Nominee Betsy DeVos’s Knowledge of Education Basics Is Open to Criticism
WASHINGTON — Until Tuesday, the fight over Betsy DeVos’s nomination to be secretary of education revolved mostly around her support of contentious school choice programs.
But her confirmation hearing that night opened her up to new criticism: that her long battle for school choice, controversial as it has been, is the sum total of her experience and understanding of education policy. In questioning by senators, she seemed either unaware or unsupportive of the longstanding policies and functions of the department she is in line to lead, from special education rules to the policing of for-profit universities.
Ms. DeVos admitted that she might have been “confused” when she appeared not to know that the broad statute that has governed special education for more than four decades is federal law.
A billionaire investor, education philanthropist and Michigan Republican activist, Ms. DeVos acknowledged that she has no personal experience with student loans — the federal government is the largest provider — and said she would have to “review” the department’s policies that try to prevent fraud by for-profit colleges.
She appeared blank on basic education terms. Asked how school performance should be assessed, she did not know the difference between growth, which measures how much students have learned over a given period, and proficiency, which measures how many students reach a targeted score.
Ms. DeVos even became something of an internet punch line when she suggested that some school officials should be allowed to carry guns on the premises to defend against grizzly bears.
But if she was sometimes rattled on the specifics, Ms. DeVos was unshakable in her belief that education authority should devolve away from the federal government and toward state and local authorities. Whether the issue was allowing guns in schools, how to investigate sexual assault on college campuses, or how to measure learning, her answer was always that states and what she called “locales” knew best.
Those answers reflected the same instinct that has driven her advocacy of school choice, primarily vouchers, which take money from public schools to help families pay tuition at private schools, and charter schools, which are publicly funded but typically independent of school district or union rules. As she said bluntly in a 2015 education speech, “Government really sucks.”
Ms. DeVos’s supporters defended her performance at the hearing, saying Nominee Betsy DeVos’s Knowledge of Education Basics Is Open to Criticism - The New York Times: