U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has visited all kinds of schools since she took office last year: district-run, charter, private, religious — even a school located in a zoo.
But one kind of school has been left out, she said Sunday on 60 Minutes: schools that are struggling.
It was a curious admission, since DeVos has built her policy agenda on the argument that vast swaths of American schools are so low-performing that their students should be given the choice to leave. That argument, DeVos conceded, is not based on any firsthand experiences.
Host Lesley Stahl pushed DeVos on the schools she’s skipped. Here’s their exchange:
Lesley Stahl: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing? DeVos: I have not — I have not — I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming. Stahl: Maybe you should. DeVos: Maybe I should. Yes.
Her comments attracted criticism from her frequent foes, like American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten, who tweeted:
Among the most stunning answers: @betsydevosed admits she hasn't bothered to visit the schools she bashes to learn about them https://t.co/Ha9p4h3jKB— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) March 11, 2018
Even some who are more sympathetic to school choice initiatives said the interview did not go well.
This is a debacle of an interview. Inept/offensive answers on struggling district schools, disproportionate discipline, guns, and school choice. DeVos is an embarrassment to responsible education choice and reform movements. https://t.co/abVSYxH5et— Robin Lake (@RbnLake) March 12, 2018
We can support families having choices abt where to send their children to school & also believe that @BetsyDeVosED was woefully unprepared for her #60Minutes interview and also, apparently, for her job as Ed Sec. Families desperate for options deserve better. @laurenonthehill— Erika Sanzi (@esanzi) March 12, 2018
The exchange occupied just a few seconds of the nearly 30 minutes that DeVos spent on television Sunday and Monday, including interviews on Fox and Friends and the Today Show. The appearances followed several school-safety proposals from the White House Sunday, including paying for firearms training for some teachers.
DeVos sidestepped questions about raising the age for gun purchases. “We have to get much broader than just talking about guns, and a gun issue where camps go into their corners,” she said. “We have to go back to the beginning and talk about how these violent acts are even occurring to start with.”
She also endorsed local efforts to decide whether to increase weapons screening at schools. Asked on Fox and Friends about making schools more like airports, with metal detectors and ID checks, DeVos responded, “You know, some schools actually do that today. Perhaps for some communities, for some cities, for some states, that will be appropriate.”
DeVos also said on 60 Minutes that she would look into removing guidance from the Obama administration that was designed to reduce racial disparities in school suspensions and expulsions. Education Week reported, based on comments from an unnamed administration official, that the the guidance would likely land on the DeVos task force’s agenda.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio has argued that the Obama-era guidance may have contributed to Florida shooting by preventing the shooter from being referred to the police. (In fact, the 2013 Broward County program designed to reduce referrals to police for minor offenses predated the 2014 federal guidance.)
Details of the commission were not immediately available. Education Week also reported that “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases,” “rating systems for video games,” and “the effects of press coverage of mass shootings” are likely to be discussed.
“The Secretary will unveil a robust plan regarding the commission’s membership, scope of work and timeline in the coming days,” Liz Hill, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said in an email.