President Donald Trump’s nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos for U.S. Education Secretary caused immediate and intense reactions from supporting and opposing sides.
Her final approval by the U.S. Senate, which required Vice President Pence to cast a historic vote to break a 50-50 tie, shows just how turbulent her nomination process was. That approval came after a close party-line vote in the Senate HELP Committee.
Democrats have consistently argued that DeVos is unqualified to hold a national education position because she has never taught, attended, or sent her children to public schools. She stumbled over important issues in her confirmation hearings, including IDEA requirements, proficiency versus growth, and whether schools receiving taxpayer dollars should be held to the same accountability standards.
Republicans, who hold the majority in the full Senate, maintain that DeVos is committed to all children, and they have praised her support for school choice and vouchers.
In an informal eSchool News poll of 464 voters, 93 percent said DeVos displayed a lack of knowledge about education and education policy, and that her views contradict their own values on education. Six percent said DeVos kept a level head and answered truthfully and knowledgeably. One percent were unsure.
(Next page: 9 reactions to DeVos’ confirmation)
With her final confirmation came a deluge of reactions from educators and education groups, politicians, public figures, and more.
1. In a nod to equity, Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said the organization “welcomes the opportunity to continue to work with Congress and the administration—including recently confirmed Secretary DeVos—to ensure that educational equity and opportunity are the reality for all our nation’s students, and that our nation’s public schools remain at the forefront of our broader conversations on education and student learning. State and local leadership is critical to the continued success and ongoing growth of our nation’s schools. We will work with the superintendents we represent and the broader education communities they serve to carry the wide-spread focus on and discussion about education into all aspects of our federal advocacy work.”
2. In a letter sent to DeVos, Software & Information Industry Association President Ken Wasch calls out five specific education technology policy areas:
“Over the last few years, the U.S. Department of Education has played a largely successful role in helping schools get connected to the internet, implement technology in an effective manner, and promote STEM and computer science programs. In some areas, however, the Department has played a counterproductive role that discouraged innovation and state and local decision making, including by pushing schools to adopt specific types of technologies and materials and utilizing non-regulatory guidance to unduly shape local school investments in technology…
“…as the promise of personalized learning has begun to truly take root for students across the country through education technology, it is more important than ever that we ensure public policy allows it to continue and grow by ensuring technology is embedded throughout the department’s programs and initiatives.”
3. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee Democrats ranking member Bobby Scott (VA-03) issued a statement after the Senate voted 51-50, to confirm DeVos:
“Our nation’s next Secretary of Education is tasked with advancing a mission of equity, access, and accountability. That mission requires support for all students. Unfortunately, Betsy DeVos has failed to make a credible case that she will advocate for the 90 percent of students who attend our nation’s public schools. Now that she has been confirmed, she has the duty to focus on the needs of all students and to uphold and enforce critical civil rights protections. I commend my colleagues in the Senate for their tireless work to thoroughly investigate Betsy DeVos’ record, on behalf of the communities we serve.”
4. “DeVos is unprepared and unqualified to head the Department of Education,” said Rice University education expert Linda McSpadden McNeil, professor of education and director of Rice’s Center for Education. “She lacks the basic knowledge of what the department is tasked to do and advocate for. “She has been pursuing a ‘long game’ for years by funding politicians to do her bidding to destroy the public’s schools, to weaken the teaching profession for its voice in education policy and its previous fairly reliable votes for Democrats and their pro-public education policies. Her long game is to divorce the education of children from the control of their parents and the people their parents elect.”
5. “The ongoing protests over Betsy DeVos demonstrate a decades-old controversy among education leaders – is it better to have someone who has been inside traditional public education, or someone has watched and participated from the outside? Because the Center for Education Reform has always sought to ensure the adoption of innovation and policy changes that deliberately upset the status quo, we believe Betsy DeVos will make a fine Education Secretary,” said CER founder and CEO Jeanne Allen in a statement. “The real issue at hand is not about the Secretary of Education at all, but the clear and present crisis in education and the lack of opportunities that exist for so many families who struggle against the inertia of a stagnant and 20th century system. While the world is filled with 21st century technologies, most schools still deliver lessons as if they were using the McGuffey Reader. American education is struggling. Recent NAEP scores show that considerably fewer than half (40 percent) of America’s fourth graders are proficient in math. Even fewer (36 percent) are proficient in reading. In fact, less than half of students at all grade levels are proficient in any of the nine curriculum areas studied. We have a steep hill to climb, and it’s important that we put politics behind us and take the right road to get to the top.”
6. Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said DeVos, who has served on the foundation’s board of directors, is a positive advocate for children and learning:
“With Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, our children and parents will have a passionate advocate representing their interests in Washington. Secretary DeVos has the courage, knowledge and leadership ability to reprioritize the public education system around the needs of students–all students. She is a believer in empowering families with the ability to decide, not institutions with the ability to dictate. Never has her voice been more welcome or necessary.”
7. Governor Jeb Bush, president and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said that in nominating DeVos, President Donald Trump “made an excellent choice to lead the Department of Education. Millions of families share Secretary DeVos’s vision for disrupting a failed status quo that has denied too many children access to a quality education. It’s time to upend the entrenched special interests that put adults above genuine reforms that will raise student achievement. I hope the senators who opposed Secretary DeVos’s nomination will now put aside the tired arguments of the unions and come together to prioritize the needs of students. Under Secretary DeVos’s leadership, I am confident the federal government will loosen its grip on our education system and return power to the states and parents where it rightfully belongs.”
8. “Americans across the nation drove a bipartisan repudiation of the Trump-DeVos agenda for students and public education. [The] outcome marks only the beginning of the resistance. Students, educators, parents, civil rights and special education advocates—along with millions of Americans—are speaking loud and clear: we are here to stay…we will protect public education,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “No other Trump cabinet nominee garnered the level of public opposition as Betsy DeVos and no other time in our nation’s history has a Vice President of the United States stepped in to cast the deciding vote on a nomination. More to the point, no nominee has united Republicans and Democrats the way DeVos has. The level of energy is palpable. We are going to watch what Betsy DeVos does. And we are going to hold her accountable for the actions and decisions she makes on behalf of the more than 50 million students in our nation’s public schools. America is speaking out. Betsy DeVos needs to listen.”
9. “DeVos’ confirmation battle has a major silver lining: The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “This same public—from rural towns to urban centers, from liberals to conservatives—will now serve as a check and balance, and they will be fierce fighters on behalf of children. I am honored to be a soldier in that movement for children. “If [DeVos] wants to work with the educators who work hard every single day—in districts as diverse as McDowell County, W.Va., Detroit, and Scarsdale, N.Y.—to provide children the opportunities they deserve, we renew our invitation to have her visit America’s public schools and see the strategies that work for kids. But it’s more likely we’ll now hear the same trashing of public schools that the disrupters, the privatizers and the austerity hawks have used for the last two decades. That makes this a sad day for children.”