As a teacher who wants to learn from and become involved in the larger national conversation on education, I tuned in and watched the ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Lesley Stahl and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. My general reaction was: I cannot believe this woman is our secretary of education.
Sure, there were one or two moments where I found myself agreeing with DeVos but that was about it. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t meant to be a politically charged castigation. This is simply from the perspective of a teacher who watched a secretary of education who not only doesn’t understand teaching, but doesn’t understand schools.
ICYMI Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos discussed school choice, deregulation and guns in a wide-ranging interview with Lesley Stahl for 60 Minutes. https://t.co/Hag9wz6Dq1 pic.twitter.com/xRdBIICsQ0
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) March 12, 2018
As is commonly known about Secretary DeVos, she is a champion of school choice and confident in singing its praises. During the interview she mentions:
Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don’t have the power, that can’t decide: ‘I’m gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child’ if they don’t have that choice—and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don’t have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.
She is not wrong. In fact, this is the area where I agree with Secretary DeVos the most. As I’ve written before, many people who argue against school choice in that it is merely a way to defund public education do so while exercising their own choice for their own kids.
Where my confidence falls apart with DeVos is when she is pushed to beyond the simple recitation of a well-worn campaign platform.
When pushed about the impact of school choice on the quality of education provided in DeVos’ home state of Michigan, Devos revealed what was, to me, an unforgivable ignorance.
Lesley Stahl: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?
Betsy DeVos: I don’t know. Overall, I—I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.
Lesley Stahl: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?
Betsy DeVos: I have not. I have not—I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.
Our secretary of education has not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming? Does the FBI intentionally not visit crime-ridden areas? Does the CDC (Center for Disease Control) intentionally not visit areas of contagion? Does FEMA intentionally not visit areas hit by natural disasters?
Taken in isolation, this designed ignorance is shameful, and frankly stunning, but when combined with other choices DeVos has made, a troubling pattern begins to emerge.
In keeping with the current administration’s efforts to effectively undo the work of the Obama administration, DeVos has instructed the Department of Education to review the Obama era initiative to investigate school discipline and its relation to race—a worthy investigation considering that Black students are suspended at nearly three times the rate of White students.
When asked if she saw disproportionate rates in school discipline policies and its alignment with institutional racism, DeVos responded, “We’re studying it carefully. And are committed to making sure students have opportunity to learn in safe and nurturing environments. And all students means all students.”
I’m no Washington insider. I’m just a teacher from Philadelphia. But here’s what I see.
I see a secretary of education who intentionally doesn’t visit the lowest-performing schools—which in all likelihood have significant school culture problems—but then has the chutzpah to doubt the correlation between race and school discipline.
I see a secretary of education who is a multi-millionaire who has made substantial political contributions to Republican senators.
I see a secretary of education who has no experience teaching or leading schools.