Column: Betsy DeVos knows very little about department she will preside over


Mia Sinha, Opinions Editor

She was never a teacher, nor in anyway affiliated with the public school system. She was just the opposite, calling the public school system a “dead end.” Betsy DeVos and her family have donated millions if not hundreds of millions to school-choice education lawmakers and advocacy organizations swaying Michigan legislation to benefit charter schools, despite their relative failings. Yet, she is President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education.

According to the US Department of Education, its mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation. And although DeVos has shown much commitment to a certain type of education, there is no evidence to suggest she will put equal access to education at the hight of her priorities as Secretary of Education.

After DeVos’ confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, Senate Democrats called for a second hearing in order to further analyze her readiness for the job and potential conflicts of interest as they felt the limited 3.5 hours of five minute questioning was not enough to fully explore these issues. The call was denied.

DeVos strongly favors school-choice education, a concept that encourages alternatives to the locationally restrictive public schools. In theory this is meant to create more options for students living in low-income school districts to receive a better education through charter schools and school-choice approved schools with better resources.The low achieving Detroit Michigan charter schools who have seen ample cases of fraud is an example of how DeVos’ vision for school choice doesn’t work in practice unless participating schools are held equally accountable to federally funded schools. In Detroit, these participating schools, like the hundreds of charter schools, don’t have to live up to any standards except their own as laws do not hold them equally accountable to national education standards, which in turn lead to a minuscule difference in level of achievement between students attending public schools versus these school-choice charter schools.

She seems to have her heart in the right place by pushing for more educational opportunities for low-income students. However, this alone in no way proves her preparedness to hold office as Secretary of Education.

DeVos’ lack of understanding of fundamental components of the public education system became clear during her hearing. She made many blunders like proposing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an act made to ensure students with disabilities receive an education tailored to their needs,  be up to the states to decide whether to follow, despite IDEA being a federal civil rights law. It’s not the fact she did not know it was a federal law, but that she did not automatically support mandatory compliance for all schools in the first place. She went on to also say school gun policies should be left up to the state as there might be need for a school gun in case of attacks by “potential grizzlies.”

During her hearing, Devos could not promise she wouldn’t try to privatize public schools which she had been pushing for as chair of the American Federation for Children, nor could she agree that holding all schools receiving federal funds should be held equally accountable. DeVos also seemed to have little general understanding of the educational debate over how student’s proficiency and growth should be measured. However, she did promise there to cut ties with over one hundred of the educational organizations she directly owns and funds in order to avoid potential conflict of interest.

Many of President Trump’s cabinet picks seem to support the opposite of what the department they will preside over stands for like climate change denier Scott Pruitt positioned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Other candidates simply lack any previous relations to that issue like neurosurgeon Ben Carson positioned as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Betsy DeVos will add to this list of unqualified  and potentially destructive cabinet members.