Those who keep a close eye on Capitol Hill have seen some rough confirmation hearings, but after Donald Trump tapped Betsy DeVos – by most fair measures, an opponent of public education – to lead the Department of Education, she struggled in highly memorable ways.
One senator, for example, asked about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and DeVos seemed to have no idea it was current law. Another asked for her opinions on the difference between evaluating education proficiency and growth, one of the more common areas of debate in the field. DeVos made it clear she was clueless. Another senator asked about guns in schools, and the nominee raised the prospect of grizzly bears going after children in Wyoming.
The Washington Post put together a video at the time of “head-scratching moments” from DeVos’ hearing, and it wasn’t a short clip.
Soon after, two Senate Republicans said they simply couldn’t confirm DeVos to a post she was obviously unqualified to hold, but Vice President Mike Pence intervened to break a 50-50 tie and DeVos was confirmed.
We learned last night that the Education secretary has not spent the last year doing her homework. BuzzFeed explained:
Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s polarizing education secretary, gave a cringe-worthy interview Sunday on 60 Minutes, in which she fumbled through questions about school safety, sexual assault on campus, inequality, and school choice, the agenda she has fastened her reputation and expertise upon. […]
The education secretary stumbled through basically the entire thing and people watching were shocked and more than slightly concerned.
CBS published the clip and the transcript of the interview, which is worth checking out if you missed the segment, but if I were to try to summarize the problem in one sentence, I’d say DeVos struggled because she had no idea what she was talking about.
After making the case that public schools improve once systems are partially privatized through vouchers – a highly dubious claim, to be sure – CBS’s Lesley Stahl asked if Michigan’s public schools in DeVos’ home state of Michigan got better. “I don’t know,” the cabinet secretary said.
Asked if she’s visited really bad schools to see first-hand what’s going wrong, DeVos replied, “I have not, I have not, I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.”
Asked if she believes the number of false accusations of sexual assault are as high as the number of actual rapes, DeVos said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. But I’m committed to a process that’s fair for everyone involved.”
When Stahl brought up disproportion in discipline for the same infraction as likely evidence of institutional racism, DeVos said, “We’re studying it carefully.”
At one point, the CBS reporter was forced to defend public education from the cabinet secretary who’s supposed to support public education.
DEVOS: We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars 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-à-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.
There’s a reason Betsy DeVos doesn’t sit down for a lot of interviews.
My question, however, is for the 51 Republicans who elevated her to her current post: any regrets?