US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has insulted educators, rolled back student protections, threatened to take scarce money from public schools for private school vouchers, and all too often lived up to the widespread perception that she is woefully unqualified to lead the nation’s public school system and formulate policies that benefit the nation’s 71 million K-12 and postsecondary students. The following are our top nine choices for DeVos’ worst moments, from the oldest to the most recent, in her first 100 days.
- Said Teachers “Are Waiting To Be Told What They Have To Do”
Betsy DeVos fouled up the opportunity to make a favorable first impression. She angered teachers at the first public school she visited, in Washington, D.C., when in an interview afterward she said the teachers’ “attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.”
Teachers across the country are incensed by DeVos’ opinion of public schools, which she once called a “dead end” and which educate nearly nine in 10 of the nation’s children. For decades, DeVos led and funded voucher campaigns in her home state of Michigan and elsewhere. Immediately prior to her nomination as secretary of education, she stepped down as chairman of the American Federation for Children, a national advocacy organization that promotes school vouchers
- Rescinded Protections for Transgender Students
Mike Gifford / Via bit.ly
DeVos defended the Trump administration’s decision to rescind public-school bathroom rules for transgender students. “This was a huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach,” said DeVos.
Every student has the right to learn in a safe and accepting school
environment. Supporting transgender students gives them the equal
opportunity that all students need.
- Delayed Rules To Protect Student Borrowers
DeVos’ Education Department delayed enforcement of a rule requiring for-profit and career colleges to warn prospective students that the school is at risk of losing federal funding because of high student debt levels.
Under the “gainful employment” regulation, for-profit colleges whose students take on high amounts of debt while earning too little would lose access to federal financial aid money. In 2012, a federal investigation found that for-profit colleges routinely overpriced tuition, engaged in predatory recruiting practices, had sky-high dropout rates, spent billions of taxpayer dollars on aggressive marketing and advertising, and gamed regulations to maximize profits.
- Reversed Ban on High Fees for Student Borrowers in Default
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DeVos’ Education Department revoked a federal policy barring student debt collectors from charging high fees on past-due loans. The rescinded policy prohibited collection agencies under the federal lending program known as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program from charging up to 16 percent of the principal and accrued interest owed on the loans.
DeVos justified rescinding the guidance in part by citing the cost of oversight. Lost in her rationale was concern for the cost to student borrowers drowning in debt.
- Launched Voucher Campaign at School That Asks Special Needs Students to Waive Their Rights
Her first joint visit to a school with President Trump was to a Florida Catholic school allowed to waive the legal rights of students with disabilities under one of the state’s voucher programs.
The McKay Scholarship Program provides vouchers for students with disabilities provided the students are willing to waive their rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
- Defended Trump’s Proposal To Take $1.4 Billion from Scarcely Funded Public Schools for Private School Vouchers
DeVos argued in support of President Trump’s budget proposal, which slashes funding for the Department of Education by a whopping 13.5 percent, sacrificing critical education programs in order to fund the voucher agenda long promoted by the president and DeVos.
Trump’s budget manages to give a $1.4 billion boost to voucher and charter school schemes even as it eliminates all funding for after-school and summer programs and Title II, which helps states hire and train teachers.
- Called Historically Black Colleges and Universities “Pioneers of School Choice”
Laurie Moore / Via bit.ly
DeVos, in an attempt seeking to promote vouchers, set off a firestorm of criticism after she mischaracterized Historically Black Colleges and Universities as “pioneers of school choice.”
DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.” DeVos glossed over or was ignorant of the fact that HBCUs were born out of necessity in response to segregationist Jim Crow laws in the South that barred Black students from attending historically White institutions. DeVos, sounding oblivious, said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.”
America was reminded of DeVos’ error when she was invited to deliver the commencement address this month at Bethune-Cookman University. The invitation ignited a petition drive among alumni, students and supporters of HBCUs. In its first 24 hours, it collected more than 10,000 signatures. She delivered the remarks to a cascade of sustained boos and jeers.
- Said Choosing a School Is Like Taking Uber Over a Taxi
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What is it like for parents to choose a school for their child? To hear DeVos tell it, it’s akin to choosing ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft over a taxi.
In an effort to sell the proposition that public schools fear competing with private and charter schools, DeVos said, “Just like the traditional taxi system revolted against ridesharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice.”
Missing from DeVos’ analogy is how the consequences of choosing the wrong car service are far less consequential than choosing the wrong school. If you choose a bad car service, you know it immediately. But choosing the wrong school isn’t apparent until the school shutters with little or no notice or your child is failing.
- Compared Choosing Schools to Choosing a Cell Phone Carrier
Sean Drellinger / Via bit.ly
Never one to miss an opportunity to promote voucher schemes, DeVos stepped in it again when she compared choosing schools to picking a phone company.
Speaking at an education technology conference, DeVos said, “If you can’t get cell phone service in your living room, then your particular provider is failing you. You should have the option to find a network that does work.”
Underlying DeVos’ assertion is the premise that schools are like any other commodity, such as a restaurant, a pair of sneakers or a cup of cappuccino. Research and experience show, however, that vouchers will exacerbate the gap between rich and poor by giving a public subsidy to affluent families that already choose elite private schools, which are unlikely to admit students who struggle academically or cannot afford tuition even with a voucher. The reality is that it’s not profitable for private schools to allow in children with disabilities, students who don’t speak English and students whose parents are struggling with poverty.