Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Needs to Do Her Homework

While there has been much dispute over the qualifications of Trump administration appointees, the one who has provoked the most “Why?” reaction might be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She was appointed to oversee the nation’s public schools, despite the fact that neither DeVos nor her children have ever attended one. However, she was born to enormous wealth and married into more, a chunk of which has been donated to Republican candidates—her family has given the party an estimated $200 million over the years. This must count for something, because there isn’t much else on DeVos’ CV to indicate she’s up to the job. From the dictates of the Nevada constitution to the CCSD teacher requirements to the Common Core second-grade math standards, Betsy DeVos falls short.

Everyone else has to …

But Betsy gets to …

The Nevada Constitution is firm on the separation of private religion and public schools, stating that “any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction.” It also mandates that all funds and property “pledged for educational purposes and the money therefrom must not be transferred to other funds for other uses.”

Betsy DeVos has long been an advocate of school choice and using vouchers as one of the means by which to use public money to fund private religious education. “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education,” she said in 2001. “Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

According to the CCSD elementary school teacher requirements, “an elementary license (K–8) may be granted to holders of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, provided that the applicant has completed a program for elementary school teaching (including student teaching, nine semester hours in the teaching of reading, and nine semester hours in elementary methods as minimum requirements).”

DeVos has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has never taken education coursework or worked in a school.

The CCSD code of honor states that “cheating and plagiarism violate the fundamental learning process and compromise personal integrity and one’s honor. Students demonstrate academic honesty and integrity by not cheating, plagiarizing or using information unethically in any way.”

DeVos was accused of plagiarizing responses on her Senate questionnaire from an Obama administration official. Given that the answer concerned the bullying of LGBT students and DeVos later declared “this department is not going to be issuing decrees” about treatment of LGBT students, we can see why the words “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive and grow” might not have come from her.

The Nevada State Social Studies standards for grades 9 through 12 require an understanding of American history and its current impact: “Summarize the concepts and results of the Civil War and Reconstruction as they apply to the 20th Century,” as in how past events have shaped present policies and institutions.

Clinging to her pet issue of school choice and vouchers, DeVos praised historically black universities as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” ignoring the fact that HBUs exist because African Americans were not permitted to attend institutions of higher learning during the Jim Crow era.

The Common Core math standards for sixth grade involve understanding the meaning of different forms of measurement and using the appropriate one for the task, specifically, “describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.”

During her Senate confirmation hearing, DeVos was asked about measuring students by proficiency vs. progress—i.e., how close they come to a standardized goal vs. how far they’ve come in a month/grade, etc. (a concept as basic to educators as standard vs. automatic is to auto mechanics). She responded with word salad about how she “would also correlate it to competency and mastery so that each student is measured according to the advancement that they’re making in each subject area.” Senator Al Franken eventually explained the difference in a tone of supreme exasperation.

Part of the Common Core math standards for second grade involve understanding and comparing larger numbers. “Students extend their understanding of the base-ten system. This includes ideas of counting in fives, tens, and multiples of hundreds, tens, and ones, as well as number relationships involving these units, including comparing.”

Recently, Donald Trump donated $100,000—a quarter of his presidential salary—to the Department of Education. DeVos accepted the check, exulting about how the “generous gift” showed the president’s “commitment to our nation’s students.” Of course, Trump’s budget cuts the Department of Education by $9.2 billion, almost 10,000 times the value of his “generous gift,” but apparently comparing numbers isn’t DeVos’ strong suit.