Higher Education

OPINION: Was the DeVos confirmation hearing a dream or a nightmare? Pallas weighs in

The latest threat to public education? Grizzly bears.

The latest threat to public education? Grizzly bears.

Watching C-SPAN puts me to sleep. So I can’t be sure if what I remember about the Senate’s confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos is real, or a dream, or some mixture of the two. What do you think?

Here’s how I remember it:

Senator Lamar Alexander: We’ll start with an introduction by former Senator Joe Lieberman, followed by a brief statement by our nominee. Then the committee members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the nominee, to which she will respond, “We’re looking into that.”

Joseph Lieberman: It’s great to be back in the Senate today to introduce Betsy DeVos for your consideration as the next Secretary of Education. I know that some people are questioning her qualifications. Too many of those questions seem to be based on the fact she does not come from within the education establishment. But, honestly, I believe that today, that is one of the most important qualifications you can have for this job. Betsy DeVos’s ignorance will trump the education establishment’s knowledge. See what I did there?

After leaving the Senate, I became co-chair of an organization called No Labels. Our philosophy is to avoid using obstructive labels like “Republican,” “Democrat,” or “unqualified.”

Senator Alexander: And now, a few words from nominee Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos: I’m honored president-elect Trump has asked me to join his team and I am grateful for his dedication to education. I don’t think he would have given his name to a university if he were not sincere about trying to make the best deal possible with America’s young adults. I think we can all agree that knowledge is good.

My greatest influence was a public school teacher named Elsa Prince. While her students called her Mrs. Prince, to this day, I just call her “Mom.” Or “billionaire Mom.” What kind of a daughter and Republican nominee would I be if I didn’t talk up my mother? Let’s just ignore the fact that the foundation that she and my father founded, whose tax filings list me as a Vice-President, annually makes large contributions to the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as an extremist anti-LGBT group.

If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child, we should support a parent’s right to choose. There should always be a Plan B. Unless the parent is a woman.

Related: What’s the worst that could happen under new ed Secretary Betsy Devos?

Senator Alexander: Now let’s turn to the questioning. Senator Bennet?

Senator Bennet: What have you learned about the failures of the Detroit public schools and Detroit charter schools that has informed your decision-making as the secretary of education? What went wrong that is going to go right in cities across America as a result of your philosophy about how we ought to move the country forward?

Related: In charter school oversight, as in foreign affairs, trust but verify

Betsy DeVos: Actually I believe there is a lot that has gone right in Detroit and Michigan with regard to charter schools. And since that’s my whole game, I have nothing else to contribute to a discussion about how to improve the public schools that serve 90% of America’s schoolchildren.

Senator Kaine: Should all schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act?

Betsy DeVos: Since I have no idea what that federal law is, even though it’s been around since 1975 and is budgeted at about $12 billion per year, I’m going to say that I think that’s a matter that’s best left to the states. I think that is certainly worth discussion and I look forward to discussing it further with you.

Senator Franken: I would like your views on the relative advantage of using assessments to measure proficiency or to measure growth.

Betsy. DeVos: Thank you, Senator, for that question. I think, if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would also correlate it to competency and mastery. So that each student is being measured according to the advancement that they’re making in each subject area.

Senator Franken: Well, that’s growth. That’s not proficiency.

Betsy. DeVos: The proficiency is like if they’ve reached a third-grade level for reading, etc.

Related: A top education reformer explains why we need to give Devos a chance

Senator Franken: Well, I’m asking about the debate between proficiency and growth, your thoughts on that. No Child Left Behind focused on proficiency, an arbitrary threshold, which meant that students who were very high performers, and those who will never reach proficiency, get ignored.

Betsy. DeVos: Senator, I’m not on the bubble on this issue. I’m in favor of growth in proficiency. But it would be premature for me to display any knowledge of the difference between the two.

Senator Murray: How do you intend to convince this committee that no entity will feel pressured to purchase, partner, or contract with corporate or nonprofit entities you and your family invested in, should you be confirmed as Secretary?

Betsy DeVos: In accordance with my conversations with the President-Elect, I can commit to you many things over which I will have no control. For example, if confirmed, I can promise that I will repeal the Common Core on my first day – which won’t be a weekend, I can assure you.

Senator Murphy: In the first round of questioning, I asked you if guns have any place in or around schools. Now, I want to ask you instead about grizzly bears. Do you think that grizzly bears have any place in or around schools?

Betsy DeVos: That is best left to locales and states to decide.

Senator Murphy: You can’t say definitively today that grizzly bears shouldn’t be in schools?

Betsy DeVos: I think in schools in neighborhoods with lots of guns – for example, the burning and crime-infested cities that the President-Elect often refers to – I would imagine that there is probably a grizzly bear in the schools to protect from potential guns.

If the question is around grizzly bear violence and the results of that, please know that my heart bleeds and is broken for those families that have lost any individual due to grizzly bear violence. It doesn’t bleed as much as the victims of grizzly bear violence do, of course, and the blood is just a drop in the bucket compared to blood spilled by the victims of gun violence.

Related: The Devos Distraction

Senator Murphy: I can go through a long litany of examples in which people have made their fortune off of public education dollars, like the charter school principal in Orlando who got a $519,000 payout when his school or her school was closed for poor performance. My question to you is, do you support companies and individuals profiting from public education dollars that is essentially taking money away from students to pay salaries for CEOs in return for investors?

Betsy DeVos: Thank you for that question. Let me just say that I have no intention of answering it.

Senator Paul: What’s your favorite color?

Betsy DeVos: I have seen many students benefit from the success of being able to choose a blue school.

Senator Sanders: Would you work with me and others to make public colleges and universities tuition free through federal and state efforts?

Betsy DeVos: Senator, I think that’s a really interesting idea, and it is really great to consider and think about, but I think we also have to consider the fact that there is nothing in life that is truly free.

Senator Sanders: My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude, but do you think if you were not a multibillionaire, that if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?

Betsy DeVos: Senator, I think that’s a really interesting idea, and it is really great to consider and think about, but I think we also have to consider the fact that there is nothing in life that is truly free.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters

Aaron Pallas

Aaron Pallas is Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He has also taught at Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and… See Archive

Letters to the Editor

Send us your thoughts

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.





No letters have been published at this time.