Betsy Devos hearing warrants concern from educators

Kirra Lent, Contributor

In order to understand the outrage expressed by educators far and wide over the possibility that Betsy Devos may be the new United States Secretary of Education, it is important to know what the Department of Education is and why it is so important that the head of this Department knows the struggles teachers, students, and parents face in receiving a high quality education.

The original Department of Education was founded in the 1800’s, demoted to an office, and left as a relatively minor bureau in the Department of the Interior until it was upgraded to Cabinet-Level Status in the 1950’s along with Health and Welfare. In 1979, Jimmy Carter divided this large Department up, therefore, restoring the Department of Education to its original status.

It has been a long and bumpy road for the Department of Education.

The Department is in charge of administering and establishing federal education policies, as well as determining where funding goes, conducting research on our schools, and enforcing civil rights and privacy laws in schools. It is responsible for diagnosing problems in our schools and coming up with solutions to fix them- a mighty large dinosaur of a task.

Now, lets talk a little bit about Betsy Devos.

She has been an education activist advocating for school choice and voucher programs for many years. She has led a life as an accomplished businesswoman and successful Republican politician, and served as a member of Foundation for Excellence in Education, Alliance for School Choice, and the All Children Matter Political Action Committee. To the untrained eye her passionate undertakings make her seem fit for the job.

However, throughout her career she has never worked or studied education, as many other eligible candidates for the position have surely done. During the committee hearing for her nomination, she was asked her opinion over the benefits of measuring proficiency or growth among students. Her reply indicated a very basic knowledge of the differences in using either method as a learning measurement. She was unaware of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a law that provides all students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. When asked about whether all schools that receive federal funding should be held to equal standards of accountability, she responded only, “I support accountability.” The Secretary of Education must represent America’s students and teachers. They must be knowledgeable and experienced, neither of which Devos showcased in her hearing.

While it is possible that these responses were driven by the fact that the democratic committee members entered the session determined to create a negative public opinion of Devos, some of these slipups are inexcusable for a woman who is in the process of becoming the face of America’s public education system.