Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was either ill-prepared for her big "60 Minutes” interview, or she flubbed it. The performance has been roundly criticized, including reportedly inside the White House, and seemed to be a continuation of what was by all accounts a very poor performance at her confirmation hearing last year.
But what was so bad about the interview? The Post's Valerie Strauss highlights some of it here, and Philip Bump has more on DeVos's muted argument in favor of charter schools. What struck me were the strained arguments DeVos made suggesting it was impossible to view the progress of her movement from the macro level. It's really remarkable how she didn't have better responses for Stahl's questions — even in talking-point form — and didn't seem to anticipate the tough questions she had to know were coming.
Below is the full transcript of what DeVos said to "60 Minutes” correspondent Leslie Stahl, along with our annotations.
DEVOS: I give a lot of credit to the [Parkland high school] students there for really raising their voices, and I think that they are not going to let this moment go by.
STAHL: They want gun control.
DEVOS: They want a variety of things. They want solutions.
STAHL: Do you think that teachers should have guns in the classroom?
DEVOS: That should be an option for states and communities to consider. And I hesitate to think of, like, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Zorhoff — I couldn't ever imagine her having a gun and being trained in that way. But for those who are, who are capable, this is one solution that can and should be considered. But no one size fits all. Every state and every community is going to address this issue in a different way.
STAHL: Do you see yourself as a leader in this — in this subject? And what kind of ideas will you be promoting?
DEVOS: I have actually asked to head up a task force that will really look at what states are doing. See, there are a lot of states that are addressing these issues in very cohesive and coherent ways.
STAHL: Do you feel a sense of urgency?
STAHL: Because this sounds like talking — instead of acting.
DEVOS: No, there is a sense of urgency indeed.
DEVOS: We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars [in public education] from the federal level, and we have seen zero results.
STAHL: But that really isn't true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing's been accomplished?
DEVOS: Well actually, test scores vis-a-vis the rest of the world have not gone up. And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That's just not acceptable.
STAHL: No it's not acceptable. But it's better than it was. That's the point. You don't acknowledge that things have gotten better. You won't acknowledge that, over the —
DEVOS: But I don't think they have for too many kids. We've stagnated.
STAHL: Okay, so there's the big argument. So what can be done about that?
DEVOS: What can be done about that is empowering parents to make the choices for their kids. Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don't have the power, that can't decide, ‘I'm gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child.’ If they don't have that choice, and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don't have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.
STAHL: Why take away money from that school that's not working, to bring them up to a level where they are — that school is working?
DEVOS: Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school — school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.
STAHL: Okay. But what about the kids who are back at the school that's not working? What about those kids?
DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that's been introduced. Florida, for example. Studies show that when there's a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually-- the results get better, as well.
STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We're in Michigan. This is your home state.
DEVOS: Yes, well, there's lots of great options and choices for students here.
STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?
DEVOS: I don't know. Overall, I — I can't say overall that they have all gotten better.
STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.
DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this — the students are doing well and —
STAHL: No, but your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan, where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.
DEVOS: I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.
STAHL: The public schools here are doing worse than they did.
DEVOS: Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.
STAHL: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they're doing?
DEVOS: I have not — I have not — I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.
STAHL: Maybe you should.
DEVOS: Maybe I should. Yes.
STAHL: Why have you become, people say, the most hated Cabinet secretary?
DEVOS: I'm not so sure exactly how that happened. But I think there are a lot of really powerful forces allied against change.
STAHL: Does it hurt?
DEVOS: Sometimes it does. Sometimes it does. Again, I think — I think —
STAHL: Do you ever say —
DEVOS: — I'm more misunderstood than anything.
(Stahl played the above clip between these exchanges.)
STAHL: What happened there [at your confirmation hearing]?
DEVOS: I've not had a root canal, but I can imagine that a root canal might be more pleasant than that was.
STAHL: So you've been on the job now over a year. What have you done that you're most proud of?
DEVOS: Yeah. We've begun looking at and rolling back a lot of the overreach of the federal government in education.
DEVOS: We are studying that [Obama-era rule seeking to prevent discriminatory discipline in schools]. We need to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment. And all students means all students.
STAHL: Yeah but let's say there's a disruption in the classroom and a bunch of white kids are disruptive and they get punished, you know, go see the principal. But the black kids are, you know — they call in the cops. I mean, that's the issue: Who and how the kids who disrupt are being punished.
DEVOS: Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids. And —
STAHL: Well, no. That — it's not.
DEVOS: — it does come down to individual kids. And — often comes down to — I am committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to their learning.
STAHL: Do you see this disproportion in discipline for the same infraction as institutional racism?
DEVOS: We're studying it carefully. And are committed to making sure students have opportunity to learn in safe and nurturing environments.
STAHL: Are you in any way, do you think, suggesting that the number of false accusations are as high as the number of actual rapes or assaults?
DEVOS: Well, one sexual assault is one too many, and one falsely accused individual is one too many.
STAHL: Yeah, but are they the same?
DEVOS: I don't know. I don't know. But I'm committed to a process that's fair for everyone involved.
STAHL: The #MeToo movement has come along at the same time. This is all feeding into it. We're not talking about colleges anymore. We're talking about men in positions of power in industry and government. Have you ever had an issue?
DEVOS: I can recall a number of moments in the past — several decades ago that I think today would just be viewed as unacceptable. Yeah.