Society

Trump's Education Pick Is Loved And Also Hated

| by Nik Bonopartis

Depending on who you ask, Betsy DeVos is either a champion of school choice who has led the charge to improve schools in the nation's most vulnerable communities, or a calculating billionaire with no education credentials who has turned education into an engine for profit without regard for children.

To say that DeVos -- President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of education -- is polarizing would be an understatement. DeVos hails from an industrial family. Her brother, Erik Prince, founded military contractor Blackwater, which infamously slaughtered 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007 and benefited from billions in government contracts in almost two decades since its 1997 founding.

Born Betsy Prince, she married Dick DeVos, the billionaire heir of the Amway fortune and owner of the NBA's Orlando Magic.

The couple took up school vouchers and charter schools as one of their primary causes, co-chairing a pro-charter school group and bankrolling an eventually failed referendum that would have allowed tuition tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.

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But DeVos "isn't an educator, or an education leader," according to the Detroit Free Press' editorial board, which published a highly critical opinion article on Trump's choice on Dec. 4.

"She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance," the newspaper's editorial board wrote. "In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools."

Calling DeVos a lobbyist, the Detroit Free Press characterized her as someone who "used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them."

DeVos' ideological views match up with Trump's stated vision of promoting school choice so parents aren't forced to send their children to public schools with poor track records.

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During the presidential campaign, Trump described his plan to devote $20 billion in federal cash to promote charter, parochial and private schools, Mother Jones noted. Using public money to help fund private schools has long been a point of contention between ideologues on both sides of the spectrum.

The magazine quotes education historian Diane Ravitch, who says DeVos is "hostile to education" and would gut the public school system if she's appointed as secretary of education.

She has also been criticized for allegedly promoting religion in schools, once saying she believed education should "advance God's kingdom," according to Politico.

“People support school vouchers for different reasons. Some make a free-market argument because they are opposed to public schooling. Others want to prop up sectarian teachings with taxpayer money,” said Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “DeVos has a foot in both camps, which does not bode well for our public schools.”

But DeVos also has her supporters, including those who say her efforts in Michigan have provided better options for children who might otherwise be relegated to abysmal public schools in cities like Detroit.

Writing in the Washington Examiner, Center for Education Reform executive Jeanne Allen said DeVos is responsible for one of the "most successful charter school movements in the nation."

Allen said DeVos' influence has led to accountability in education -- charter schools are closed if they don't meet educational standards, she said, while some public schools remain open despite decades of failure.

The same charter schools that DeVos champions serve mostly black and Latino children, and provide them with quality educations, according to Allen.

"They're able to do so because they are judged rigorously on what they do, not the process by which they do it," Allen wrote. "It's about results, not paperwork or bureaucracy, the very kind that stifles innovation and discourages great educators."

Praising DeVos as a reformer who could put control of schools back in the hands of local communities, the editorial board of the Denver Post concluded DeVos "appears to be a good choice."

While noting some concerns about how DeVos might try to implement Trump's education agenda, the newspaper dismissed DeVos' ideological critics.

Although union teachers have been critical of DeVos, "the union is hardly a model of objectivity, since it has usually opposed even public school choice as well as modest attempts to nurture accountability and innovation in schools, including meaningful evaluations for teachers."

Sources: Detroit Free Press, Washington Examiner, CNN, Mother Jones, Denver Post, Politico / Photo credit: Keith A. Almi/Wikimedia Commons

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