In her first full week as U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos wasted no time in getting to work to try to explain her vision for education and the U.S. Education Department — and to go after her critics, saying they want to make her life “a living hell.” She also said she has identified people in the department who want her to fail, but vowed not to let them.
Her nomination by President Trump sparked an unprecedented backlash, and she was confirmed on Feb. 7 in the Senate only after Vice President Pence cast the first-ever vote to break a tie for a Cabinet nominee. Her backers see her as a champion of school choice and alternatives to traditional public schools, while opponents say her decades of advocacy work show that she wants to privatize the public education system.
She was met with protests at the first D.C. public school she visited as education secretary, and the San Diego Board of Education decided not to vote on a resolution to invite her to visit the city’s public schools.
In a speech and several interviews, DeVos made clear that she is planning to push the expansion of school choice — charter schools, voucher programs and other alternatives to traditional public schools.
In an interview with Axios, excerpts of which were published on Feb. 17, she said:
“I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet.”
The one thing she said she didn’t expect more of was traditional public schools.
As far as the role of the federal government in education, she said:
“I think in some of the areas around protecting students and ensuring safe environments for them, there is a role to play. … I mean, when we had segregated schools and when we had a time when, you know, girls weren’t allowed to have the same kind of sports teams — I mean, there have been important inflection points for the federal government to get involved.”
But when asked whether there are any other issues in which the federal government should intervene, she said: “I can’t think of any now.” As to whether the Education Department should be eliminated, she said:
“It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job, but I’m not sure that — I’m not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.”
In an interview with conservative columnist Cal Thomas published on Feb. 16, the Michigan billionaire blasted protesters for the second time in the same week, saying they are “sponsored and very carefully planned” and not “genuine protests.”
“We’ve seen enough written that they want to make my life a living hell. They also don’t know what stock I come from. I will not be deterred from my mission in helping kids in this country.”
Thomas also wrote this:
DeVos believes that not teaching values and character development in our relativistic and politically correct age is a “significant factor” contributing to lack of achievement in many schools. She also says she has found a few “moles” (my word) in the department who are committed to her not succeeding and pledges to do whatever can be done to render them ineffective.
And DeVos, who said in a 2015 speech that “government sucks,” told Thomas that no “top-down solution” in government works:
“I think the more states and locales are empowered to innovate and create and are unencumbered by unnecessary regulations and sort of beaten into compliance mentally vs. a can-do and results-oriented mentality, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that any type of top-down solution, no matter where you try to employ it in government, it’s not successful.”
On Feb. 15, she gave a speech at the Magnet Schools of America 2017 National Policy Training Conference and the first thing she talked about wasn’t magnet schools but protesters:
“Last Friday, a handful of protesters tried to block my entrance into Jefferson Middle School Academy here in D.C. While I eventually made it in, and had very constructive conversations with Chancellor Wilson, many DC administrative leaders, some terrific teachers and Principal Dohmann, the protesters’ behavior is a reflection of the way some seek to treat our education system — by keeping kids in and new thinking out.
“Friday’s incident demonstrates just how hostile some people are to change and to new ideas.”