“What about that Betsy DeVos? A billionaire who he is picking to head Education who has never seen the inside of a classroom. She has no experience, she has no background. That’s dangerous for our children.”
—Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), remarks at the Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017

Some of the speakers at the Women’s March on Washington repeated some dubious nostrums we have debunked in the past, such as statistics on equal pay. But this comment jumped out at us.

Waters, reading from a prepared text, made these comments in the course of attacking a number of President Trump’s Cabinet picks. For instance, she charged that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the nominee for attorney general, has a “history of racism” — a claim that he disputes and that we have explored.

But this attack seemed new: Betsy DeVos, the nominee for secretary of education, has never seen the inside of a classroom?

The Facts

We repeatedly sought comment and explanation from Waters’s staff, but they did not respond. On the face of it, it seems ridiculous. DeVos obviously once was a student — and she has four children and five grandchildren. Surely she has seen the inside of a classroom.

DeVos has been attacked for not having much of a connection to public schools. She did not attend public schools, and neither did her children. They attended privately funded Christian schools, and DeVos has advocated expanding charter schools.

But DeVos has also been involved in the Grand Rapids Public School system in Michigan. “I’ve worked as an in-school mentor for students in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, and have had the privilege of interacting with students and their families and teachers in ways that have changed my life and my perspective about education forever,” she said in her opening statement at the Senate hearing on her nomination.

Indeed, Teresa Weatherall Neal, superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public School district, has praised the selection of DeVos. “I’m really excited for the children across the nation,” Neal told MLive.com. “She has been a wonderful supporter of GRPS and our transition plan. She knows education. She knows what it is going to take in order for our kids to be helped.”

A DeVos family foundation contributed $1.5 million to the Grand Rapids Public School system in 2012-2014.

The Pinocchio Test

DeVos sparked questions about her knowledge of education issues during the contentious hearing on her nomination. But Waters goes too far when she asserts, without evidence, that DeVos has never seen the inside of a classroom. Maybe Waters believes that private schools don’t count, but it’s clear that DeVos has seen the inside of public-school classrooms, as well. If she was trying to say DeVos had never been an educator, she still went too far. This kind of over-the-top rhetoric earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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“What about that Betsy DeVos? A billionaire who he is picking to head Education who has never seen the inside of a classroom."
speech at the Women’s March on Washington
Saturday, January 21, 2017