Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, had her confirmation hearing before the Senate HELP Committee on Tuesday evening.

So what did we learn?

Not a whole heck of a lot.

Here’s a video of the entire preceding if you feel so inclined. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it.

For over three hours we heard Democrats whine about not getting a second round of questions. That was probably the most heated aspect of the entire hearing. I agree with U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that DeVos should not be treated differently than President Barack Obama’s nominees. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Obama’s first Secretary of Education, had a fairly short hearing, but since there was a Democrat majority in the Senate that wasn’t unusual.

Alexander carried that precedent out during Dr. John B. King’s confirmation hearing which established a poor precedent. Yes Senators got to ask questions in private and have written questions submitted.

We don’t get to witness that. So while I agree her confirmation hearing shouldn’t have been handled differently than King’s for consistency sake, I believe that any nominee, regardless of party, should have a in-depth vetting process.

That said the type of questions Democrats were asking when they only had five minutes was ridiculous. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) pushed free stuff, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) approached his time as a prosecuting attorney which, for the purposes of a confirmation hearing, is absolutely worthless. U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked a fairly intelligent question about assessments asking her opinion about whether or not it was more important to note whether students are proficient or if they are growing. He noted standardized assessments generally are not helpful for teachers because the results are not known until the next school year. He then wrongly asserted that computer adaptive tests were better.

Most of the concern with DeVos’ confirmation, from the Democrat point of view, was about her investments (she committed to divest herself of any investment that would present a conflict of interest), donations she had made, or her advocacy for school choice.

I suggested eleven questions that should be asked. Only one was asked. The question “should the federal government mandate school choice programs?” Alexander and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) asked a variant of that. She basically said each state should determine that.

One thing that heartened me during the hearing is that she said “that should be up to the state.” That gives me a little hope.

I’m also not opposed to school choice, but I think we need to be very cautious about how it is implemented and I think what can constitutionally be done at the federal level is extremely limited. Kaine asked DeVos if she believed there should be “equal accountability” given to private schools receiving taxpayer funds.

She wouldn’t agree. I’m thinking, “can you define that please?”

Basically when I think of “equal accountability” I think of strings being attached to money going to private schools which have lead many private schools to adopt Common Core and use Common Core-aligned assessments.

I would have asked what kind of accountability do you foresee private schools that receive federal funding having? Would you attach strings to that money?

No thank you, forcing a private school to use the same standards, curriculum or Common Core-aligned assessments it defeats the purpose of school choice. Granted there are other benefits, but that is a huge problem.

There was only one mention of Common Core and that was from U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) who asked her if she opposed them in a rapid fire, yes/no format that consisted of leading questions and no follow-up.

I would have asked (beyond my one school choice question that was asked).

  • Is it the role of the U.S. Department of Education to mandate states to have “higher standards” even if they don’t dictate what those are?
  • What constitutes “higher standards”? If the Feds were not involved with Common Core would you have seen those as “higher standards”?
  • Since each state had to adopt Common Core what does “putting an end to the federalized Common Core” look like?
  • Should the Federal government mandate assessments?
  • What is your view of the Every Student Succeeds Act? Did that legislation go far enough to return local control?
  • How will you shrink the U.S. Department of Education? Do you believe the Department should eventually close?
  • Do you plan to rescind many of the “Dear Colleague” letters sent during the Obama administration?
  • What is the purpose of education?
  • What do you plan to do to protect student data privacy? How will you strengthen FERPA?

Unfortunately those are not the types of questions we had. Instead Democrat Senators tried to demonize her, her money and her charity and advocacy and Republican senators were cheerleaders for the most part.

Senate confirmations are less about helping Senators actually come to a decision and helping the American people get to know these nominees than they are for political posturing and showboating for Senators on both sides of the aisle.

Which means the American people are the losers if they wanted to hear good questions and in-depth answers.

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