betsy-devos

President-elect Donald Trump announced today that school choice advocate Betsy DeVos will be his Secretary of Education. DeVos will have to be confirmed by a Republican majority Senate.

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a released statement. “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families. I am pleased to nominate Betsy as Secretary of the Department of Education.”

“I am honored to accept this responsibility to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again,” DeVos said. “The status quo in education is not acceptable. Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”

DeVos is a native of Michigan and has spent the better part of two decades advocating for school choice there, as well as, nationally. She is the chairman of the American Federation for Children which is a national school choice advocacy group. She is also a member of the board for the Foundation of Excellence in Education and the Great Lakes Education Project both of which are supportive of Common Core, but also school choice.

DeVos has served as the National Republican Committeewoman for Michigan and was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times. Her husband, entrepreneur and philanthropist Dick DeVos, ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign against former Governor Jennifer Granholm (D-Michigan).

DeVos chairs the Windquest Group and has also served on national and local charitable and civic boards, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, American Enterprise Institute, The Philanthropy Roundtable, Kids Hope USA, and Mars Hill Bible Church.

She is a graduate of Holland Christian High School in Holland, MI and received her bachelor’s degree from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. DeVos and her husband Dick have four children and five grandchildren.

What about Common Core? 

Throughout the presidential campaign Donald Trump has said that he is against Common Core and that he would get rid of it. Those of us who oppose Common Core are concerned that she sits on the board of not one, but two organizations that avidly advocate for Common Core.

DeVos this afternoon asserts that she is against Common Core. She tweeted this:

Her statement was part of a Q&A, and I’m not certain when it was written.

Certainly. I am not a supporter—period.

I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control. When Governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense. 

Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core? Of course. But that’s not my position. Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework.

However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.

Above all, I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.

Up until this Q&A was put up she had made no public statement about Common Core, and this one is rather vague. So like former Governor Mike Huckabee she’s saying she supported the American Diploma Project. She’s saying she doesn’t mind voluntary standards provided they are not “turned into a federalized boondoggle.”

Does she disagree that Common Core is “higher standards” or does she just oppose them because of the federal influence due to Race to the Top? She wants accountability, but is that at the state level or the federal level?

Those opposed to Common Core are concerned by the company she has kept.

She helped fund an effort influence the Republican primaries in her home state of Michigan and provided financial support to an organization, Great Lakes Education Project, that was part of an effort to defeat Michigan’s Common Core repeal bill.

Former Michigan State Representative Tom McMillin told Caffeinated Thoughts, “she and GLEP were one of the main leaders defending Common Core when I was fighting it in the legislature. In 2013 I know she was strongly supportive of Common Core and high stakes testing.”

“Gates won again.” Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a staunch opponent of Common Core, told Caffeinated Thoughts.

“Parents and teachers have been seemingly double-crossed by the DeVos appointment.  One huge issue is to what extent DeVos lied on her website that she was against Common Core when parents in Michigan see her as someone who has acted against parents’ interests and has served the forces of Common Core well,” Stotsky added.

Some activists are concerned, but are taking a “wait and see” approach.

“Nominating a person who has such ties to the pro-Common Core movement (even though she now disclaims support) is worrisome, to say the least. Parent activists had suggested multiple highly qualified people who would have been devoted to shutting down fed ed and returning all control to the states and localities. Their suggestions were apparently ignored. They had reason to hope for better from the Trump administration. We’ll have to see how willing Mrs. DeVos is to help Mr. Trump keep his campaign commitments,” Jane Robbins, senior fellow at American Principles Project, told Caffeinated Thoughts.

Some activists are cautiously hopeful that she will represent a change in the U.S. Department of Education.

“She says she wants high standards, but indicates that she thinks they should be local, or at least ‘driven by local voices.’ Assuming that means she will brook no federal influence over state standards–and I’m not sure her statement is entirely clear on that–that’s good news,” Neal McClusky, director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, told Caffeinated Thoughts.

What DeVos will do to actually untangle federal involvement with standards and accountability is unclear. I hope along with McClusky that this means she will walk back federal involvement and influence over state standards. Perhaps some of my earlier questions will be fleshed out in the confirmation process.

It should be noted again that DeVos’ involvement with the organizations in question could be due to their school choice platform, not Common Core. While she has not been a vocal opponent of Common Core, she has not been a vocal advocate for it either.

A champion of school choice.

DeVos deserves credit for her support for a parent’s right to choose what education is best for their student and this is appears to be a priority in the Trump administration.

Her support of school choice has earned her accolades among many Republicans such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also points to her selection as signaling Trump’s support for school choice.

One of Michigan’s Congressman applauded the nomination citing school choice. “Betsy DeVos has been at the forefront of the effort to ensure every child in America has access to a quality education no matter their zip code,” said Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) who represents Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District. “Betsy will be a tremendous advocate, who parents can count on, to disrupt business as usual in Washington. For too long, the educational status quo has failed too many children. Betsy has the knowledge and skill set to improve education by cutting through the bureaucratic red tape, restoring local control, and empowering parents to have a greater say in their children’s education.”

