Betsy DeVos Doesn’t Inspire Confidence in the Future of US Education

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. I concluded K-12 education in the United States was going to get worse.

(K = kindergarten; 12 = year 12.)

DeVos’s confirmation hearing occurred this week, and I’m now even more concerned about the situation in that country than before.

Full questioning of DeVos was prevented by the Republican committee chairman, Lamar Alexander. As the Washington Post points out, he set rules protecting DeVos from full scrutiny. For example, members had just one round of questions instead of the usual two. In addition, they only had five minutes to ask their questions; usually they have ten.

Still, the hearing lasted about 3½ hours, which is long for an education secretary. However, Democrats felt it wasn’t long enough because of DeVos’s lack of experience in the sector. Further, she has not yet completed the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) process so things like potential conflicts of interest were not able to be fully vetted. (DeVos has invested in charter schools in the past.) She has also refused to provide her tax returns, though this is something she is not legally required to do.

However, some of the Democrats most skillful questioners were on the job and they exposed DeVos as being unqualified for the role of Secretary for Education.

Tim Kaine

Kaine recalled a quote from DeVos on education where she said, “government really sucks,” and called public schools a “dead end.” He went on to confirm she had no personal experience that enabled her to make those statements with authority.

He repeated the following quote from DeVos’s husband, made when the couple were speaking together:

The Church has been displaced by the public school as the centre for activity, the centre of what goes on in a community.

He then got her on the record confirming she does not see the Church and education as competitive. When she did that I felt she was lying, or at least wanted to add a caveat to her answer. Her future actions will show whether she was being honest, or I am accurate in my assessment. One of the concerns about someone like DeVos as education secretary is her extreme religiosity. There is a lot of concern she will be unable to prevent herself favouring conservative (especially Protestant) Christianity.

In a tough exchange DeVos said she does not think charter or private schools should have to meet the same accountability standards as public schools. This is extremely concerning.

She also said it’s up to states to decide whether all K-12 schools that receive government funding should have to meet the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act. The law is a federal one, and therefore it is clearly not “up to the states.” In addition, it’s a human rights issue, which is not something any government official should be ignoring.

Kaine was clear that the country needs an education secretary that will champion the public school system and support children, parents, and teachers. He shows that the history and personal philosophy of DeVos mean she is not suited to the job.

Bernie Sanders

The focus of Sanders was free tuition in public colleges and universities. He wanted to know if she was willing to work with those championing this cause. It was clear that this is not a policy DeVos considers valid.


Sanders also suggested that the only reason DeVos was considered for this role was the amount she and her family had donated to the GOP over the years. He gave an estimate of US$200 million, to which DeVos replied, “That’s possible.”

The Washington Post considers she “was unpersuasive when she insisted that Trump might have chosen her for this post even if she was not a mega-donor to GOP causes.”


Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren focused mostly on whether DeVos had the ability or experience to manage the financial side of her job. Like the other Democratic committee members, she exposed that DeVos was under-prepared for the role.

Chris Murphy

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) asking about guns in schools:

(The tragic Sandy Hook school murders occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.)


DeVos’s response is important because Trump has vowed to ban gun-free zones in schools and she makes it clear she supports the president-elect.

However, DeVos’s response here is simply embarrassing, and once again exposes her unpreparedness for the role. Grizzlies? For goodness sake.

And it’s lovely that her heart bleeds. But frankly, I’m sick of gun rights advocates who seem to see school shootings as a consequence they can live with.

There have been several tweets based on the grizzly theme as a result of this part of the confirmation hearing. Most also accentuate the apparent incompetence of DeVos.

A couple of examples:

Still it means we get cool bear pics:


The Next Four Years in US Education

I don’t think most USians realize just how much their country’s education standards have fallen in recent years, especially in comparison with other countries. Making any country great is a long-term process which has many parts to it. A key component though is always education.

Their slavish dedication to free-market principles means Republicans think increasing choice is the answer to improving everything. Sometimes though too much choice, especially when profit is one of the motives, weakens things before they improve. Scarce resources are spread too thin and there’s no solid base.

A good education system may eventually rise from letting the market sort it out. However, it will take many years and in the meantime, there are millions of kids who haven’t been properly educated. Those kids are a drag on society for the rest of their lives.

Children’s education is too important to leave to market forces. There is quality research and experience available from throughout the world which shows what works and what doesn’t. The US is in a position to implement those changes for the good of both children and their country.

Betsy DeVos will be confirmed. There are not enough votes to stop her. I believe she is incapable of doing what is best for the children of her country when it comes to education.

Foundation 1

Washington Post

The Washington Post produced this short video titled ‘Six Head-Scratching Moments From Betsy DeVos’s Confirmation Hearing’.



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30 Responses to “Betsy DeVos Doesn’t Inspire Confidence in the Future of US Education”

  1. j.a.m. says:

    The federal department and secretary really have little influence on K-12, especially after the demise of NCLB and Common Core. The Republicans used to take the view that the department should be abolished. That would be worthwhile, but serious education reform will take total separation of school and state.

