Protesting Betsy DeVos in Upper Senate Park, D.C. January 29, 2017
As protests swept the nation last weekend, you may have overlooked the wave of pushback against Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Education Department.
From Los Angles to Washington, D.C., students, teachers, parents and public school advocates are demanding that the Senate reject her nomination. Critics are objecting to her lack of qualifications, her numerous conflicts of interest, her connection to dark money influence in politics and her lack of knowledge about the basics of education policy.
DeVos’s background, stated views, and charitable giving represent a political and cultural extremism incompatible with the federal government’s role in education.
Education investments DeVos has made also call into question how far out of the mainstream she is on issues of teaching and learning.
As Progressive Education Fellow Jennifer Berkshire writes on her own blog, DeVos and her husband have invested heavily in Neurocore, a biofeedback company that markets an expensive program claiming to have the power to raise IQ scores, based on dubious science. So far DeVos has refused to shed her stake in the company should she be confirmed.
In a report for ProPublica, Annie Waldman notes," DeVos and her family have poured millions of dollars into groups that champion intelligent design, the doctrine that the complexity of biological life can best be explained by the existence of a creator rather than by Darwinian evolution." When she was closely questioned about these investments at her confirmation hearing, she replied with a claim to support "critical thinking" in science, a code whistle for including intelligent design in school science curriculum.
The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on her nomination. If they approve, her name will be submitted to the full Senate for confirmation. There’s still time to register your opposition
DeVos is arguably Trump’s most-protested cabinet appointment. Opponents to her confirmation have jammed senators’ phone lines and flooded their offices with letters. While some Democratic senators have crossed party lines and approved Trump cabinet nominees, opposition against DeVos from Senate Democrats appears solid.
As multiple news sources report, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said every Democrat on the committee voting Tuesday, and perhaps every Democrat in the entire Senate, will vote against DeVos’s confirmation.
Seasoned education journalists at Education Week report that the odds on DeVos getting confirmed currently look favorable due to the Republican Senate majority. But they also note that Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both Republicans, may be on the fence. Both represent rural states, and, as I wrote last week, DeVos’s adamant support for the transfer of public money to private schools through school vouchers, without adequate oversight and mandated standards, could devastate rural and small-town schools. Will Republican senators representing rural constituents think twice before casting their ballots?
Further, as the EdWeek reporters note, DeVos has become “so controversial” that Democrats can take advantage of her negatives to press their case against ill-conceived education policies ideas embraced by DeVos and Trump. Ideally, that opposition will come across as united support for public schools that are truly public.