Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Mis-Education of Betsy DeVos

Tim Alberta has published a firm-but-gentle profile of Betsy DeVos. It is perhaps not as brutal as some of her opponents would like it to be, but I've argued since Day One that some folks are opposing a cartoon version of DeVos which is not the real thing-- and it's dangerous not to understand the real thing.

Dammit- you again?!

But on to Alberta's profile.

I'm not going to go line by line or graph by graph-- you really should read the whole thing yourself. But there are some things that really jump out. Here are some of the DeVosian faces that Alberta shows us.

The Bad Manager DeVos

Who could have guessed, the article seems to ask, that DeVos would be so ill-equipped to run a large government department.

Well, me. I would have guessed that. And a few hundred of my colleagues. DeVos never ran a large government organization, never had to deal with people or politicians who were not being "convinced" by the power of her checkbook. It was absolutely predictable (and in fact predicted) that she would not be able to manage the bureaucratic organization of her department or forge support for her programs in Congress.

The Under-coached DeVos

In retrospect, DeVos tells me, she blames the transition team for its handling of her confirmation. “I think I was undercoached,” she says. “The transition group was very circumspect about how much information they gave me about then-current policy and … it was in their view a balance between being prepared for a confirmation hearing and not having well-formed opinions on what should or shouldn’t change, so as not to get caught in a confirmation hearing making commitments that then I wouldn’t want to or be able to keep. And in hindsight, I wish I had a whole lot more information.”

Sure, maybe. And I've never been nominated for a cabinet position. But if I were up for some huge job, I'm pretty sure I would crack open the internet and educate myself. Is she really suggesting that because Trump's team didn't prep her, she was helpless to study up for the job? In a field where she'd been working as a philanthro-lobbyist for three decades? Hell, to get a sense of what would come up in her hearings, all she would need to do was have a secretary round up all the pieces written by people who had been opposing her all this time.

No. While I can believe that the Trump team fumbled this, I can't believe that a grown-ass woman facing a huge job interview-- hell, a huge job-- wouldn't take the initiative to educate herself. Only spectacular ignorance ("How hard could it be?") or arrogance ("I already know everything I need to know") or deference ("I'll just do what the man in charge tells me to") or laziness ("I'll get ready for the hearings after I stream all the seasons of Friends") would explain it.

And she laments that she couldn't go do interviews on friendly morning shows-- but what would a woman, who by her own account was grievously underprepared-- what would that woman have to say?

The Mystified DeVos

DeVos is clearly bothered by the perception that she’s out to abolish public education in America, mentioning multiple times that it’s the biggest misconception about her. “I mean, nothing could be further from the truth,” she says. “Public schools are great. "

She can't be serious. Does she not remember when she declared that public schools are a "dead end." Does she really not see how easy it might be to interpret her actions in Michigan as a full frontal assault on public education? Unless she acknowledges those things, it's impossible to take her new-found love and respect for (at least a few) public schools seriously. It is one thing when your abusive spouse says, "I'm sorry for all the times I hit you and I'll never do it again." It's another thing entirely when they say, "But I would never hit you. I never did. You can totally trust me."

DeVos has spent thirty-some years making her antipathy form the public school system exceedingly clear. She has been hanging out with folks like Jeb Bush who have been clear about their desire to replace public schools with charters. She cannot be surprised that more than a few people noticed.

The Kingdom Gains DeVos

I have a test for Betsy DeVos profiles-- if there is no mention of Jesus or the Church or Christian faith in it, I know it's incomplete. Check just this partial list of articles-- I don't believe it's possible to really understand what DeVos has in mind without considering her faith . Alberta fails to include this aspect.

The Impatient DeVos

Alberta nicely dovetails the story of DeVos's mugging with the story of advocates trying to bar her from a school with the observation that patience is a thing she does not have. It's an aspect that isn't always highlighted, but always seems part of the picture-- DeVos expects to get her way, and being thwarted makes her angry and even less inclined to find middle ground than she already is.

This is a woman who's not troubled by doubt. Note that none of her poor performance at her hearing was her fault. And that performance included the revelation that she could not think of a single lesson that  she had learned from her work in Michigan or the trajectory of Detroit schools. Even my students know that at a job interview, you confess to some mistake or shortcoming-- I don't think DeVos ever has. It's a trait she shares with her boss-- she's certain she's right, and she has little patience for people who won't bend to her rightness.

The Disempowered DeVos

Alberta drives home the point that the USED secretary wields little power and controls a tiny part of school funding, so, really, between that and her inability to manage her department or forge alliances in Congress, there really isn't much she can get done. Fair enough. I hope he's right.

Bonus: Thanks a lot, Jeb

Alberta confirms that it's Jeb Bush who picked up the phone and started this ugly boulder rolling down the hill. It's worth remembering that there are many ways we could have ended up with this woman as USED secretary, and a Trump Presidency is only one of them.