    Meanwhile DeVos will do fine running the asylum and reversing some of Obama’s more outrageous ideological diktat.

    • Separation of school and state means there’s no one making sure any standards are met. Your quality of education would get worse, especially for those who are poor or who are in less populated areas. Just like with healthcare, all Republicans seem to care about are the wealthy.

      A country does better when EVERYONE is looked after. A person who is healthy and educated contributes to society throughout their life. The investment made in them is paid back via less crime, less prisons, less police, happier people, less state-dependence long-term, a more versatile workforce, and dozens more ways.

      It is multiple times cheaper to educate someone than to keep them in prison. A survey many years ago in NZ discovered that a huge proportion of prisoners not only couldn’t read and write properly, but they had either hearing or vision problems that went undiagnosed in early childhood. Glasses or simple ear surgery would have made that person able to learn as a child. So vision and hearing checks for all children were added to the basics every child gets (such as vaccination).

      • j.a.m. says:

        It would be very hard to produce lower quality results than the status quo. In any event, what basis have you for the belief that politicians and bureaucrats do a better job of raising standards than families and private initiatives would do?

        With respect, the claim that reform is for the wealthy’s benefit doesn’t wash, since the wealthy already are provided for. The entire point of pro-choice reform is to afford everyone similar opportunities.

        • Other countries, including mine, handle education the way I describe. We are all getting better results than the US, which is being left in the dust.

          The key word in your pov is “afford”. Whether a child gets a good education should not be down to whether their parents can afford it. Most of us consider education, like healthcare a basic human right.

          Education is a fundamental to a well functioning society. You need good education before you can raise others standards. It’s not a “nice to have.”

          • j.a.m. says:

            As I said, the point is to afford everyone similar opportunities. The word “everyone” means everyone… i.e., irrespective of means.

            It’s great that there are tiny remote kingdoms doing well in education. In itself, however, that does not justify the belief that an anti-choice regime necessarily does a better job than a pro-choice regime — and still less that it would do so in the very different context of the USA. Moreover, we have very little school choice today, so if we’re being left in the dust, that can’t be the reason.

          • We are a parliamentary democracy and although the British queen is technically head of state, she has no power to make laws and we could vote to have her no longer our head of state any time. In fact, I bet a survey of NZers would show that a majority don’t even know that the Queen is legally our head of state.

            We have choice in education. We have charter schools, private schools, religious schools etc. But, like you, the majority of our students are in state schools. To improve the education of the majority, the focus must be on state schools. It’s basic logic. Mucking about around the edges with charter schools does not help the majority, especially as so many charter schools fail, taking funding away from state schools and making it harder for them. Your position, like that of DeVos is ideological, not practical.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Justice ought never be delayed just because some think it impractical.

          • What about justice for the majority who are already being ill-served? Justice for them is being delayed at the expense of providing a new option that has no guarantee of working.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Justice for the majority who are ill-served is precisely what we’re talking about. It is being delayed by special interests and the political hacks who kow-tow to them. Amazingly enough (and to his credit), even Obama acknowledged as much!

            And American voters overwhelmingly support school choice:


  2. Joseph Stans says:

    Which is why I moved to Canada. my first choice was New Zeland bu the giant crickets put me off. 😉

    • Are you talking about the weta? I’ve seen very few in my life, and most of them in the last eight years because of where I live. They’re not dangerous, and I prefer them to some insects by the colonizers that shall go unnamed. 😀

      At least we don’t have snakes! And unlike Ireland (the only other country without snakes) we don’t have a religious myth as to why either, which has to be a plus!

  3. Mark R. says:

    These hearings grossly show the inexperience and ignorance of so many of Trump’s cabinet members. Sanders is 100% correct to assume she only got the nod because of pay to play.

    What bothers me about these hearings is that all the cabinet members are simply lying and saying what they know their questioners want to hear. Once they take their positions and start taking actions (or not) that contradict what they said in the hearings, there will be no real consequence. There will be plenty of public outrage, but these people don’t care about that. Their ideology is all that matters. The only hope (which is really no hope) is that a few Republicans will be honest with themselves. We’ll soon see how many of them are liars; I suspect 100%.

    • I agree. I can see very few having the courage to stand up to Trump.

      The only one who looks like he might so far is Gen Mattis – he may be the last hope for NATO, the last hope for swapping it for an alliance with Russia, and the last hope for maintaining the no torture policy.

      Trump has said he has told no one what to say in the hearings, which is probably true. He doesn’t know enough to tell them what to say. However, it also makes it very easy to ignore everything they did say.

      • Ann German says:

        I theorize that General Mattis, for all his independence, was put on the team to neutralize his ability to stage a coup d’etat, which I truly suspected the military might do when faced with this mentally ill bozo as “commander in chief.” I’m still waiting for a number of shoes to drop. And this may be a “non-seq.” but WHAT IS WRONG WITH SNAKES??? I love snakes . . . and they do eat bugs, y’know! Ha.
        P.S. – I like the “USians” . . . haven’t seen that before.
        Greetings from Montana, where our snakes are lovely.

