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Is Betsy DeVos good or bad for edtech?

Will Trump’s Education Secretary pick be a boon for edtech advocacy and implementation? And if so, will it only benefit some students?

School choice, support of teachers unions, and her record in Michigan have been the leading controversial talking points in education when it comes to Donald Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. But with a background in technology investment, could DeVos be a leader in the support of successfully-implemented edtech?

Here’s What We Know

She invests in technology

According to Philanthropy magazine in spring 2013, DeVos serves as chairman of the Windquest Group—a privately held, multi-company operating group that invests in technology, manufacturing, and clean energy—which she founded with her husband in 1989. The magazine also identified DeVos as “a member of several national and local boards, including the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the Kennedy Center, Mars Hill Bible Church, Kids Hope U.S.A, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.”

She advocates for edtech, specifically

In a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable, DeVos said when it comes to education reform strategies, she is most focused on educational choice. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible,” she said. “One long-term trend that’s working in our favor is technology. It seems to me that, in the internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished. Within the right framework of legislation, that freedom will ultimately be healthy for the education of our kids.”

She knows edtech has the power to enhance learning

“What’s best for kids seems to be at the center of DeVos’ philanthropic, public speaking and political efforts, both in Michigan and in other states,” writes the New Hampshire Department of Education’s ET News. “And she may be open to ways that technology could help kids.”

ET News also notes that John Bailey, who worked with DeVos as the vice president of policy at the nonprofit ExcelinEd, otherwise known as the Foundation For Excellence in Education, said that “she was a great board member at ExcelinEd. She is passionate about kids and will always put kids needs first. She expressed deep interest in digital learning and how it could expand opportunities for kids.”

ExcelinEd—a reform group headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—states in its Reform Agenda: “Technology can revolutionize education and help ensure no student is bored or left behind. The Foundation supports the use of technology to offer students access to a high-quality, customized education and empower teachers to help their students succeed.”

Her charter school uses edtech

According to Fox News, DeVos and her husband support the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter school they founded in Grand Rapids, through the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. The school uses personalized learning facilities, including a separate computer science program and instruction in robotics. It even has a computer-aided drafting and design course.

(Next page: What we don’t know about DeVos and edtech)

Here’s What We Don’t Know

Will her hires be edtech advocates?

If the Senate confirms DeVos as the new education secretary, she would be in a position to hire the next director of the Office of Educational Technology along with other key department leaders.

Will she support already-in-place edtech initiatives?

For example, almost 3,000 school superintendents have already signed up for the Future Ready Schools initiative, which helps school district leaders plan and implement personalized edtech learning strategies to benefit students. For Future Ready Schools, the Education Department worked with the national policy and advocacy organization the Alliance for Excellent Education. Sara Hall, executive director of that program at the Alliance, told ET News: “The promise of technology is critical to unleashing the potential within America’s education system…We look forward to learning more about Mrs. DeVos’ plans to harness the potential of digital learning for America’s students, particularly those in underserved communities.”

Will her support of school choice hinder edtech equality?

One of the benefits of edtech can be to help close the equity divide rampant among students and their families today. Public schools that fund well-implemented edtech initiatives for learning not only help to engage students in their learning, but provide tools to help them succeed in technology-based and digital literacy-supported skills for the future.

Yet, the argument against school choice is that students within the public school system will not get the same opportunities as students attending charter schools. Funding and access to better teachers and resources will be unfairly tipped toward charter schools. If this argument has merit, will only some schools see the benefit of having DeVos as an edtech advocate?

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