Desks in a classroom.
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Trump’s pick for Education Secretary failed to do her homework

When choosing nominees for his cabinet, Donald Trump wasted no time in selecting Betsy DeVos. The president-elect announced just two weeks after Election Day – before Thanksgiving – that the Michigan billionaire megadonor was his choice for Secretary of Education.

The timeline is relevant for a specific reason: DeVos, more than practically any other cabinet nominee, had all kinds of time to prepare for her confirmation process. Her hearing late yesterday suggests DeVos did not use this time wisely.
DeVos refused to promise that she would not privatize or strip funding from the public schools she would oversee if confirmed.

Asked bluntly by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington whether she would commit to keeping funding for public schools intact, DeVos dodged the question.
Over and over again, Democratic senators pressed the Education nominee on questions she must have known were coming, but DeVos was nevertheless woefully unprepared for each of them.

In one especially cringe-worthy exchange, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) asked about the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which DeVos didn’t realize is an existing federal law. “I may have confused it,” the nominee conceded.

Soon after, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked about her opinions on the difference between evaluating education proficiency and growth, one of the more common areas of debate in the field. DeVos rambled for a while, before making clear she had no idea what Franken was talking about.

Asked by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) about guns in schools, DeVos suggested grizzly bears may try to attack children in states in Wyoming, so she’d prefer to leave the matter up to states.

The Washington Post put together a video of “head-scratching moments” from DeVos’ hearing, and it wasn’t a short clip.

There is a certain irony to the developments: Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education failed to do her homework, and as a consequence, she flunked her big test.

The truth is, DeVos’ nomination is tough to defend on the merits, even looking past yesterday’s hearing. As we discussed when she was first tapped for the position, the Republican activist has spent years crusading against public education and pushing for privatization though voucher schemes.

The New York Times reported in November, “It is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos.” Her only relevant experience in shaping education policy was DeVos’ role as one of the architects of Detroit’s charter-school experiment – which produced disastrous results.

But despite this background, DeVos could’ve anticipated Democratic questions and prepared reassuring-sounding answers. Instead, the Republican reinforced the worst fears about her nomination.

Cabinet and Education Policy

Trump's pick for Education Secretary failed to do her homework