The nomination of the Secretary of Education should be fairly straightforward, provided the nominee possesses adequate experience in public education and a thoughtful plan to improve public schools in the United States. Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed Tuesday as the Secretary of Education, not only lacks these qualities but also poses a significant threat to the future of the public school system in the United States.
From a professional standpoint, DeVos is completely unqualified to make any executive decisions on education, much less to serve as the top educator in the United States. It is almost laughable to think that the Education Secretary has never been in a classroom aside from her time as a student. She has never been a teacher or an administrator, nor has she even served on a public board of education or a charter school board. She has never helped construct or author educational studies which attempt to assess teaching methods or improve schools. Neither DeVos nor her husband or children ever attended public school – and yet somehow, she is now serving as the lead educator for the thousands of public schools across America.
DeVos’ missing qualifications were on full display during her Senate confirmation hearing. DeVos avoided many complex topics, including how best to assess students, why Common Core has fallen short, and the standards to which public, private and charter schools should be held. DeVos also admitted to having no experience with higher education financial aid, which is a primary responsibility of the Department of Education.
So what exactly has DeVos done to earn this nomination? Primarily, she has been a charter school and voucher activist. DeVos cofounded a personal foundation and served as chairwoman of a not-for-profit called The American Federation for Children, both of which serve as advocates for school choice.
DeVos also helped design Detroit’s charter school system, for which a Stanford study showed no significant improvement over the existing public schools. The National Center for Education graded Detroit’s test results among the worst in all categories for all grades in the entire nation.
Today, the Senate confirmed a passionate ideologue who knows absolutely nothing about existing educational policies and laws, teaching or running a public school district to lead the agency responsible for improving America’s education system.
Of course, it does not hurt that DeVos is extremely wealthy and has donated large sums of money to the Republican Party, including $1 million to twenty Republican Senators who voted to confirm her nomination.
What is most concerning is that DeVos’ ideology will lead to policies that harm the primary public education school system in the United States. Americans should worry that she will focus solely on expanding charter schools and direct funding away from public schools that desperately need assistance. Even worse, students who attend public school— either by choice or with no other option—will be at a significant disadvantage in terms of primary, secondary and post-secondary educational opportunities, such as college admission.
There is no way to prevent public schools from being viewed as inferior to charter or private schools, and introducing a voucher program will only serve as an albatross for public school students. Inherently, colleges and employers will regard private schools as “superior” due to their additional resources, forcing public school students to need to prove their abilities are on par. Besides, strengthening our public school system is the best way to attack systematic problems like income inequality and crime in low-income areas.
Hopefully, Betsy DeVos will be a responsible leader who acknowledges her shortcomings, defers to those who have spent a lifetime in education and pushes to improve all schools, not just new charter schools. But, from her past, it’s hard to see DeVos as anything more than an ill-informed ideologue.