Grading Betsy DeVos After One Year

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By Andrew Pillow  

It has been a little over a year since Betsy DeVos took the role of Secretary of Education. She was a controversial pick for this role. She seemed uncomfortable answering questions about her views during her Senate hearings. She seemed even more uncomfortable answering questions about education in general. Which led many to point out her lack of actual educational experience. In the end, the vote to install her as Secretary of Education ended in a 50-50 deadlock after some Republican defections. Mike Pence had to become the first-ever vice president to cast a tie-breaking vote for a Cabinet nominee.

While by some accounts DeVos has “softened her language” around her more controversial proposals, she still remains a polarizing figure. So how has DeVos really done during her tenure as Secretary of Education?

Let’s break it down into several categories:

1.       Stated Goals vs Accomplishments

There were a number of actions DeVos said she wanted to get done as Secretary of Education. She wanted to scale back the role of government in education and she wanted to pass an ambitious school choice proposal.

She’s done one of those things.

She has scaled back the role of government in education. She’s undone many regulations without replacing them. She’s left certain roles vacant for long periods of time and appointed people who don’t believe their jobs should even exist. These actions decreases the role of government, but many would argue it is the worst way you could possibly do it.

She has yet to pass the ambitious school choice overhaul even though that was her main goal prior to taking office. It’s also worth noting that Republicans who mostly ideologically agree with her, control both houses of Congress. She did succeed in expanding the use of the 529 savings accounts to include use for school choice initiatives.

Stated Goals vs Accomplishments: C

2.       Controversy

Betsy DeVos appears to actually have made attempts to not be purposely abrasive while in office which is a sharp departure from her style prior to taking the job and a departure from her boss that appointed her.

Still, she has managed to attract negative attention through political gaffes and controversial appointments. Whether it’s citing Jim Crow era educational systems as a model for “School Choice,” or making jokes about “nobody getting a free lunch,” every other month DeVos finds a way to make controversy in a position that usually, for the most part, stays out of the headlines.

This isn’t even touching on her propensity to choose the worst person to fill specific roles in her administration. Such as appointing Candice Jackson to lead the office of civil rights even though she has repeatedly referred to the work of Murray N. Rothbard as a “monumental achievement.” Rothbard is known for disagreeing with compulsory education and wait for it…CIVIL RIGHTS!

The amount of controversy she generates is not only annoying, but a barrier to achieving her own aims. Especially, when you consider the average American couldn’t even tell you who the Secretary of Education was before her.

Controversy: F

3.       Policy Moves

So, what are the actual policy moves Betsy DeVos has done? Well, mostly it’s what she hasn’t done or has undone. Like every other Trump nominee, she wanted to undo Obama era regulations and laws.

In that vein, she scaled back the Obama program for defrauded student loan victims. This mostly referencing the collapse of the large for-profit schools like ITT Tech and Corinthians Colleges. DeVos wants to replace that regulation with a stricter law to “save the taxpayers money.” The current system limits relief based on income.

Still, it’s hard to justify leaving thousands of defrauded college students to languish under student loans when it's the government that determined students were being defrauded in the first place.

Betsy DeVos also reversed Obama-era policy on school sexual assault. Specifically doing away with the burden of proof required to punish the accuser on a college campus sexual assault case. This move was controversial, but there were many who agreed with it.

As a black person from “To Kill a Mockingbird” land, I understand the need to protect the rights of the accused. However, the Obama era law was created to protect victims as well and Betsy DeVos did not replace it with anything better. Is it okay for a school not to do anything about a sexual assault even if the “preponderance of evidence” suggests the victim is telling the truth? According to Betsy DeVos, the answer is yes and that’s not okay.

Her policy moves accomplished some things that some people thought maybe needed to be done, but in the worst and most heavy-handed way possible.

Policy Moves: D+

Overall Betsy DeVos probably deserves around a D for her final grade. It’s worth noting that her tenure is not finished, and she has many ideas in the works. If you like Betsy DeVos’s ideas, then you are probably excited that she is beginning to hit her stride. If you are not a fan, you probably would prefer her to go back to being ineffective.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.