Betsy DeVos

From ‘passionate’ hands-on advocate’ to ‘everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America’: The education world reacts to Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: YouTube / American Federation for Children
Betsy

What does the education world think about Betsy DeVos, the Michigan philanthropist and voucher advocate whom Donald Trump picked as his education secretary nominee?

Some groups, mostly ones that have included vouchers in their vision for school choice, are lavishing praise on DeVos in statements that began pouring in shortly after Trump’s day-before-Thanksgiving announcement. Others are tempering their congratulations with questions.

And many are expressing deep concern — about the racist rhetoric that fueled Trump’s campaign and has characterized some reaction to his election, the impact of Trump’s education agenda on students of color and immigrant students, and the future of public education as an institution.

Here are excerpts from the reaction that has come in so far. We’ll keep updating this list — so please send perspectives we’ve missed to [email protected]

Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank: “Betsy is a passionate, hands-on advocate for school reform. She is a true champion for the competition of ideas. She pursues innovative solutions in education by engaging all players, from policymakers to reformers to parents and community leaders. Her strong conviction that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue comes at a pivotal time, when Washington is in urgent need of productive cooperation.”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Excellence in Education counts DeVos as a board member: “I cannot think of a more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms.”

Peter Cunningham, the editor of Education Post who formerly worked in the Obama administration: “Betsy DeVos is a well-known proponent of school choice, but her home state of Michigan, where she has played an active role in expanding choice, has a mixed record on charter school authorizing and accountability. … We are hopeful that, under her leadership, the U.S. Department of Education will continue to protect children of every race, income level, background, and ability by speaking out against discrimination, intolerance and bullying, by encouraging high standards, and by demanding absolute transparency around results and robust systems of accountability.”

Co-founders of the teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, Sydney Morris and Evan Stone: “As Ms. DeVos has never been a teacher, school leader, or school system administrator, we call on her to listen to and include the ideas and voices of educators in the critical decisions she will make that will help shape the future of education in the United States. … We hope that, if confirmed as Education Secretary, Ms. DeVos will leverage this important position to uplift — not dismantle — our public schools.”

Teach for America: “Teach For America lives by our values and always stands in solidarity with the most vulnerable students. … The Teach For America community includes more than 50,000 people from all backgrounds and political ideologies. We value diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, and we refuse to accept racism, bigotry, or discrimination in any form. We call on the secretary designee and president-elect to uphold these values in pursuit of an excellent and equitable public education for all.”

Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, which urged Democrats not to work in Trump’s education department: “DFER remains deeply concerned by the President-elect’s education agenda, which by proposing to cut money from Title I and to eliminate the federal role on accountability, undermines progress made under the Obama administration to ensure all children have access to good schools. We applaud Mrs. Devos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools, but hope, at the same time, she will be a voice that opposes policies that would hurt kids, both on the education front and concerning inter-related issues including proposals to kick 20 million families off of healthcare, deport millions of Dreamers, and accelerate stop-and-frisk practices that would lead to the imprisonment of larger numbers of low-income parents on low-level, non-violent offenses.”

The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country: “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.”

The Education Trust, a group that promotes high achievement for students of color and poor students: “As U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has the opportunity to continue our nation’s upward trajectory by working to ensure that students are given the opportunities they need to succeed academically, and that schools and institutions are responsible for the success of all students. But there is a very real risk of undoing this hard-won progress if resources are diverted from the young people who most need them, or if the federal government fails to uphold its responsibility to protecting the needs and interests of all students — especially the most vulnerable.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican: Michiganders know the passion Betsy has for reforming education in a way that puts kids first. Betsy’s appointment will mean great things for Michigan and for children around the nation as she takes her no-nonsense commitment to empowering parents to the highest levels in Washington.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation Teachers: “Betsy DeVos is everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America — an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda that is opposed by the majority of voters. Installing her in the Department of Education is the opposite of Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.”

Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, which advocates for LGBTQ students: “We are deeply concerned by the nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education. GLSEN is committed to the principle that all students have a right to high-quality public education free from discrimination. DeVos’s record of advocacy for vouchers and tuition tax credits represents a rejection of that principle.”

Correction (Nov. 28, 2016): This piece has been updated to correct the name of Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute.

you say you want a resolution

Denver school board strikes back at Trump budget, Betsy DeVos’s school choice vision

PHOTO: Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Take that, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.

The Denver school board on Thursday approved two resolutions jabbing at President Trump’s first proposed education budget and Education Secretary DeVos’s vision of school reform.

