We already knew that Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, would be a problem for America’s schoolchildren. She has used her vast wealth to drive for privatization of K-12 education and has fought efforts to hold private operators accountable for the quality of their publicly funded educational services in her home state of Michigan, despite their inferior track record. Now, after her extraordinary display of sheer ignorance of basic educational policy matters in her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday evening, we know the problem is even worse than we thought.
Example: DeVos, in answer to senators’ questions, made it clear that she did not know the first thing about federal civil-rights law affecting students with disabilities, blithely and incorrectly assuming that states could freely deviate from federal requirements for the education of these children. She also revealed a lack of understanding of basic educational terminology when asked whether standardized tests should be used as a proficiency measure or a growth measure. Her testimony on these and other points showed a disturbing pattern of ignorance, evasion, and ideological rigidity instead of evidence-based reasoning. Her chief qualification for the Cabinet post as the nation’s leading educational policy-maker apparently is her status as a massive donor to the political campaigns of candidates who pledge their allegiance to vouchers and other forms of educational privatization.
Her nomination highlights a stark dividing line in the current public debate over the future of education. This is really a tale of two movements. One is an effort to undermine and privatize public education. Donald Trump nominated the most unqualified, inexperienced, anti-public-education person he could find to lead the Department of Education. Betsy DeVos’ record makes clear that she is not interested in strengthening the public schools that 90 percent of America’s children attend.
Arrayed against DeVos and her ilk is a movement of educators, parents, students, and neighbors standing up to make sure every child has access to a great neighborhood public school. A school that is safe and welcoming and focused on the well-being of kids is what we owe our children, and we must stand united against any effort to undermine public education.