DeVos Gets an “F”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifying that commission on guns in schools will not study guns in schools.

“Will your commission look at the role of firearms as it relates to gun violence in our schools?” — Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

“That is not part of the commission’s charge, per se.” — Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education.

“I see. So, you’re studying gun violence but not considering the role of guns.” — Senator Leahy. Exchange took place Tuesday, June 5, 2018, before Senate subcommittee. 

Secretary DeVos has had her share of bad press, much of it self-inflicted due to her penchant for foot-in-mouth remarks, her ignorance of policy, and her ideological predisposition to favor private over public eduction. The Education Department, in  a statement released after the above exchange, doubled down on DeVos’ absurd statement. “It’s  important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress’ job,” the statement read. There is only one problem with this view: It is not correct. President Donald Trump’s charge to the commission — created after the massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018 — addresses the issue of firearms, including whether to recommend age restrictions on the purchase of certain types of guns.

The back-and-forth with Senator Leahy was not DeVos’ first silly comment on guns. At her confirmation hearing, DeVos was asked whether firearms should be banned in schools. Referring to an earlier remark by Senator Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming, who mentioned a Wyoming elementary school that had erected a fence to protect children from wildlife, DeVos said, “I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Secretary DeVos on “60 Minutes”

DeVos does not have to be discussing guns in schools to sound foolish. Consider this exchange in March from her cringe-inducing interview with CBS anchor Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes: 

Stahl: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?

DeVos: I have not – I have not – I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

Stahl: Maybe you should.

DeVos: Maybe I should. Yes.

DeVos‘ responses to Stahl’s questions made her look foolish indeed, but the answers also reveal a sad fact: The secretary of education does not believe in public education. As secretary, DeVos has eviscerated the Department of Education. During her tenure, the department had reduced staff by eight percent as of last November, with more buyouts planned. A number of top positions still have not been filled, partly because of DeVos’ wish to shrink the department’s size and partly because even conservative academics are reluctant to work for the Trump administration. Offices have been consolidated and bureaus within the agency eliminated. Shrinking the size of the department is part of DeVos’ goal of decreasing the federal government’s role in education, including enforcement of civil rights legislation pertaining to schools.

DeVos has a history of undermining public education. The billionaire philanthropist and former Republican Party chair in Michigan headed the pro-school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children, a leading organization in the movement to advance private education in the United States. In Michigan, DeVos worked to get the state legislature to pass laws requiring the use of public money — vouchers —  to pay for private school tuition. She also led the fight in Michigan to create charter schools — publicly funded but operated independently of the established school system. Most of the charter schools record student tests scores in reading and mathematics below the average for public schools in the state. 

DeVos is not an educator. She is not an expert in curriculum or teaching methods. She has no relevant credentials or experience in education. What she has is money, and plenty of it. DeVos has not been bashful in using her abundant wealth as a lobbyist to influence educational “reform.” For nearly two decades, the lobby she bankrolls has funded the billion-dollar charter school industry — which is often insulated from oversight — even as the evidence mounts that the schools often fail to deliver on their educational promises. DeVos’ role in Michigan schools is not a story about education; rather, it is a business story.

The Regent Park Scholars charter school in Detroit.

As businesses, charter schools often have been successes. As educational institutions, the record is much less impressive. As an activist and lobbyist, Devos played an outsized role in the spread of charter schools in Detroit, where public schools have been failing students for decades. In 2012, the state decided — after decades of financial mismanagement and plummeting student test scores — to “charterize” the entire district. The result: A school district where parents of school-age children have lots of choices for schools. Unfortunately, many areas in the inner city no longer have schools nearby and the quality of the available schools in the city, by all available indices, has not improved. Students at the charter schools do no better — often worse — than those in the state’s public schools, and the state has forfeited all control over the education of students. As the Detroit Free Press notes, because of DeVos’ influence, anyone can open a charter school — if they have the money — and “Michigan tolerates more low-performing charter schools than just about any other state.” DeVos wants to do for the United States what her advocacy accomplished in Michigan — privatize education. 

As we see in the Michigan example, privatized schools often fail the students they are supposed to help. In addition, private education runs counter to the ethos of American democracy. Public schools are arguably the most democratic institutions in American society. They are locally run by locally elected school boards. Public schooling in America has trained generations in the requirements and duties of citizenship — under the aegis of local officials — and public schools have socialized millions of immigrants and children of immigrants. The role of public schools in our country should not be underestimated. Americans must object vociferously to Betsy DeVos’ attempts to undermine the proud history of American public education. 

Betsy DeVos is flunking as secretary of education.

Posted June 12, 2018

 

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