Thursday, February 9, 2017

DeVos Staying The Course

Betsy DeVos granted her first interview as Secretary of Education, or even Secretary-nominee, to Ingrid Jacques at the Detroit News.

Jacques could be counted on to treat DeVos with warm, soft, friendly gloves. The deputy editorial page editor has previously told readers that DeVos is all about children, that the EAA is working, and that DeVos showed grit at her hearing. Jacques was a fine choice for a friendly interview.

The confirmation process, led Jacques, was "grueling" with DeVos facing "ferocious and largely personal attacks on her character" as well as attacks about her support of school choice. But in keeping with the sorry-not-sorry tone of the piece, Jacques suggests that it was mean to hammer DeVos for her comments about choice, but not that any of the hammering was unfair, inaccurate or anything other than a response to what DeVos actually believes and says. And while I actually agree that some attacks were not useful (piling on over "historical" and bears seems pointless, criticizing DeVos based on her experience in education was difficult because she has none, just as she has no experience working at a job, for a boss. Or starting out with little and working hard to get ahead. Or, despite the honorary "businesswoman" label that some media awarded her, the lack of running any organization or business of any size. Maybe it feels personal to bring up DeVos's complete lack of educational experience, but her utter lack of even the thinnest qualification for the job was precisely the problem.

I am disappointed with how some people have behaved, yes. But I still remain very hopeful that if people can unite around doing what’s right for kids we can ultimately find common ground.

Well, goodness gracious. We'll all try to behave better. But I do give her credit for mastering the kind of empty rhetoric favored by USED Secretaries. If we all agreed on what was right for kids, there's be a lot less contention of course. But DeVos is already on record believing that government doesn't know what's right for anyone, and she's also been clear that some folks (lookin' at you, teacher unions) don't really care about what's right for kids anyway.

Jacques also wanted to know, given all the discussion and criticism in the media, well-- how did that make her feel?? Which-- really? Is anyone asking Jeff Sessions how he feels? Is anyone asking Bernie Sanders how he feels? Granted, President Snowflake lets us know about his feels all the time, so maybe things are changed, but I can't help thinking that nobody would be asking DeVos about her feelings if she were a man. Anyway, how does she feel? Did this all make her feel mad?

"Yes, at times it certainly did,” she says. “It was frustrating. I was really discouraged, but I was told not to engage with the media. It was so one-sided and discouraging in that regard."

And yet, somehow, we are going to get all the way through this interview without a single concrete suggestion about what her critics got wrong. There's this:

Now that it’s over, DeVos sees a big part of her mission as convincing those she’ll be working with in the education establishment that she’s not out to destroy America’s public schools, but to make them better for all children.

But later in the interview:

All the work I’ve done has been to help kids for whom the schools they’re assigned don’t work, but with the hope that the schools that they would leave actually have an opportunity to get better as well and should challenge themselves to be better.

Which is another way of saying that she's focused on getting kids out of public schools, scolding those schools on the way out. And despite her first statement, note that she's not going to make those public schools better-- she's going to hope that they get their act together themselves. Later in the interview she re-asserts her full commitment to charters and choice and "is not backing down" on those policy priorities. There's a "quiet and growing army" that wants change, and she's there for them. So "better for all children" may be a bit of an overstatement. Or misstatement, or maybe alternative statement.

Or in response to the charge that she has ethical conflicts that haven't been cleaned up--

...the allegation that I’m ethically conflicted — that I have conflicts that I’m not taking care of. That’s is very bothersome to me.

Not "I've totally taken care of those and made sure that all ethical conflicts are cleared up over and above the requirements of the law." Just that it's bothersome to be called on it.

DeVos tone polices her own hearing and admits that maybe she wasn't super, but it wasn't her fault.

“There were a few things I could have answered better or more articulately,” she says. “In my defense, the questioners had no interest in really hearing a full response, I don’t think. I did not want to be combative. I wanted to continue to be respectful and to try to reflect the kind of demeanor that I think we should have surrounding these conversations."

So, "I could have answered better but they were mean and also I was behaving properly even if certain people were not." And even though she could have done better, she still asserts that her preparation for the hearing was super-duper.

She also takes a moment to claim that Michigan charters are totally a hotbed of accountability, with so much accountability that no other state accountabilties like Michigan accountabilities. Michigan accountability is "much more stringent" than any other state which 1) is so not true that even other people in the charter industry recognize its not trueness and 2) to any extent there any accountability rules in Michigan, it's no thanks to DeVos, who has fought them hard.

Jacques makes note of DeVos's first day walking tour through USED to meet all the employees (and she did it in heels-- seriously, would any man be subjected to this baloney), and she tries to wrap this puff pastry of a profile by showing how open and ready to go DeVos is-- not like that mean Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the NEA, who said there will be no working relationship with this ed secretary. Now any union president might conclude that based on how ferociously DeVos went after the teacher unions in Michigan, but again, Jacques seems to imagine that DeVos arrives tabla rasa with no previous history worth mentioning.

Betsy, bless her heart, is "ready and willing to move on from the bitterness of the confirmation," but not by acknowledging that any one of her critics had a point worth responding to.

Seriously-- how hard would it be to craft something along the lines of "I have plenty to learn because I've never held a position like this or worked with public education, but I promise to study hard" or something like "US education is torn by a hundred different viewpoints and as the country's secretary of education it's my job to listen to all of those folks so that I can best chart a course forward."

But no-- as with her boss, DeVos seems to see the world composed of two groups-- people who support her and people who are attacking her. And she doesn't need any input, has no need to learn anything. We already know this-- the most telling question I heard her fluff at he hearing was her response to Michael Bennett, who asked her what she had learned from her experience with charters and public schools in Detroit. She had no answer.

Her priorities are already set.  Here's DeVos on finding Congressional allies:

I’m very optimistic that I will be able to strike up a relationship with a number of members of the Senate who on paper are more closely aligned with giving parents more choices than much of the rhetoric we’ve heard to date.

Here's DeVos on what she hopes for a legacy

I would hope by the time I leave to have allowed students across this country, particularly those who are today struggling most, to find and go to a school where they are going to thrive in and grow and become everything they hope to be.

DeVos is hear to replace public education with a charter-choice system. She's not even here to argue for it-- not once does she mention making a case for her policy-- she's just here to do it. She's not here to listen to the varying points of view on public education. And like President Snowflake, she really doesn't want to hear mean people disagreeing with her.

In short, while this interview (like the bear joke and her "find a pencil" tweet) may have been intended to soften her image, the bottom line is that Betsy DeVos is in DC to do exactly what she's given every indication she would-- ignore critics, push public education aside with charter-choice-voucher systems, and continue to move forward resolutely disregarding anyone who is not on her team and any information that doesn't fit her ideology. It looks like what we're getting is exactly what we thought we were getting.



  2. To be fair, Peter, I wore heels on my first day at my first job, too. Of course I was 16 and working part time in a bakery, selling blueberry muffins. I just didn't know better. Maybe if Betsy had held a job- any job - before now, she wouldn't have made that rookie mistake.

    1. It's not that she wore them; it's that somehow her footwear is worth noting in the story. Bet you none of the male cabinet secretaries have their wardrobe reported in the first-day-at-work stories.

  3. Peter, I live in Michigan. Ingrid Jacques is such a shill it's disgusting. She regularly re-posts press releases from the Mackinac Center and has huge disdain for public schools, teachers and unions. Her pieces are deceptive and not even in a clever way. Perfect piece on DeVos by the way.