Betsy DeVos. Her name has been all over the headlines and social media during the past three months. Most mentions of her name are followed by words of hate or concern for the country. DeVos’ nomination and confirmation as secretary of education has been one of the most contentious decisions of the Trump administration, and that’s saying a lot.
Many have heard her name or overheard some of the debate. This week, Political Focus will dig into everything you should know about Betsy DeVos and the controversy that surrounds her.
Who is she and what are her ideas?
Born in Holland, Michigan, DeVos grew up the daughter of a millionaire in the auto industry. She attended Calvin College and went on to become the chair of the Michigan Republican Party.
DeVos is known for her advocacy of school choice, as well as state autonomy on educational matters. President Donald Trump made a major school choice proposal on the campaign trail that will likely become the focus of DeVos’ service as his secretary of education.
School choice is an educational concept that doesn’t assign children to attend a certain school based on their address. It allows federal education funding to follow the student to the school their parents feel is the best fit for their child, whether that is the local public school, private school, charter school or any other option available to parents today.
Its basic purpose is to drive competition between school districts and up the quality of education for as many students as possible. Those who are economically well-off naturally have school choice because they can choose their residencies based on good public schools or choose to send their children to private schools.
Those at an economic disadvantage don’t have that luxury, and the school choice program aims to fix that.
So what’s the problem?
Educational economist Joshua Goodman explained his point of view to Usable Knowledge, a Harvard Graduate School of Education resource. He said while competition drives quality in many markets, this isn’t true in education.
“The empirical evidence for choice and market forces improving educational outcomes is thin at best,” Goodman said. “ . . . Econ 101 models assume consumers observe product quality. But schools are complicated goods, and quality, particularly a school’s long-run quality, is hard to judge for many parents.”
The Washington Post reported that after 10 years of school choice in New York City, the likelihood of gradation from high school was still tightly linked with family income. This suggests that school choice is not following through on its intention to assist those living in poverty.
More problems with DeVos
Senator Elizabeth Warren made her case against DeVos by arguing she lacks experience in public education. DeVos was educated in private schools, sent her kids to private schools and has spent most of her career advocating for private schools. This comes as a great concern to those who call her a “public-school hater.”
In regard to her inadequacies for the position, others cite her and her family’s extreme political views, her massive donations to the Republican Party and her grizzly explanation as to why states should decide if guns are allowed in
It’s DeVos’ opposition to accountability within the schools that worries Goodman. A Detroit Free Press study on the charter schools of Detroit displays a prime example of what can happen to schools that aren’t properly held accountable.
The confirmation process
DeVos was confirmed in the Senate by the slimmest possible margin on Feb. 7. She just barely snuck by with a 51-50 vote. The tie was broken by a historic vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence.
Despite the eventual victory, her nomination hearing was an embarrassing ordeal for the now-secretary of education. It brought attacks on her experience and intelligence, and spawned embarrassing headlines and scathing opinion articles.