Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Thoroughly Embarrassed Herself on 60 Minutes Last Night
Betsy DeVos thoroughly embarrassed herself on 60 Minutes last night, failing to meaningfully answer any of host Lesley Stahl’s questions or display a basic grasp of how the American education system is performing. Stahl, to her credit, repeatedly had to correct DeVos, provide her with basic information about states’ educational systems, and push back for real answers on substantive questions. DeVos issued a whole heap of bland nonsense statements over the course of the interview, such as “empowering parents to make the choices for their kids” and “schools are made up of individual students attending them.”
As part of the interview, DeVos argued on behalf of her “school choice” policies, which would divert billions of dollars of federal funds from the public school system to alternatives like home schools, charter schools, parochial schools, and other religious schools. In the interview, DeVos argued that this was necessary because the federal government has “invested billions and billions and billions of dollars” in the education system for “zero results.”
“But that really isn’t true,” Stahl responded. “Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished?”
“Well actually, test scores vis-à-vis the rest of the world have not gone up,” DeVos said. “And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That’s just not acceptable.”
“No it’s not acceptable,” Stahl agreed. “But it’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better. You won’t acknowledge that.”
“But I don’t think they have for too many kids. We’ve stagnated.”
“Okay, so there’s the big argument,” said Stahl. “So what can be done about that?”
DeVos responded with some nonsense. “What can be done about that is empowering parents to make the choices for their kids,” she said. “Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don’t have the power, that can’t decide ‘I’m gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child,’ if they don’t have that choice—and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don’t have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.”
Stahl then pointed out the obvious consequences of taking federal money away from public schools, particularly those that are already struggling to provide for their students, and handing it to alternatives. “Why take away money from that school that’s not working?”
“Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school—school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems,” DeVos said. I’m sorry, but WHAT. How does one invest “in students” except by paying for them to have desks, textbooks, and highly qualified teachers?
“But what about the kids who are back at the school that’s not working?” Stahl asked. “What about those kids?”
“Well, in places where there have been … where there is a lot of choice that’s been introduced—Florida, for example—the studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually—the results get better, as well.”
Stahl pushed back on that idea with evidence. “Now, has that happened in Michigan?” she asked. “We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.”
“Michi—Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.”
“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” Stahl repeated.
“I don’t know. Overall, I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.”
Stahl, however, could say what was happening, because she knew exactly how poorly Michigan was doing. “The whole state is not doing well.”
“Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this … The students are doing well and—”
“No, but your argument, that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan, where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.”
“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.”
Stahl then repeated herself. “The public schools here are doing worse than they did.”
DeVos did not address the underlying question. “Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.”
“Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?”
“I have not … I have not—I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.”
“Maybe you should.”
“Maybe I should. Yes.”
In addition to functionally privatizing the U.S. school system, DeVos has also infamously “de-regulated” the federal education system. She rolled back protections for transgender students, rescinded guidelines for students with disabilities, and undid regulations related to sexual assault.
Her next target? Federal regulations which prohibit schools from punishing students of color more than they do white students for the same infraction. DeVos argued that “all students means all students,” and so these rules should be “studied.”
Stahl, yet again, pushed back. “But let’s say there’s a disruption in the classroom,” she said, “and a bunch of whites kids are disruptive and they get punished—you know, go see the principal. But the black kids are, you know, they call in the cops. I mean, that’s the issue: who and how the kids who disrupt are being punished.”
“Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids,” Devos answered, yet again dodging the actual question.
“Well, no,” Stahl said. “That—it’s not.”
“It’s not” is really the only appropriate response to Betsy DeVos’s ideas about the nature of a successful education system.
(via CBS News; featured image: screengrab)
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