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]

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]