Trump’s budget, the resolution says, would slash funding for a range of programs that help Denver students, including after-school programs, financial aid and Medicaid.

More notable was the DeVos-focused resolution, called “A Resolution in Support of School Choice – Emphasis on Equity and Accountability.”

DeVos started it, essentially, suggested at a Brookings Institution event that the district was not worthy of recognition as a school choice leader because private school vouchers aren’t offered.

The board is trying to draw a stark contrast between DeVos-style reforms and those carried out in Denver Public Schools over the past decade. It reads, in part:

“(T)he Board of Education does not support private school vouchers, which would encourage public education dollars to be spent in private schools that do not serve all students and that are not held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public schools, but believes instead that public dollars should be used to support and grow public schools, both district-run and charter, that are open to and serve all students.”

Board members were more pointed in their comments during Thursday’s board meeting.

“We are witnessing an assault on public education in this country, both through the budget and the appointment of what I think most of us would agree is the least qualified secretary of education ever appointed to that office,” said board member Mike Johnson.

Board member Happy Haynes said there “have been many who have been trying to associate the work we have done, the careful work that we have done” with the Republican administration.

“We’re not going to quit. We’re not quitters,” Haynes said. “ … It’s the time to double down, and that is what we are doing tonight on this resolution.”

The resolution also amounts to a pre-emptive strike ahead of what should be a contentious school board campaign. Opponents of the incumbent school board members are all but certain to try to link them to DeVos and Trump, not exactly popular figures in heavily Democratic Denver.

van wert alert

Four things to know about Van Wert, the tiny Ohio school district where DeVos and Weingarten will form an uneasy duo

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Carderock Springs Elementary in Bethesda, Maryland in March.

A small city in rural Ohio will host a high-stakes education summit on Thursday when U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits with the chief of a national teachers union who this week vowed to “educate” her.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten opposed DeVos after President Donald Trump nominated her for education secretary and called it “a sad day for children” when she was confirmed. But the political enemies still agreed to visit schools together once DeVos took office, and Weingarten chose Van Wert as their first stop.

Van Wert’s schools “do project-based learning, have grappled with rural poverty, schools that engage in children’s well-being, and that’s why we wanted her to see it,” Weingarten told Chalkbeat earlier this week, as her union launched a push to get DeVos to redirect federal funds toward public schools.

Here’s what you need to know about why the pair is headed to Van Wert and what they might see there.

  1. It’s in “Trump country.” That’s what Weingarten told Chalkbeat about why she selected the district for the visit, which marks the first in-person interaction between the two education leaders. Van Wert is just a 20 minute drive from Indiana, home of Vice President Mike Pence, and about an hour from Michigan, DeVos’s own home state. Nearly 80 percent of the 13,000 votes cast in the county in November’s election went to Trump, who did well in rural and post-industrial areas with weak economies and mostly white populations. More than 90 percent of Van Wert county residents are white, according to Census data.
  2. It also has a vibrant teachers union. The school choice foundation DeVos ran before becoming secretary was named American Federation for Children in a not-so-subtle critique of the teachers union Weingarten leads. That might not go over well with the 127 members of the AFT’s local chapter, which is led by Jeff Hood, a Van Wert physical education teacher. He told the Toledo Blade that he had asked Weingarten to bring DeVos to town. He told the newspaper: “I thought, ‘Here we go; Mrs. DeVos is now our secretary of education’ and you know the best way for me to join in the conversation is to see how I can personally invite her to come to Van Wert.”
  3. DeVos won’t be able to talk only about school choice. The education secretary made her career lobbying for choice, particularly to allow students to use public money to pay for private schools. Since becoming secretary, she’s pivoted to the topic frequently, praising leaders from Miami, New York, and Chicago for providing access to a range of school and course options. Her focus on choice won’t work in Van Wert, which unlike many urban districts does not have a range of options for families to choose from. The small city has only one elementary, one middle, and one traditional high school — along with a public alternative school for struggling students and a small Catholic elementary school.
  4. But Van Wert is home to one innovative option. At Vantage Career Center, high school juniors and seniors from the local district and a dozen others can learn industrial mechanics, welding, carpentry, and other skills while earning a diploma from their traditional school. According to a 2014 promotional video, the center is a 190,000-square-foot space that voters have helped fund, even during the recession. Forty percent of students who train at the center go on to college, while the majority head straight to jobs or apprenticeships in the community or the military, according to the center.