By now videos and transcripts of Betsy DeVos’s education confirmation hearing have made the rounds, marking this as the first hearing to go viral on social media.
The videos show DeVos unable to answer a variety of questions posed to her about guns in schools, federal education funding, accountability, and the specifics of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In addition, senators posing questions to her were only allowed 5 minutes per committee chairman Lamar Alexander.
Aside from an awkward hearing, however, DeVos’s actual track record in education says a lot about her potential ability to oversee the entire country’s education system.
Betsy DeVos has been involved with education reform in Michigan for decades. She is chair of the American Federation for Children, a pro-school-choice/charter school advocacy group. Thanks in part to her lobbying, Michigan has the country’s largest number of charter schools. She has spearheaded efforts to privatize public education by creating programs and passing laws that require public funds to pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers and other, similar programs.
The charter schools that DeVos so eagerly advocates have had extremely minimal positive effect on the area. Most record student test scores in reading and math below the state average. Even when those schools have operated for decades (Brightmoor High School, ten years; Hope Academy, twenty years), they have failed to improve. Brightmoor has never risen above abysmal test scores, and in 2013 Hope ranked in the first percentile—the lowest possible ranking for academic performance.
Betsy DeVos and her family are also the brains behind the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), an organization whose political action committee is dedicated to lobbying for charter schools. GLEP has also made its mark by finding ways to use public money intended to fulfill the state’s mandate to provide compulsory education for private institutions
In terms of professional background, DeVos herself has no particular qualifications for the role of Secretary of Education. She isn’t an educator or a thought leader in the field. What she does have is extensive experience putting her family’s wealth toward particular educational reform movements she agrees with.
DeVos’s appointment has not yet been confirmed. But her past lobbying and her performance during the hearing do cast doubt on her qualifications to lead the country’s educational system.
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