Betsy DeVos is nothing if not controversial.
Traditionalists oppose her staunch support of school choice; reformers are skeptical of her inability to defend it. For once, thought leaders from each side of these sparring factions agree on something — Betsy DeVos is fundamentally unqualified to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
During her confirmation hearing, DeVos botched a softball question on measuring proficiency versus growth. She implied that states could decide whether or not to uphold laws protecting the rights of disabled students. And when she was questioned about the role of government interference in schools, DeVos couldn’t give a straight answer.
And all of this happened before she was even confirmed.
Since then, DeVos has gone on to publicly consider using federal education grants to supply teachers with guns. Last October, she made headlines when she rescinded 72 policy documents detailing the rights of students with disabilities. To put it simply, she’s been a disaster for public education.
Between reversing Obama-era guidelines on investigating campus sexual assault and shoving civil rights protections to the bottom of the to-do list, it’s not yet apparent which of DeVos’ decisions comes at a greater cost to students.
Her profound lack of knowledge of basic educational issues was on its fullest display in her 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl. In that appearance, DeVos confessed that she had not visited a single “failing school” during her tenure as the nation’s top education chief.
Later in the same interview, DeVos made another misstep by arguing that charter schools could serve as exemplars and help improve the performance of schools in low-performing districts. Charter schools have had proven successes in raising student achievement, but giving tips to traditional public schools? That’s something that even the fiercest of reformers acknowledge isn’t going to happen. If traditional districts wanted to take a page from charter schools, they would have done so already.
The fact that they haven’t should not seem surprising. Generally speaking, traditional public school leaders are not big fans of charters. With DeVos at the helm, that’s not changing anytime soon. Education reform has become a 4-letter word, and for far too many people, Betsy DeVos’ name has become attached to it. Even reformers themselves, who typically support school choice, are skeptical of this administration’s ability to make meaningful improvements for our public schools.
Her inability to clearly communicate and defend the need for these basic reforms isn’t just embarrassing, it’s damaging. This isn’t a test we can afford to fail.