On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed billionaire Republican mega-donor Betsy DeVos as secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. DeVos was confirmed despite having no formal experience in a classroom, no formal education training, little knowledge of federal education law and policy and holding millions of dollars in investments representing incredible conflicts of interest.
After spending three hours watching her confirmation in January, I came to the conclusion that DeVos is not only extremely unqualified for the position, but also potentially harmful to the education of millions of American children.
My main concern is her complete lack of experience in the field of education. DeVos has never been a teacher, principal, administrator nor superintendent. She is not well-versed in educational theory, curriculum nor implementation.
In fact, DeVos was never enrolled in public education, around which her future policy will revolve. Instead, she has donated her money to foundations that fund charter schools and advocate for increased privatization of the public education system.
Throughout her confirmation hearing, DeVos demonstrated her ignorance of the nuances of our education system: She was unable to clearly define or differentiate between proficiency and growth, one of the most pressing debates in the education system. When asked whether guns belong in schools, she cited the presence of grizzly bears in Wyoming to claim that each state should have the right to decide. She has remarked that it should be at the discretion of individual states to enforce federal civil rights laws that protect children with disabilities.
DeVos’ vision for education is to create an abundance of charter schools and school voucher programs to promote school choice, or the ability for a parent to choose freely where their child goes to school instead of sending them to the closest public school.
Charter schools are a key element in the school choice equation, as they receive federal funding but operate independently of local public schools. Many are run by private companies and aided by big-name investors, looking to create efficiency by removing bureaucracy.
However, the lack of regulation has led to underperformance in poor charter school systems. According to the Economic Policy Institute, over 85 percent of Ohio’s charter schools recieved a “D” or “F” rating in 2012-13; in the New Orleans charter experiment, the Investigative Fund found 79 percent scored a “D” or “F.”
Charter schools represent an educational gamble. Those that do consistently outperform their public counterparts have long waiting lists or disappointing lotteries. Nevertheless, many poorly performing charter schools continue to enroll students despite their shortcomings. While I understand DeVos’ perspective in advocating for these programs, they fail to create inclusive opportunities for the 91 percent of students who, according to the U.S. Department of Education, attend public schools.
For every child with a voucher or a charter school to attend, there are many more who have no alternative. This leaves huge numbers of American children in potentially failing public schools that are losing resources. Even those who are able to switch schools may find themselves in privately run charter schools, which can still provide an abysmal education due to lack of regulation.
DeVos’ plan is harmful because it does nothing to address the root of the problem: management of public schools. She asserts that bureaucracy obstructs quality education but seeks to create a path around it that only a small percent of children can take.
Despite DeVos’ confirmation, I hope our country can move in a direction that makes education better for all kids, not just the few that manage to escape a failing system. While Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote ultimately saved her contentious bid for secretary, the entire process is hopefully not the end of the conversation about who should be entrusted with the American education system for the next four years.
Allysa Lisbon is a sophomore in the College.