After a bruising confirmation fight, Betsy DeVos has taken the helm at the U.S. Department of Education.
As she introduces herself to the education world, we’re here to help you keep up. Here’s what you should know about the protests, gaffes, and policy shifts that have marked her first few days on the job.
She’s having trouble getting into schools. A main critique of DeVos was that she’s never spent time in public schools before, and some of her sharpest critics have spent the week trying to make sure that stays the case. Protesters briefly blocked her from entering a Washington, D.C., school her first day on the job, and San Diego’s school board also rescinded an invitation for her to visit local schools amid pressure from the local teachers union.
She hit back in a speech on Wednesday. “The protesters’ behavior, I think, is a reflection on the way some seek to treat our education system today – by keeping kids in and new thinking out,” she said.
She’s still playing it safe on some issues. The education department had indicated that DeVos would talk about the achievement gap in that speech. She didn’t.
But she’s making moves on some big policy issues. Before becoming education secretary, DeVos had engaged with only a narrow set of policy issues, mostly around school choice. Now she has to tackle many more, and she has started to do so. Last week, she reached out to state education officials to let them know that she plans to stay the course on the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives more control over education policy to states. She also said she would look to cut “unnecessary” programs from the department, in a bit of traditional Republican rhetoric.
An editorial cartoon likened her to six-year-old Ruby Bridges entering an all-white school amid racist protests. The comparison was condemned as both offensive and inaccurate.
She embarrassed herself online. The likelihood of DeVos typing the education department’s tweets herself is almost zero. But the account’s misspelling of the name of black scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois — followed by “our deepest apologizes” — didn’t do much for her image as someone out of touch with schools and the kids of color that she is supposed to serve.
She’s inspired some people to jump into public service themselves. “Since Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, we’ve had a flood of people come and say specifically, ‘I want to run for school board to protect the schools in my hometown,’” Amanda Litman, co-founder of the political action committee Run for Something, told NPR.
Meanwhile, one of her predecessors has joined the #resistance. Arne Duncan, who served as education secretary for seven years under President Obama, has made his concern about President Trump clear with a steady stream of retweets — and messages of his own.
3 issues to be hyper vigilant about:— Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) February 13, 2017
1)Any move towards mass deportations
2)Pressure gets to Judiciary
3)A made up war to boost low poll #s
Duncan also weighed in on the DeVos school protesters, tweeting, “Agree or disagree w @BetsyDeVos on any issue, but let’s all agree she really needs to be in public schools. Please let her in.”
Speaking of Twitter, she got a new account. She’s now @BetsyDeVosED.
She’s still attracting interest far beyond the usual education audience. One stunning thing about DeVos is that her nomination galvanized interest and opposition from a wide constituency — an unusual phenomenon for an education department nominee. That hasn’t changed now that she’s in office. A website for millennial women took a look at the fashion designer who has dressed DeVos, and a home tour posted on a design site included a detour into the homeowner’s questions about DeVos’s leadership.