        • Last night I watched an Aussie murder mystery where the villain used an Asian pit viper to do the deed. Someone else got bitten by accident. That’s never going to happen here! 😀

          I use USian because America to me is north, south and central America, and north America includes Canada and that’s not fair on Canadians! 🙂

          Anyway, it didn’t feel right saying “American” and I decided everyone would know what I meant if I used USian, and it’s more precise. I think of it as being pronounced You-Ess-E-An.

  4. If public schools are so great, why do people in Philadelphia, where I live, who have the means either leave the city when they have kids, or send their kids to private schools? And the people who don’t have money are stuck with these school because of lack of options.

    • Because public schools aren’t being properly supported. Currently, 90% of students are in public schools. That’s millions of students. They need to be the focus of any education secretary. A few charter schools may fix things at the margins in some areas, but it will not get US education back up to being a world leader. Besides, the charter schools DeVos has been involved in have made education in her state worse, not better.

  5. I thought DeVos’s claim that it was a clerical error, that went on for at least 24 years, that she was a vice-president of her mother’s foundation was implausible. The foundation makes huge donations to anti-gay groups and groups that oppose anti-bullying campaigns. I didn’t mention it in my post because I thought she would not lie to the committee. It appears she did lie:

  6. Jenny Haniver says:

    Given what DeVos has in store, I’m going to keep my eyes on the Templeton Foundation, not simply because of their mingling of science and religion, but because the foundation has its regressive tentacles in all manner of social matters, and one must keep its broader aims in mind, which I find frightening when I consider them. Here’s an old post from WEIT noting that the TF gave a large grant to an anti-gay group TF encourages charter schools and mucking around in the curriculum of public schools in order to push their agenda — this beyond their accomodationist and outright “spiritual” goals.

    TF is also pushing “positive psychology” in public and private schools, and in the workplace, which, in my estimation, is a very dangerous endeavor, with roots in religion and spirituality, and breeds a bunch of mindless happy sheeple — a fine tool for societal control, control of the masses. If one goes to the TF website, one can find lists of grants by category. One category is ominously titled “Character and Virtue Development.” And you know where they want to start this moral/religious indoctrination — in the schools — as early as possible. At the bottom of the page, there’s a link to the grants they’ve given in this category Sure some seem benign, even beneficial, but when an organization or a person is so presumptuous as to decide it can define and shape the nation’s character and virtue, watch out. I know I’m not expressing myself very well (and also sometimes refer to TF in the singular and sometimes in the plural), but I am very wary of all this, and I think that DeVos and TF will be working hand-in-glove in Trumplestiltskin’s kleptocracy, just as the fundamentalist religionistas will be working with TF to Make America Religious Again. It’s all of a piece.

    • “Character and Virtue Development”? Sounds absolutely ghastly! I don’t trust Templeton either. Their version of scientific research is what’s going to appeal to people like DeVos and Trump, and with limited funds likely in future, they will dominate more.

  7. nicky says:

    How does one say? Wow, just wow. De Vos reaches levels of ignorance and duplicity that deserves a gold medal.
    If I ever had a job interview with a candidate like that (I have not -may I say thank god?) I would not just not employ her -even if that would mean a vacant post-, but I’d need a stiff drink to regain my composure (in fact, that is exactly what I’m doing now)
    She hasn’t a clue about education, but obviously has an ideologigcal agenda. I think that basic education (K12) is indeed one of those few areas where government should play a leading role.
    Betsy would be farcical if it weren’t so tragic. The US education will slide down further!and faster, and hence it’s ‘Greatness’

    And then those grizzlies! WTF is she talking about?
    (And if ever a wild animal runs amok -and we have a lot more wild animals here in S.A. than the US- one uses *darts*).
    Will get myself another glass of pinot noir.

    • Trevor Noah’s show contacted the school she mentioned re grizzlies. They don’t have a gun. Apparently they find a fence and bear spray do the trick! Who knew? 😀

      • nicky says:

        Do they actually have bears invading the school? Or just bears scavenging the trash cans? Somehow the latter appears more likely -and indeed no reason to shoot them, just relocating.

        • No idea, but I’d assume it’s like you say – just getting a bit too close for comfort sometimes.

          It’s another reason to worry about DeVos though. Her first instinct in solving the problem was to kill.

  8. j.a.m. says:

    Tell us again what the Obama regime accomplished with our money? Seven billion dollars, five thousand grants, zero results. Heckuva job, Barry!

    • I don’t think it “says it all” but I agree it’s a disgrace. She should be allowed to do her job without being threatened.

      Much as I think she shouldn’t have the job, I agree this way of protesting is completely wrong.

      I’ve continued to post anti-DeVos cartoons online, especially on Twitter. However, I unreservedly condemn the physical stuff.

      She shouldn’t be blocked from going to schools as happened earlier either.

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