MU Community Responds to the Future of Education Following Secretary Appointment

MU Community Betsy DeVos 1The nomination of Betsy DeVos incited controversy following her appointment as Secretary of Education on Jan. 31. .

Some of the areas of disagreement between parties includes her stance on guns in schools, the legal rights of disabled students, questionable positions on LGBTQ+ rights, or the future of public schools.  

On Jan. 17, DeVos attended her senate confirmation hearing in which she was consistently interrogated by senator after senator with questions that ranged from her tax returns, which previously have never been an issue for other nominees in the past, to her possible conflicts of interest and the debate on proficiency versus growth.

Carolyn Groff, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said, “In an effort to present both sides, I tried to do some research on why some people think Mrs. DeVos is qualified to be the Secretary of Education. Mrs. DeVos, as many know, is an heiress who donates philanthropically to many causes. Therefore, she was well-known among political circles…” she said.

“It is not clear if her political and philanthropic ties will allow her to remain neutral and keep a clear separation between religious institutions and federal/state-run institutions. She has not been a teacher, and this worries teachers who feel that their profession might be de-professionalized further under DeVos…,” Groff continued.

Minnesota Senator, Alan Franken, addressed the conflict of her family’s supposed donations to Focus on the Family, a global Christian ministry focusing on helping families via marriage help and blog posts dealing with a number of issues from homosexuality to raising children. Focus on the Family has been said to support the idea of conversion therapy which, since its development in the 20th century, has been widely discredited and rejected due to the fact that it leads to homelessness, suicide, depression, drug abuse, etc specifically in LGBT youth; founders of conversion therapy have since renounced the idea and have issued formal apologies.

DeVos contradicts her family’s supposed donations by stating at her hearing, “I’ve never believed in that...I fully embrace equality and believe in the innate value of every single human being and that all students, no matter their age, should be able to attend a school and feel safe and be free of discrimination, so let’s start there.”

While Groff is not the only one who is leery about the future of teachers and their professions, David Glass, a junior history and secondary education student, commented, “I think it is important to have a Secretary of Education who has experience in the field and who has served as a teacher. The people who understand the needs of the students the most are those who most directly work with them. That being said, it is hard to support such a nominee who understands little about the field and who struggles to answer some of the most pressing issues in the field.”

On a lighter note, Glass also mentioned, “At the end of the day, in my opinion, as long as teachers remain passionate, caring, and hardworking, the success of the students is guaranteed. Policy does not create success in education, but rather it is the teachers and students who generate success, and as long as there are good teachers, students will continue to succeed.”

MU Community Betsy DeVos 2Ken Mitchell, Ph.D., Department Chair of the Political Science Department, explained DeVos’ personal schooling preferences, he said, “She [Betsy DeVos] comes out of the school choice--there’s three different models: traditional public schools, funded by taxpayers, the second option, charter schools--publicly funded, and the third one, school choice. Each parent is essentially given a ticket, the state is going to give a certain amount of money per student so the student can go to essentially any public school they want.”

Upon the recent vote to appoint DeVos as the Secretary of Education, Mitchell explained that it makes sense that the vote was so clearly divided: the Republican party understands that the federal government’s role in education will essentially be abolished. Senate questions didn’t stop there. In her hearing, DeVos seemed to have misinterpreted or confused the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by not realizing it is a federal law.

Since her hearing, she has sent a letter to Georgia Senator, Johnny Isakson, who originally touched on the topic, stating clearly her position. Though the letter was addressed to Senator Isakson, New Hampshire Senator, Margaret Hassan who questioned DeVos’ commitment to students with disabilities, responded via The Mighty: “While I’m glad Mrs. DeVos clarified that she is no longer confused about whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law and was able to define the basic tenets of this law, her letter does nothing to reassure me that she will enforce the IDEA or honor our commitment to ensuring that all students receive a free and appropriate public education.”

In response to how DeVos’ opinions on IDEA affect the community, Groff said, “This is not a post in which simply ‘related’ or ‘similar’ experience will do. In the confirmation hearings, Mrs. DeVos showed a lack of understanding about important aspects of education, such as how the IDEA works in schools, and the difference between proficiency and growth, which are basic concepts in implementing the assessment and instruction cycle.”

Getting the chance to speak to Groff of her experiences sheds a light on what not only teachers go through, but what students deserve of their teachers and how the future of education needs to be pushed in the right direction: “When I first began teaching, many of my students did not have running water in their homes. I would have them all go to the restroom upon getting off the bus in order to wash up. I taught in a trailer with a hole in the door and a leak in the roof. If you opened the back door, one would fall into a cornfield that had snakes. These children deserved better public schools. And now their own children deserve the same. I’m not sure, under Mrs. DeVos, if this would become a reality due to her lack of commitment to public schools and her lack of experience in managing such major educational challenges.”

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