Betsy DeVos’ lack of experience puts schools at risk

Credit: Anna Boyle/ Credit: Anna Boyle/

Of all of Donald Trump’s controversial Cabinet picks, Betsy DeVos, his choice for Secretary of Education, has received a considerable — and much warranted — amount of criticism. DeVos is not an educator, nor does she have experience managing money or even applying for student loans — what she has done is substantial lobbying, mostly on behalf of charter schools. Apart from that targeted interaction with education, she has virtually no qualifications and gives us no reason to expect she will be able to manage the position competently.

Among the few who have reacted positively to DeVos are pro-school-choice groups, simply because of her stance on charter schools — they look forward to having plenty of options when the time comes to choose a school for their children. If her efforts anywhere near resemble what she has already done in Michigan, however, they will sacrifice quality in exchange.

Thanks to DeVos’ efforts, charter schools abound in Detroit — but their test scores continue to rank among the lowest in the state even as their superintendents make as much as $130,000 a year and operators are allowed to expand overseas. According to The New York Times, it is not unheard of for only 10 percent of high school seniors from these schools to score “college ready” on reading tests.

Another downside to DeVos’ championed system is the fact that, when less-than-satisfactory charter schools increase in number and students enrolled, public schools get less funding by the very nature of the relationship between the two. Public schools pay to send children in their districts to charter schools,while still providing transportation themselves. Some charter schools don’t provide free or reduced lunches to children in need. And charter schools, unlike public schools, can refuse students they don’t feel should be a part of their student body.

“The president’s decision to ask Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education should offend every single American man, woman, and child who has benefitted from the public education system in this country,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “Public education has lifted millions out of poverty, has put millions in good paying jobs, and has been the launching pad for people who went on to cure disease and to create inventions that have changed our society for the better.”

Schumer plans to vote against DeVos at the confirmation hearing.

Another glimpse of DeVos’ inexperience came during her Senate hearing,when she was unable to distinguish between “proficiency” and “growth.” While some schools, which measure proficiency, evaluate their students based on a single benchmark that everyone is expected to reach, others measure growth, or how much children improve their own individual performance. This is an important distinction for the Secretary of Education to understand and develop a position on, as the debate determines which schools could be closed for poor performance..

Of course, DeVos also suggested that guns might be needed in schools to fend off grizzly bears, so perhaps this lack of understanding is simply the tip of the iceberg.
Especially concerning for us at Carnegie Mellon is the fact that, if confirmed, DeVos would be in charge of running a $1 trillion student loan bank, despite having no experience managing anywhere near that amount of money. She has no concrete plans to ensure tax money does not contribute to fraud and abuse, beyond delegating it to others in her department. She further refused to commit to enforcing the rules already in place to oversee colleges receiving federal funds without further review.

In addition, she’s never even had to apply for financial aid for herself or her children, so we can’t expect her to have any understanding of or empathy for the process.

DeVos has also said some worrying statements regarding sexual assault on campus. She refused to commit to upholding the 2011 Title IX, an anti-discrimination law which prohibits sexual assault as a form of sexual harassment on campus. This has left many concerned over the attitude the Department of Education would take regarding sexual assault under DeVos.

Furthermore, though DeVos has since attempted to change her stance, she did waver on whether she would enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Act during the hearing. At one point, she said she felt it should be up to the states to decide — despite being a federal law to ensure that all students’ rights are protected, and that parents have a say in their disabled children’s education.

DeVos was also questioned over donations her family has made to the Republican Party amounting to around $200 million, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked her if she was chosen purely for this reason. And though she has resigned from a dozen foundations, including All Children Matter and Great Lakes Education Foundation, and plans to divest from 102 companies within 90 days of being confirmed, she would remain a co-trustee of three family trusts that could keep her tied to educational organizations like for-profit colleges.

The way DeVos’ hearing was run was equally as concerning as her conception of the realities of schooling in America. During the hearing,each senator had only five minutes to question DeVos, and they were not permitted a second round of questioning, despite precedents in which they had been granted more time .

Senator Lemar Alexander (R-TN) did say that Senators could question DeVos in their offices at another time, but the public could not watch these meetings the way they were able to see the hearing.

Furthermore, DeVos’ completed ethics review was not made available until after the hearing, making it impossible for senators to address content they found within the document publicly.

In an even more worrying move, the White House has yet to reconnect the phone lines, so callers concerned about DeVos are not being heard. A voice mail recommends that callers instead turn to Facebook or email to voice their opinion, but studies have shown that calling is far more effective. While people can still call senators’ and representatives’ offices directly, there’s something about being cut off from the White House itself that somehow suggests a lack of a voice in the matter.

In the end, though a second hearing has not been granted, the vote on DeVos’ hearing was postponed until Jan. 31 to give lawmakers time to question her financial disclosures and positions individually. For the sake of students everywhere, we can only hope that some will change their minds based on what they hear and what their constituents say.