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Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Secretary of Education After an Historic 50-50 Split Vote

by Jacob Lynch

Elizabeth Dee DeVos, more commonly called by her nickname Betsy, took the office of Secretary of Education on February 7th, 2017. She will be the eleventh person to officially fill this role. The historical significance of this event pertains more to how it took place rather than her being elected.

Vice President Mike Pence secured DeVos’s position in his voting for her. Pence’s vote was the tiebreaker for Devos. She had 50 votes both for and against her before his intervention, Pence’s vote being the 51st in her favor. This was the first time in history that the vice president has had to break a tie for the appointment of a presidential cabinet member. [1]

DeVos’s personal history with the public education system she now heads is strangely strenuous. DeVos has never attended a public school, nor have any of her four children. She attended the Holland Christian High School in her hometown of Holland, Michigan, a private Christian school. She went on to attend Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here she studied business administration and political science.[2]

Unlike some of the preceding Secretaries of Education, DeVos has never been any sort of educator, in either private or public education. Although there have been other Secretaries of Education that had no background in educating themselves, this is still a troubling state to be in.

DeVos’s personal beliefs regarding public schooling in the United States have also led her to the guillotine of criticism. She is an advocate for school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools. [2] Along with this she has been critical of the public education system in the past. “Traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing,” she stated. [3]

A brief description for those not familiar with these institutions she supports. Charter schools are schools that are given government funding and yet do not have to adhere to the regulations normal schools must bow to. They operate independently and in some cases are privately owned. The laws governing them vary from state to state. [4] School choice relates to the position of allowing students different options than the regular public schools, that they and their families can choose, regardless of their area of residence. [5] Finally, school vouchers are certificates that the government provides to fund a particular student going to a private school that they choose. The school must meet the minimum standards of their state in order to accept voucher students. [6]

Before the decisive vote, Minnesota senator Al Franken asked DeVos a question as to whether she thought that students should be measured on their growth or their proficiency, a debate currently ongoing in the education sphere. “I think, if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency,” answered DeVos “I would also correlate it to competency and mastery, so that each student is measured according to the advancement they’re making in each subject area.” “Well, that’s growth. That’s not proficiency.” Franken responded, “It surprises me that you don’t know this issue.” [7]

The news of DeVos’s appointment to this position of authority may not worry some people, but her lack of knowledge in regards to important aspects of the educational system is a bothersome ordeal. Some are more worried about education at the local level. “To be honest, I don’t know much about her; I’ve  been so tied up in local politics that I haven’t had time to look into her,” stated Principal Tracey Franklin. Others, however, are worried now that DeVos sits in power. “From what I know of her, she shows no support for the public education system. She’s a supporter of charter schools. As a teacher, this worries me,” said social studies and psychology teacher Paul Daly. One can only hope that any worry one feels is misplaced, and that DeVos changes education in a way that is beneficial for all parties.

Sources:

[1] http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/mike-pence-casts-tie-breaking-vote-confirm-betsy-devos-education-n717836

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy_DeVos

[3] https://edexcellence.net/articles/betsy-devos-quotes-about-education

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_school

[5 ]https://www.edchoice.org/school-choice/what-is-school-choice/

[6] http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/school-choice-vouchers.aspx

[7] http://time.com/4637642/betsy-devos-confirmation-education-policy/