Her own Representative, Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) who represents Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District praised Trump’s choice.

“Congratulations to Betsy DeVos on her nomination as secretary of education. She is a friend, a resident of Michigan’s Third District, and a longtime community leader. I can think of few people as prepared to meet the challenges ahead,” Amash said in a released statement.

“Betsy is intelligent, creative, experienced, and passionate about reforming education. I look forward to working with her to empower parents and local communities, advance school choice and competition, protect the right of homeschooling, and stop federal mandates and harmful initiatives like Race to the Top and Common Core,” Amash added.

Caffeinated Thoughts has also been told that DeVos is incredibly popular in the Michigan Christian School community, and nationally as well for her support of those schools and advocacy for school choice.

McClusky, a school choice supporter, was uncertain how much can be done at the federal level.

“On the spectrum of education policy people, her support for choice puts her well on the correct side. But I have concerns, especially that President-elect Trump, or she herself, will see Ms. Devos as not just the education department head, but the national education boss,” McClusky said.

He’s concerned about strings that could be attached to federal money for school choice.

“Even though choice is great, it is not something people should want Washington providing. Nor—outside of the DC voucher program, military families, and maybe Native American reservations—is it something that the feds can constitutionally provide. My fear is that DeVos and Trump might not recognize the myriad problems with taking private school choice national. More concerning, the American Federation for Children, which DeVos chairs, has tended to favor more rules and regulations on choice than I would prefer. That could become a much bigger concern were rules and regs attached to national-level vouchers,”  McClusky added.

I also appreciate her support of homeschooling and she provides quite a contrast with current Secretary of Education John King. In an interview with the Philanthropy Roundtable she said, “Homeschooling represents another perfectly valid educational option. To the extent that homeschooling puts parents back in charge of their kids’ education, more power to them. . . . We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.”

King on the other hand said he was concerned about homeschooling kids were not “getting the range of options that are good for all kids,” “not getting kind of the rapid instructional experience they would get in school.” King also said, however,  he’s aware of homeschooling families “doing it incredibly well” and he knew of homeschooled students in college who had “very tremendous academic success.” He also acknowledged a parent’s choice, “Obviously, it’s up to families if they want to take a homeschool approach.”

She won’t push radical liberal agendas. 

DeVos is respected among the Christian school community in Michigan. I’m impressed with her involvement with KidsHope USA which is a Christian-based mentoring program based out of in Michigan doing great work in local schools throughout the nation.

Because of the praise I’ve seen from social conservatives I don’t see her pushing a radical LGBT agenda from the U.S. Department of Education.

National Right to Life released a statement earlier recognizing her support of the right-to-life cause. I suspect under her leadership the U.S. Department of Education will not push comprehensive sex education.

Keeping a focus on education instead of a social agenda will be a radical improvement from the outgoing administration.

She is not beholden to teachers’ unions.

Teachers unions don’t love her so, in my mind, that is a positive.

“Every day, educators use their voice to advocate for every student to reach his or her full potential. We believe that the chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school, or living in the right ZIP code. We have, and will continue, to fight for all students to have a great public school in their community and the opportunity to succeed no matter their backgrounds or circumstances,”  NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a released statement.

“Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most-vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education. By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities,” García added.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, hates DeVos.

The president-elect, in his selection of Betsy DeVos, has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.

In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.

DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools. The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation.

As if AFT doesn’t promote reckless and extreme ideology.  She is also an outsider and frankly I don’t see that as a bad thing.

Conclusion

While Betsy DeVos wouldn’t be my first (or second or third or fourth) choice Trump could have picked someone far worse (like Michelle Rhee). I don’t believe it is likely that her nomination will be blocked unless Senate Democrats hold together in opposition and are joined by some Republicans.

I do hope she will work to increase real local control. I hope she does not exercise influence over state standards and tests. I hope that in this spirit she will approve state plans required by the Every Student Succeeds Act instead of micromanaging states like we have seen under the Obama administration. I hope that under the Trump administration we see federal funds sent to states in the form of block grants in order to give them the most control.

Trump has hinted at closing the U.S. Department of Education. I suspect that will be an empty promise, but if she can help lead an effort to reduce the federal role in education that will be praise worthy.

I will give Mrs. DeVos a chance, just like the one I’m giving President-elect Trump, to lead and see what she will do.

3 comments
  1. Nice review of DeVos. I had been reading about her and not real happy that Trump had chosen her over other more anti common core people. I truly hope she ends up being a good advocate for parents and their children

  2. The real issue is getting kids to care enough to meet and exceed the standards that state authorities come up with. That’s called curriculum and faculty execution to get the kids to buy in. Obsessing on which standards are the best ones is largely a waste of time. By all means have standards. But engaging kids so they can’t wait to get to school each day is a far more promising path.

    1. I agree…. the teacher in the classroom is the biggest factor in getting students engaged and in their ultimate results. DeVos drives a high technology dependent model of education which cuts the teacher out to a large degree. Many students are not motivated to perform at their best in a computer based delivery system.

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