President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated two females for positions in his cabinet, and the public has turned its attention to his nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, 58-year-old philanthropist and previously chairwoman of the Michigan Republican party.
Throughout her commitments in state-level politics, DeVos demonstrated activism for private schools and greater freedom for parents to select where and how their child is educated. Her policies have been in favor of charter schools, which are independent public schools funded separately from both national and state government regulation. Both she and Trump believe that education should be privatized, and run at a local level.
DeVos’ conservative approach to education hopes to improve American educational standards and opportunity for students to select which schools they want to invest their time and effort into. This competition will force poorer performing schools to improve under the potential consequence that if their quality decreases, they could lose popularity and face failure. DeVos is currently part of the Great Lakes Education Program and the American Federation for Children, which lobbies in favor of charter schools (Westervelt NPR).
However, the success of these schools in Michigan has faced great criticism and skepticism—according to The Economist, studies have shown that “In a state where test scores have declined over the past decade, 80 percent of charters are below the state average in reading and maths.” DeVos also worked to prevent government crackdowns on some of Michigan’s worst charter schools, where a reputation for underperformance and lack of regulation and disclosure is held.
This is probably DeVos achilles heel in her credibility to accept the nomination; she holds a strong bias towards privately funded schools, and has little experience or awareness for the public education system. AP Government teacher, Liz Tanner, says “There is a strong irony in appointing someone to lead a system which she knows little about.”
Profit can also become greatly involved, as charter schools must account for the voice of their investors and donors; in some scenarios, it has been evident, that rather than educational success, private companies may have their own biased education and business agenda in mind. Although some factors privately funded education can compensate for public school flaws, such as insufficient resources and underperforming teachers, the incentive of profit is not always a clean resolution. Their independence and freedom from regulation can lead to a failure to match minimum standards, and an ability to evade releasing data and statistics to prove student performance. Additionally, it is speculated that they don’t address the issue of income inequality and tuition complications either.
Despite accepting her appointment, DeVos was not a Trump supporter and actively supported his rivals during the nomination process. According to the Washington Post, she has made it her public opinion that she does not believe Trump, as a candidate, embodies the Republican party. In addition, the two have clashing opinions in regards to the currently Common Core program. DeVos is and has always been a supporter; Trump, on the other hand, has avidly opposed it since its’ implementation, and vows to get rid of it.
Some, however, disagree with the Board of Education and its existence at all.
“How many people have 30, 40, 50 grand a year to put their child through elementary school? Parents should have a choice over where their kids go school. The whole Department of Education should be abolished; we want local control over our own schools. Our money shouldn’t be going to another state, or even another country,” said Dennis Lynch, math teacher.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that states that the Fed has to be overseeing education. It didn’t exist until the 70’s. It should be left up to the states and the local principalities to figure out what the curriculum should be, their standards for graduation. Have the local school district do that in conjunction with the classroom to figure that out– because our needs here might not be the same as ones for schools in Michigan, Iowa, etc,” said Santiago Gomez, math teacher.
Trump’s administration shall be facing immense scrutiny and analysis for his appointments, as they will begin to reflect his administration’s focus, priorities, and political direction. However, Trump’s approach to national education (an already controversial topic as it is) will be greatly debated. For the most part, his agenda seems to be pointing toward breaking down the current bureaucracy, as well as the typical role of federal government. Some critics look to his past involvement in his own Trump University and it’s notorious track record; others will be wary of DeVos history of involvement in her home state, Michigan.