With all the talk of schools needing guns against grizzly bears, some other important aspects of education reform may have gotten lost at Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing to lead the Department of Education on Tuesday. DeVos has long been an advocate for school choice, which means creating more charter schools and vouchers for kids to be able to attend charters. But the person in charge of education at a federal level isn't in charge of just charter schools — she will be responsible for public schools as well. So does Betsy DeVos believe in public schools?
But will she fit in comfortably as head of a department in charge of reforming the education millions of children across the country, including poor ones, will receive?
As she told Philanthropy Roundtable, DeVos' children didn't attend public schools, and she has been passionate about advocating for vouchers and scholarships for kids to be able to attend charter schools who would not normally be able to afford it. DeVos herself hasn't even attended a public school, ever, according to Quartz.
Still, she claims that she would support them. “If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools,” DeVos said at the hearing, Politico reported. “But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high quality alternative.”
But to be frank, DeVos' previous statements about public schools have been full of contempt. Her advocacy seems to run on the assumption that pretty much every public school is failing. She told Philanthropy Roundtable that school choice is becoming more popular because "traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing."
DeVos' assumption that most public schools are failing goes against the facts. The U.S. Department of Education reported that about 10 percent of public schools are failing — which means the vast majority of schools are succeeding.
And where are schools failing? Well, in Michigan, 40 percent of schools are failing. And that's also where DeVos has pushed for school choice — and where there isn't a way to close down failing charter schools because they are unregulated, and they don't even perform much better than public schools, The Detroit Free Press reported.
Despite the facts, in a 2015 speech, DeVos said that "our education system is antiquated and it is quite frankly embarrassing."
Then there's the issue of school accountability. For many policymakers and parents, school accountability, which means that schools and teachers are evaluated based on their students' performance, is extremely important.
At her confirmation hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine asked DeVos if all schools — public, charter, and private schools — should be held at the same standards of accountability.
Her answer? Well, it seems as though she believes some schools (cough, public schools) should be held more accountable than others, according to The Washington Post:
Kaine: Let me ask you this. I think all schools that receive taxpayer funding should be equally accountable. Do you agree?
DeVos: Well they don’t, they are not today.
Kaine: Well, I think they should. Do you agree with me?
DeVos: Well no . . .
DeVos' representative didn't immediately respond to Romper's request for comment regarding why charter schools shouldn't be held to the same standards, or questions regarding how she would support public schools.
When 90 percent of kids attend public schools, it's just common sense that we need someone at the helm of the Department of Education who is going to support public schools. DeVos isn't currently their biggest advocate, and that's a bit scary for the majority of education professionals and kids in the U.S.