Who is Betsy DeVos? What will she do? 

On the eve of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten blasted Betsy DeVos as “the most anti-public education nominee” ever.

Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

DeVos is a “fairly traditional, center-right education reformer,” not a radical, argues Michael Q. McShane in Education Next.

She “has a long history of supporting the kinds of accountability and school-choice policies that a broad swath of the education-reform community has championed over the last two decades,” he writes.

DeVos grew up in a wealthy family, then married an Amway heir. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, are major donors to Republican candidates and conservative causes, as well as to education, the arts, their community, etc.

As a whole, the DeVos family has given $1.33 billion to charity, according to Forbes’ list of America’s Top Givers of 2015.  That’s one-quarter of their current net worth, making them the “24th most-generous philanthropic family in the United States,” writes McShane.

DeVos’ interest in education reform was spared by a visit to The Potter’s House, a “Christ-centered” school that serves low-income students in Grand Rapids, she said in a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable. She and her husband started by funding private-school scholarships for low-income students, but worried about the many children who needed better schools.

Potter's HousePotter’s House school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I’m most focused on educational choice,” she said. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP Code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible.”

DeVos founded the pro-choice American Federation for Children, and the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which advocates for “choice, quality and accountability” in Michigan.

Betsy and Dick DeVos also founded West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school in Grand Rapids.

Some conservatives are dubious about DeVos, reports McShane. GLEP backed Common Core standards, when they were adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education in 2010.

“When governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense,” writes DeVos on her web site. She abandoned the Core when the U.S. Education Department intervened, she claims.

Ed Week rounds up the nominee’s backers and detractors.

Update: DeVos’ confirmation hearings have been postponed by one week.

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  1. What will Betsy Devos do? Not much more than her predecessors Arne Duncan and John King Jr with whom she shares considerable overlap on policy positions. That pesky Tenth Amendment.

    So she really doesn’t have any more leverage than those predecessors but being a Trump appointee will no doubt draw lots of nastiness that was muted due to her predecessors being Obama appointees.

    The irony is that the district system depends on public disinterest and would be best served if the public would just go back to sleep on the issue.

    But supporters of the district system won’t be able to help themselves continually raising the issue by attacking Betsy DeVos. Those attacks will serve to continually remind the public that there’s a lot wrong with the public education system and there will be Betsy DeVos pushing her ideas.

  2. PhillipMarlowe says:

    She “has a long history of supporting the kinds of accountability
    No, she has not supported accountability, arguing against efforts to hold charter schools and voucher recipient schools accountable for anything.

    • Charter schools are overseen by much less tolerant parties than district schools.

      If a charter school can’t pay its bills its doors are closed.

      If a charter school doesn’t convince parents it’s educating their kids and keeping their kids safe its doors are closed.

      That’s as opposed to district schools which can be unsafe, do a poor job of educating kids and overspend their budgets with no repercussions.

      And oh by the way, Arne Duncan and John King Jr., Obama’s appointees, were vocally supportive of charters. That means Obama was as well.

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