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.

Week In Review

Betsy DeVos’s second week at the U.S. Education Department: What you need to know

PHOTO: Department of Education

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s second full week on the job was characterized by mixed messages.

She made the department’s first big policy shift, but might not have wanted to. She criticized teachers and said they were doing a great job. And some education leaders criticized her policies while at the same offering to work with her.

It’s a lot of news, and we’re here to help you keep up. Some highlights:

She a lost an internal battle to keep Obama-era protections for transgender students — though it also became a PR win. Accounts of the fight come from the New York Times, which said DeVos couldn’t outmaneuver Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who wanted to kill the old guidance requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. That prompted some headlines like this one, from Quartz: “Betsy DeVos—of all people—is fighting Donald Trump to protect transgender students.”

One interpretation, courtesy of Justin Cohen: “The more cynical way to view this story, is that the administration was always going to rescind this guidance, and that letting DeVos disagree publicly with Jeff Sessions would give her a temporary, harmless PR coup after a bruising confirmation process.” If that’s true, “Outside political pressure matters, and in this case, that pressure might have forced the hand of a cabinet secretary.”

The New Yorker’s take: “But trying to do something good—if that is, indeed, what DeVos tried to do—deserves no praise when the end result is to be complicit in something bad.”

We’re seeing the influence of others in Trump’s inner circle. Sessions is one — and Education Week explains that his influence over the transgender guidance led to some hand-wringing about whether Democrats should have directed more of their anti-DeVos fervor at the attorney general during his confirmation fight.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and the former head of Breitbart News, described Trump’s agenda in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference as having three parts: national security, economic nationalism, and the “destruction of the administrative state.” Trump’s Cabinet nominees “were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction,” he said. And in her own on-stage interview at CPAC, DeVos said she thinks the federal government should have “as light a touch as possible” on education.

Some education leaders say they are open to working with her. Two leading education officials say they don’t support DeVos’s outlook or policy priorities but will sit down with her anyway. Randi Weingarten, head of the country’s second largest teachers union, has committed to touring two schools with DeVos — one that she picks and one that DeVos chooses. “You have to talk, and you have to engage,” Weingarten told the New Republic.

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña sounded a similar note this week: “I work with everyone,” she said. “I will have conversations with anyone and everyone to ensure that the work we’re doing here is being celebrated and recognized, and we’ll see what time will bring.”

And one notable leader who has offered public support for DeVos, Success Academy charter schools founder Eva Moskowitz, is facing forceful pushback from her own staffers, according to Politico.

That comes after DeVos got into trouble with teachers — then tried to mitigate the damage. DeVos’s comments criticizing teachers at the first public school she visited for being in “receive mode” spread via social media last weekend, drawing sharp criticism from the school itself.

DeVos responded, “Great teachers deserve freedom and flexibility, not to constantly be on the receiving end of government dictates.”

But the episode appeared to cut off goodwill from one education leader: Kaya Henderson, the former head of D.C.’s public schools. Her response on Twitter started with, “Sorry lady. Tried to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

DeVos’s popularity is low but on the rise. A poll found that public opinion of DeVos is back to pre-confirmation hearing levels — with a third of Americans seeing her favorably. During the confirmation process, just 12 percent of Americans viewed her favorably, the same poll found.

'making american education great again'

Betsy DeVos, reportedly opposed to rolling back protections for transgender students, defends the changes

If Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposed rolling back protections for transgender students behind the scenes this week, she wasn’t letting it show Thursday when she spoke to many of the country’s staunchest conservatives.

“This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach, to suggest a one-size-fits-all, federal government approach, top-down approach, to issues that are best dealt with and solved at a personal level and a local level,” DeVos said.

“I have made clear from the moment I have been in this job that it’s our job to protect students and to do that to the fullest extent that we can,” she continued. “And also to provide students, parents, and teachers with more flexibility around how education is delivered and how education is experienced, and to protect and preserve personal freedoms.”

The remarks, which DeVos made at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, came the day after the Trump administration officials rescinded federal guidance instructing schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice. The New York Times reported that DeVos — who faced tough questions in her confirmation hearing about her support for gay rights — had opposed the changes, but lost a power struggle with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump.

DeVos’s statement about the changes on Wednesday emphasized that she was committed to “protecting all students, including LGBTQ students.” States, districts, and schools that have established their own protections for transgender students will be able to continue to enforce those.

But some see the changes as an unnecessary blow to students vulnerable to bullying and whose rights to spaces like bathrooms aren’t specifically protected in many parts of the country.

“Supports for transgender students in K-12 schools change and save lives, and hurt no one,” Dr. Eliza Byard, the head of GLSEN, an advocacy group focused on the rights of gay students in schools, said in a statement.