What I learned from watching three hours of the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:
- Betsy DeVos demonstrated a lack of any understanding about student assessment.
- Betsy DeVos said that permitting guns in schools is a decision that should be left up to individual schools.
- Betsy DeVos did not commit to preschool for all children.
- Betsy DeVos said that educating children with special needs and disabilities is up to individual schools and districts, and she did not commit to upholding existing federal mandates regarding the education of children with special needs and children with disabilities.
- Betsy DeVos said that she does not support equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds. Charter schools, funded with taxes, will not have the same accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.
- Betsy DeVos said that charter schools, funded with public taxes, do not have to adhere to the same policies as traditional public schools in regard to regulations about student bullying and student suspensions.
- Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in for-profit colleges.
- Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws which address sexual assault on college campuses.
- Betsy DeVos will take money from traditional public schools to privatize public education.
- Betsy DeVos, although questioned directly about the civil rights of LGBT students, gave no statement in direct support of LGBT students.
- Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, did not allow appropriate questioning of Betsy DeVos. He did not honor the requests of his senate colleagues for more time for additional questions. There is precedent for that courtesy being extended to senate colleagues who request additional time for questions.
What I didn’t learn from what was said at the three hours of testimony, but could tell from the obsequiousness of the Republican senators and the lack of questioning of Betsy DeVos permitted by the chairman:
According to Education Week, Betsy DeVos and her family have given nearly $1 million directly to 21 Republican senators over past election cycles. In addition, the analysis found 10 senators on the Senate education committee have received donations from a political action committee controlled by the DeVos family, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the chair of the committee.
Where do we go from here?
- Recognize that what Bernie Sanders has pointed out about our political system as a whole is true about education in particular as well: We are an oligarchy. Money talks. Money wins. Citizens lose. Children lose.
- That oligarchy in education is not new. It has existed during the past two presidencies with the privatization of public education through the taxpayer funding of charter schools, the dominance of the standardized testing industry, and education standards determined by the man with the most money, but that oligarchy was hidden under the misnomer of “education reform.” Education was not reformed. All that happened is that the very rich gained control of the agenda for education and the aspiring-to-be-rich-through-privatizing-a-public-institution became rich. But now the oligarchy is crystal clear. Now the danger to our republic is clear. Now the danger to our kids is right before us.
- Be grateful for the clarity.
- Fight like crazy.
Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.