The whole thing leaves her looking at least a little sympathetic, but there are real things to be learned, and it would be better if supporters of public education could focus on who she really is and not the crazy cartoon version. Let's save the outrage for something a little more important than her bad Halloween costume ideas, because the many faces of DeVos may not include super-powers, but they are still a threat to public education in this country, and it wouold be a mistake to dismiss her as just an incompetent, unqualified rube. She may not know much about education, and she may not have any idea what she doesn't know, but she's in a position to do some real harm, so the rst of us had better pay attention to all of the faces that are really her.


  1. At this point, even The74 is admitting that over in Devos-land Michigan, the state's schools --- and Detroit schools especially --- are a total mess, whose quality is sinking like an anchor.

    While this article ABOVE predictably and primarily blames the state board --- arguing for its abolition --- and merely cites "choice" as a POSSIBLE secondary culprit, The74 does FINALLY concede that "Scores Plummet" in Michigan, and that "some action is necessary to arrest an alarming decline in local academic performance" and ...

    THE 74:

    "In 2015, Michigan ranked 41st and 42nd in the country, respectively, for fourth-grade reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card — down from 28th and 27th in 2003. It experienced more modest drops in eighth-grade reading and math, fanning worries of a comprehensive downturn in school quality throughout the state.

    " 'Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum,' read a 2016 report from The Education Trust–Midwest.

    " 'White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live, Michigan students’ achievement levels in early reading and middle school math are not keeping up with the rest of the U.S., much less our international competitors.' ”

    "Some local observers have laid blame for the poor results at the feet of school choice advocates, most notably U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. After the widespread expansion of charter schools and open enrollment across school districts, the quality of Michigan schools is no better than it was two decades ago, and arguably a good deal worse. Analysis from Phil Power’s Center for Michigan has found that close to one-third of Michigan charters occupy the state’s bottom quarter of academic performance. About one-quarter of traditional district schools were grouped in that category."

  2. A couple more Betsy pieces fer ya...


    I guess telling the truth, or staying true you your
    word is not something that Betsy Devos takes
    very seriously --- even when speaking in public
    to a Senate Committee.

    During her confirmation hearing, Betsy publicly
    pledged to the Senate Education Committee that,
    while she served as Secretary of Ed, neither she
    nor her husband would make any contribution
    to any candidate, PAC, or political group.

    Well, THE DETROIT NEWS just discovered that she
    broke that pledge in April (less than 3 months after
    her solemn, public vow!!!), and then again in July:
    "State disclosure records show Dick DeVos contributed
    $3,000 to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC on
    April 20 and $2,000 to the Friends of West Michigan
    Business Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
    PAC on July 24."

  3. SECOND:

    A lesser known aspect of Betsy Devos' recent Harvard speech and Q@A.

    The Harvard Graduate School of Education posted an article on its website that posts the reactions of four or its professors to Devos' performance.

    SUMMARY: 3 Con, 1 Pro

    (There would have been 2 "Pro," had they interviewed the Devos Show's moderator and Devos' designated ass-kisser Paul Peterson. The one "Pro" was, predictably, choice cheerleader Tom Kane.)

  4. THIRD:

    USA TODAY reports on a survey indicating that, since and because of Devos' ascension to the Cabinet, teachers' stress and overall mental health problems have increased dramatically.


    "The survey of nearly 5,000 educators, most of them responding online, found that the vast majority — 86% — did not feel respected by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has made expanding private- and charter-school choice a centerpiece of her career.

    "Weingarten said the negative findings on DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and Republican mega-donor who has championed school choice, are telling.


    "A long list of anxieties — around school budget cuts, bullying, coarse political discourse and the shaky status of immigrant students — is taking a toll on teachers, a new survey shows, with more educators now saying their mental health is suffering than just two years earlier.

    "More than half of the educators point out their mental health is an issue: 58% said their mental health was 'not good' for seven or more of the previous 30 days. A similar survey in 2015 found just 34% of respondents felt the same.

    " ... "

    "After President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, Weingarten said, many observers believed that educator stress would ease.

    " 'You would have expected the numbers to go down, not up,' she said.

    "But stress over the coarseness of our political debate, she said, has become a big dilemma for schools, she said.

    “ 'This notion that being coarse and tough and enabling hate is OK is highly, highly, highly disruptive and problematic in schools and goes completely against what parents and teachers know is absolutely important for kids, which is a safe and welcoming environment,' Weingarten said in an interview.

    "The survey of nearly 5,000 educators, most of them responding online, found that the vast majority — 86% — did not feel respected by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has made expanding private- and charter-school choice a centerpiece of her career.

    "Weingarten said the negative findings on DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and Republican mega-donor who has championed school choice, are telling.

    " 'People get what she’s doing — and she’s doing the same thing nationally as she tried to do in Michigan ... which is to completely disrupt public schooling, find ways to undermine it, defund it, destabilize it, at the same time actively promoting private alternatives, even though the private alternatives don’t have a good track record,' she said.

    "Weingarten also criticized DeVos for not stepping in more forcefully, as past administrations have done, to help educators after recent natural and man-made disasters."

    “ 'That has never happened with this administration: Not after Charlottesville, not after the hurricanes, not after the fires, not after Las Vegas. It has never happened (with DeVos). Instead, she spends the time sitting with (Republican pollster) Frank Luntz trying to figure out how to sell vouchers.' ”

    "The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the findings, which relied on a random sample of 830 members the teachers' federation as well as educators in two New York school districts. More than 4,000 other educators responded to a public version of the survey online.

