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6 of Betsy DeVos’ biggest blunders to date

Before and after her confirmation, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has had to contend with critics who don't let a mistake go unnoticed

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is no stranger to controversy. From the moment President Trump announced her nomination, to her confirmation hearings, and in the days following her confirmation, critics have been quick to point out her missteps.

And though her supporters voice optimistic claims about what she can do for school choice, the hits just keep coming. Some might even say the Department of Education has racked up the most controversies mere weeks into the new administration.

Some of DeVos’ statements have shown a lack of awareness about federal civil rights education issues for students, while others have made it seem that she is unaware of some of the most basic debates in education.

(Next page: How DeVos has raised red flags for educators, parents and students)

Read on for a recap of her most noteworthy blunders.

1. “Confusion” over IDEA
DeVos raised red flags with many educators, advocacy groups, and parents of special-needs children when she displayed confusion over the federal IDEA law, which requires public schools to provide reasonable accommodations for students with special needs. She said the matter should be left to the states and seemed unaware of the federal requirement even when Virginia’s Sen. Tim Kaine persisted with questioning during her confirmation hearing. She also would not directly answer questions pertaining to whether all schools, including public charters and private schools, should adhere to IDEA requirements. When questioning returned to IDEA later in the hearing, DeVos told Sen. Maggie Hassan (N.H.) that she “may have confused” IDEA and that she would be mindful of special-needs students’ needs if confirmed as education secretary.

2. Declaring HBCUs as “pioneers” of school choice
When President Donald Trump signed an executive order to support historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), DeVos issued a statement noting that HBCUs are “real pioneers” of school choice. That comment didn’t go over so well, with many criticizing her for her word choice and noting that HBCUs were established due to racial segregation. Trump’s Oval Office meeting with HBCU presidents was cut short, few had an opportunity to speak, and participants and observers noted that the executive order stops short of allocating funding for HBCUS.

3. Growth versus proficiency
DeVos stumbled when discussing the long-standing debate over measuring proficiency or measuring growth. She used the definition of growth to describe proficiency–something Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was quick to point out, noting his surprise that she didn’t seem to know the issues surrounding the debate. Proponents of growth say it is a more useful measure because it tracks individual progress over time, while proficiency supporters say all students should work toward a common level of mastery or proficiency.

4. Teachers in “receive mode”
A Washington, D.C. school jumped to the defense of its educators after DeVos noted that, upon visiting the school, teachers seemed to be in “receive mode” waiting to be told what to do. In comments after her visit, DeVos said that this mindset will not bring about success for students. Once Jefferson Middle School Academy staff became aware of her comments, a series of tweets defending teachers and administrators followed–the first of which noted that the educators were “about to take [DeVos] to school.” The school is one of the fastest-improving schools in the D.C. system.

5. Virtual charter school graduation rates
Inn confirmation discussions focusing around virtual charter schools, of which she is a supporter, DeVos mentioned a handful of schools with graduation rates at or above 90 percent. The problem? It appears that DeVos got those figures from a report produced by a for-profit company behind most of the schools. She also was once an investor in the company. The figures she cited were greatly inflated.


6. A Twitter tangle
The Twitter universe descended on DeVos and showed no mercy or hesitation in correcting her grammar as she tweeted from the Inauguration proceedings. Many users noted that they relied on their public school education to correct her tweet.

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Laura Ascione

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