask. Like other members of Trump’s cabinet, one of Betsy DeVos’ chief goals appears to be to systematically reverse Obama-era legislation, as well as other established civil rights policies.

Here are just four out of many of Betsy DeVos’ notable acts regarding civil rights in American schools:

    • At the beginning of her tenure as Education Secretary, DeVos recommended hefty spending cuts to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The proposed reductions included cutting approximately 40 jobs, part of a $3.8 million reduction. (Congress, even though it is controlled by DeVos’ party, voted against DeVos’ recommendations and instead increased funding for the agency.)
    • Not long after Betsy DeVos was at the helm, the Office for Civil Rights drafted a memo to agency investigators that proved to be the beginning of a trend in the agency’s loosening approach to civil rights enforcement. The memo told investigators that instead of looking at “systemic bias” when investigating a claim of racial discrimination, they were to make swift (and likely insufficiently researched) judgments on individual cases.
    • The Office for Civil Rights has opted to place less consideration on Obama-era thinking that schools should be held accountable when educational or disciplinary outcomes vary by race. The agency may repeal a directive aimed at school districts to study whether African American students receive more harsh discipline than other students do. The agency also put a two-year delay on a policy that would ensure that students of color are not channeled disproportionately into special education programs. (Why this avoidance, nay, prevention, of fact-finding?)
    • DeVos seeks to diminish federal authority over schools, placing more oversight in the hands of state and local governments. As with the healthcare policies proposed by Congress that hid behind “states’ rights,” this could almost certainly mean disaster for both education in general, and for civil rights. (Would schools in states where the Confederate flag is largely supported make fair and ethical decisions about racial discrimination against their students?)

“We are law enforcement officials, not advocates or social-justice people,” said Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus.

We should all let that sink in. Betsy DeVos’ appointee to help run the civil rights agency of the Department of Education – the office that oversees civil rights violations and was designed to enforce justice in such cases – has said “We are not advocates or social-justice people.”

The Check In: Betsy DeVos’ Rollback of Civil Rights | Late Night with Seth Myers [2018-07-24]

Black congresswoman visibly annoyed as Betsy DeVos struggles to answer basic civil rights questions | The Daily News [2018-05-22]