    "The findings show that 61% of educators, as well as school staff, say their work “always” or 'often' stressful.

    "They also don't appear to get much sleep: Only one in five (18%) get eight or more hours of sleep per night. The vast majority (78%) manage five to seven hours a night.

    "The new survey follows an unrelated one from UCLA last week that found 51.4% of teachers reported more students experiencing 'high levels of stress and anxiety' than in previous years."

  5. "... firm but gentle...."

    Sorry, but I'm missing the "firm". Unless you mean the way he is firmly talking down to the "organized left" who have to audacity (and the stupidity) to oppose Her Royal Educationness. This profile is hagiographic it's nauseating.

  6. "Let them have a laugh, while I walk on my path, unhindered."

  7. I was very interested to read this piece when it came out yesterday. Not just because I follow all the stories about BDV, having been a front-line victim of her education thinking in MI, but because the piece was written by Tim Alberta.

    Tim Alberta grew up as the son of a fire-breathing evangelical minister in the town where I lived and taught for 20 years. Tim Alberta's father--Richard Alberta--was "pastor" of a huge, growing right-wing mega-church.

    Richard Alberta was frequently in the local newspaper, pontificating on all the lesser-light churches in the area. Including my own little Episcopalian congregation, which had an openly gay (but subdued) minister. "Reverend" Alberta took great pleasure in outing our priest on every possible occasion, on the front page of Brighton Argus. Claiming he would turn little Brighton into Sodom and Gomorrah---and worse. Made us targets of free-floating local hatred. Dividing up the local ministerial association into "biblical" and "non-biblical" chapters.

    When that priest left, our next priest was African-American. And so Rev. Alberta started hosting meetings to gin up concern about extra security needed for local churches, since we were so close to Detroit, with "Detroit" being code language for black people. Like our minister.

    When Tim Alberta started writing for national media outlets, there was an article in the local paper where his family lovingly jokes about what a wild and crazy guy he is, but still beloved by his right-wing conservative white family. Kind of nauseating.

    Politico doesn't label him as their resident righty, but the fact that the piece does NOT identify BDV with her scolding Calvinist, Christian-school roots is telling.

    Great analysis, by the way.

  8. Mentioned in passing in the POLITICO article was the "boxed water" promotion that Devos foisted on the interviewer/writer. He further writes that he had to coax out of her --- and to his credit, he included in the article --- the fact that she owned the company.

    Think about that for a second.

    Politicians that Devos bankrolled the politicians who privatized Flint's water system, in keeping with the Devos' penchant to privatize everything. This leads to a Chernobyl-in-Michigan fiasco, one of the worst public health crises in American history.

    So what does Devos do in response to the crisis that she was a prime mover in making happen? Why, she seizes the opportunity to make a buck off this fiasco by creating and owning a "Boxed Water" company that sells this stuff to the victims in Flint.


    After being named Sec. of Ed., Devos even released a photo --- the only photo of her with school-aged children --- that included the boxed water prominently displayed.

    Never miss an opportunity to promote a for-profit venture!

    Mother Crusader caught this last January:


    "At first glance this just looks like a lovely photo of DeVos in conversation with a student.

    "But huh, isn't it a little odd that there is a carton in front of each of them? And not just any carton, a carton of water. That's not something you see everyday.

    "It looks like a product placement, doesn't it? But nah, she's savvy enough to keep any products her family business may be associated with far away from the Twitter account where she's tweeting about her appointment, right?

    "She can't be involved in that company, that would look like a conflict of interest!"
    " ... "

    "A story of government failure. Let that just sink in for just a moment.

    "How opportunistic is if for a business funded by the DeVos family to send out a press release about donating boxed water to Flint, when their 44 million dollars in campaign contributions helped elect Republican legislators that have failed the people of Flint for decades?

    "Disaster capitalism at its finest.

    "Hard not to draw comparisons to DeVos and her penchant for privatization and school choice, isn't it?

    "Wreck the public schools by underfunding them and busting their unions, and then offer the desperate masses for-profit charters and vouchers to private schools!

    "And as it so happens, one of the many "enterprises" that is listed as part of The Windcrest Group portfolio, right on the same page as the Boxed Water company, is the charter school started by DeVos' husband, the West Michigan Aviation Academy.

    "Because to people like Trump and DeVos, a school is just another business.

    "So here is the big question - at a time when questions swirl around the Trump family's business empire and the unavoidable conflicts of interest, what about DeVos? In how many businesses does the DeVos family have an interest, and how many of those businesses could potentially benefit from her new position?

    "After all, if she's not above using her official Twitter account to shill boxed water sold by a company she has invested in, what other products might her family sell that could lead to conflicts in her new role as a government official?

    "Will she divest from her business interests now that she is poised to become a government employee? Or does Trump believe that the "law is on the side" of the Secretary of Education as well, and she can't have a conflict of interest?

    "Can she shill boxed water that pays her dividends on her Twitter account, President Trump?

    "Are you OK with that?"