Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Bad Is DeVos? So Bad...

The nomination of Betsy DeVos to the post of Secretary of Education is such a bad choice that we don't even have to talk about actual policy ideas to understand how unsuited she is for the position. Consider--

John King was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But John King has worked in a classroom with students and run a school, even if the classroom and school were charters. John King has held a statewide post in government as head of education in New York State. He doesn't appear to have been very good at any of these jobs-- but he has at least been exposed to what happens on all three levels so that he has at least a vague working knowledge of what goes on in those areas. He even attended public school as a child.

Betsy DeVos has none of those qualifications. She has never been a public school students and never worked as a teacher, administrator or state level education bureaucrat. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than John King.

Arne Duncan was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But Arne Duncan had been responsible for a major urban school system, so he had at least some vague notion of what happens in a public school system. He had political connections not because he had money to throw around, but because he was a good and loyal friend to people with bigger political profiles. Hell, he was a good basketball player, meaning he was at least exposed to the concept of teamwork and the idea of working hard to achieve a goal.

Betsy DeVos has never run an organization as sprawling and varied as an urban school district, and has no experience with any such educational system. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than Arne Duncan.

Eva Moskowitz was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But Eva Moskowitz built a school-flavored business from the ground up, so she has at least some vague notion of the many moving parts involved in making a school work. And while Moskowitz is by no means wealth-impaired, she has showed political savvy and an ability to make friends in high places to get her own way.

Betsy DeVos has no experience in the inner workings of a school or a business, and certainly not an organization that wants to be both. And she only knows one way to build political connections-- writing checks. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than Eva Moskowitz.

She Who Will Not Be Named (ex-DC chancellor) was an unspeakably awful choice for Secretary of Education. But like Duncan, she has been in charge of a major urban school district. She has stood in a classroom and tried to teach. And She is experienced at getting other people to invest in her vision and displayed a real gift for generating positive PR, even when she doesn't deserve any of it.

Betsy DeVos has never run a school district. She has never taught. And she has never had to convince anyone to back her idea, because she can bankroll it all herself. Nor has she ever displayed any talent for being the public PR-friendly face of anything.

All four of the above terrible, terrible choices for Secretary of Education worked their way up from a poor or middle class background, learning how to sell themselves, start an enterprise, make friends, gather influence, and just generally make their way in the world. Professionally, they have had to learn how to work other people to get what they want.

Betsy DeVos was born rich, married rich, and has never had to build influence or make a case for her own views by any method other than exercising her bank account (a bank account that she never did a lick of work to fill up in the first place). A Secretary of Education has to build influence, make a case, sell an idea, and do the political work to push across policies. DeVos has never had to do any of these things; and a Secretary of Education cannot build political clout or support by flexing her personal wealth. DeVos has ideas about education, but she has never done any of the legwork or built understanding about how to implement her ideas beyond writing a check or hiring some people to astroturf support for ideas. She has simply bought allies and bankrolled compliance; there is no reason to believe that she knows how to win agreement and cooperation from people who are not financially beholden to her. If DeVos had not been born rich, if she had not married rich, we would not be having this conversation, and she would not be a person of influence in education. DeVos is one of those masks that money puts on when it wants to walk around and do stuff; without the money, she's an empty sack with no more importance or influence than a regular citizen, or a teacher.

The four candidates listed above are all terrible, terrible choices for the post, and yet all of them have qualifications that DeVos lacks. In fact, before we even start to discuss just how terrible and destructive her ideas about public education are, we should be talking about her complete lack of qualifications to run a federal department. She is not familiar with how schools work. She is not familiar with how large metropolitan or state systems for education work. She is not familiar with how to work with people who are not on her personal payroll.

Bottom line-- even if you think that Betsy DeVos is bang-on correct in her education ideas* there is no reason at all to believe that she has any of the tools necessary to succeed as head of the US Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos is supremely unqualified, the most terrible of the terrible choices for Secretary of Education.

*in which case you are seriously deluded, but let's skip past that for the moment


  1. Lamar Alexander apparently has a different view:

    I don't know what he was smoking, but I want some.

  2. But she's actually a very logical choice since our political system appears to have become anarcho-corporatist fascism, where the government is totally controlled by the money power of the rich and their corporations. Which is why everything has gone to hell in a handbasket and works so poorly for the 99% and makes no sense.

  3. But she wants to privatize public schools and put more religion back into education across the country. That's why they picked her. This is shaping up to be the most reactionary administration ever. I imagine that Rebekah Mercer thinks that DeVos is an excellent choice.

  4. So next maybe he will put El Chapo in charge of the DEA

  5. Don't we WANT Trump's Ed Sec to be incapable of doing anything?

  6. it occurs to me that a pattern is emerging . . . horrible choices for SofE . . . so maybe in the long run someone somewhere can justify getting rid of public education all together?? after all, no one seems to be able to run it properly . . . always, always follow the money; somebody somewhere is getting something for driving public education into the ground.

  7. This is such a sad time for education in America. To consider someone such as Betsy DeVos, who not only has no experience with public education, but has such warped view of it. Her only answer is to destroy the only way for the masses of our children to better themselves. No public education is not perfect, but it
    needs a leader who has an understanding of its problems through experience of involvement. Our country can not "be great again" by ignoring the needs of the future. Our nation's future is our children. The fastest way to make us a third world country is to significantly diminish the role of public education.


  8. The silver lining to her nomination based on this analysis: she might get nothing done.

  9. I think Michelle Rhee would have made a good choice so I disagree with part of what you post above.

    1. Curious: why do you think Michelle Rhee would have been a good choice? What about her record makes her not just "better than Betsy" but actually "good?"

  10. The Department of Education should be eliminated. It's been around for more than 4 decades, yet hasn't educated anyone. More money is spent on education in America every year, and we are always told that it needs even more. When will it be enough? You don't have that answer, because you want that total to keep rising. What results have we had over that time period? Bad ones. I guess since DeVos doesn't fit your liberal template, she has to be bad. That's not surprising, coming from the echo chamber that is public education in this country.

  11. Why would it be bad that she was born rich, married rich, etc? That doesn't sound very fair to disqualify her on that basis. Very much socioeconomic snobbery from you. Why must one have run a school district or classroom to be the Sec Ed? I understand that being "in the trenches" in any industry can give you a good perspective as a CEO/General/Leader, but it is not required. It is not better, only different. How is being a teacher related to the position of Sec Ed? A teacher is a hero who tries to help children learn and grow and deal with life (sometimes a child's life is VERY difficult); the Sec Ed is responsible for drafting, executing, and directing policy at the Federal level. She will be working with politicians, lobbyists, and high-level bureaucrats. Unless I am quite mistaken, that is something she is exceptionally qualified for. I fear you've allowed your philosophical viewpoints on education to cloud your judgment of her abilities and effectiveness in her potential role. Please be careful not to fall victim to the emotional maleficence that Trump often induces. She is qualified; you perhaps only disagree with her viewpoint on education.