Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hasn’t talked much about higher education, but on Thursday, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, she said that she believes faculty and administrators at colleges and universities are trying to indoctrinate kids, telling them “what to do, what to say and, more ominously, what to think.”
DeVos gave brief remarks at CPAC a day after the Trump administration announced that it was rolling back federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity.
She issued a statement late Wednesday defending the move and talked about it again in a brief discussion after her CPAC speech with Kayleigh McEnany, a conservative CNN commentator. While saying that “it is our job to protect students,” DeVos called the previous administration’s guidelines a “very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach to suggest a one-size-fits-all federal government approach.”
In her CPAC speech, she bashed the “education establishment,” saying that it “has been blocking the doorway to reforms, fixes and improvements for a generation.”
DeVos may not realize that in attacking “defenders of the status quo,” she sounded a lot like Arne Duncan, the education secretary for seven years under President Barack Obama, who frequently accused critics of his corporate-based school reforms of wanting to defend the status quo.
She told college students in the audience:
The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say and, more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree. . . .
Defenders of the status quo will stop at nothing to protect their special interests and their gig. So we need you to engage, to be loud and to never stop fighting for what we believe. We need you to call, write, email, Tweet and Snap every politician who thinks the status quo is okay and that they know better than you when it comes to your education.
She also declared that the public education system is “failing too many kids” — which Duncan used to say as well. As proof, she said that “our nation’s test scores have flat-lined.”
Apparently nobody told DeVos that it’s a bad idea to use test scores as an important measure of how well students, or teachers for that matter, are doing, for a variety of reasons, including that the tests American students take are limited in what they measure and that many are poorly written.
She said that the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grant program wasted billions of dollars, a reference to a recent federal analysis saying that the money failed to make meaningful improvements in student performance.
“They tested their model, and it failed miserably,” DeVos said.
What she didn’t say was that her favored school reform, “choice” in the form of vouchers and charters and online schools, hasn’t been shown to make meaningful improvements in student performance either, and in some cases, makes it worse.