The Cluelessness of Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education.  Ms. DeVos brings little in the way of useful qualifications to her work:  no experience as a teacher or school administrator, no academic background in education, no kids who attended public schools, no experience running a very large organization.  What she does bring to her job are two qualities that some people think are more important than any other:  she has huge piles of money that she uses to make generous contributions to conservative candidates and conservative causes and she is an avowed enemy of public education and a strong proponent of charter schools.  It seems safe to suggest that if it were up to Betsy DeVos there would be no public schools in the U.S.

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school mass murder in February, President Trump appointed DeVos to lead a new federal commission on school safety.  The Department of Education’s web site recently posted an explanation of the commission’s early efforts.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today announced new details on the Federal Commission on School Safety the President appointed her to chair. The Commission has been charged with quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school. 

The same statement, posted on the Department of Education web site, states that

“Over the last several weeks, I have held meetings with parents and non-profit organizations, who in the wake of tragedy, have leapt into action and have focused on finding solutions to school violence,” said Secretary DeVos. “The Commission’s task will be to hear their ideas and the ideas of anyone who is focused on finding solutions to bolster school safety across the country. We want to highlight what’s working so that every school has access to solutions that will keep students and teachers safe.”

One of the commission’s members is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the same Department of Education statement explains that

Attorney General Sessions had this to say about the Federal Commission on School Safety’s work, “No child should have to be afraid to go to school. That’s why President Trump has taken action to strengthen law enforcement and to protect law-abiding people from the threat of gun violence. Since last month’s tragic shooting in Parkland, the Department of Justice has taken new steps to put more law enforcement officers in schools, ban bump stocks, get better information to our background check systems, and aggressively prosecute those who lie on a background check. I am confident that, by bringing together teachers, parents, and law enforcement officers, the School Safety Commission will inform the next steps we will take to give students safety and peace of mind.”

Another commission member is Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and the statement notes that

Secretary Azar added, “It is a core responsibility of government to keep our communities, and especially our schools, safe from all forms of violence. We at HHS look forward to contributing to the work of the Commission, especially when it comes to identifying young Americans struggling with serious emotional disturbance or serious mental illness and helping them find treatment that enables them to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.”

Yet another commission member is Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, and of her the statement notes that

Secretary Nielsen said, “No child should have to worry about their safety when in school. The Department’s top priority is to keep the American people safe. I look forward to working with other Commission members to advance school security, including by promoting education and community awareness of school threats, capacity building and training to guard against them, and early warning mechanisms to help intervene before threats become tragedies.”

So it seems reasonably self-evident that one of the issues this commission will look at is gun violence in schools, right?

Apparently, wrong.  As CBS News reported last week after DeVos’s testimony before a Senate subcommittee,

The federal school safety commission set up after the deadly shooting at a Florida high school will not examine the role of guns in school violence, Education Secretary Betsy said Tuesday. “That is not part of the commission’s charge per se,” DeVos told a Senate subcommittee overseeing education spending. 


During a hearing on education spending, DeVos was asked whether the commission that she is chairing will look at guns in the context of school safety. 

 “We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.” 


Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, who asked the question, quipped, “So you are studying gun violence, but not considering the role of guns.”  

DeVos’ spokeswoman Liz Hill later clarified in a statement that the commission will look at all the issues the president asked it to study. She added, however, “It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress’ job.” 

Unbelievable.  These people – and especially Ms. DeVos – are utterly clueless.

And apparently, unconcerned about the prospect of another Parkland.

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  • OnlyGoodBooks  On June 15, 2018 at 6:21 am

    I agree DeVos is clueless. But you strongly imply that charter schools are not public schools, and they are: publicly funded, publicly regulated, publicly assessed, and free to students. They serve roughly 3.1 million students in 44 states plus DC, and in many major cities, they provide viable alternative s to the ineffective district schools. Not all charters are successful, but the deal is that they gain autonomy in exchange for accountability and are meant to be closed if not working, unlike district schools which remain open regardless of their performance. Look at Camden, for example, where charters have increasingly made positive inroads.

  • foureyedcurmudgeon  On June 15, 2018 at 8:43 am

    You make some valid points. Yes, charter schools are public schools, but I believe that to folks like DeVos, public schools are a necessary evil that, if the opportunity presented itself, they’d happily abolish entirely as something to which people are not entitled. From my perspective, moreover, charter schools are mostly – not entirely – but mostly a way for greedy people to grab/steal chunks of public money. Too many people who start charter schools also start school management companies that charge their own schools exorbitant fees for their own non-expert, mostly non-existent “management services.” The schools’ founders, who typically have no credentials in school leadership at all, buy cheap buildings and then charge the schools high rents on them while also employing family members who could barely operate the fry station at McDonalds in jobs for which they are grossly unqualified. There was a terrific piece on an Ohio charter cyberschool operator in the publication Mother Jones a few months ago. Read it ( and you’ll want to reach through the magazine’s pages and punch the school’s founder in the nose.

  •  On June 18, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Oh, they are NOT clueless. They are vile money grubbers who care more about their NRA supporting clique than any child. Furthermore, what separates the USA from other countries is a commitment to educate ALL of the people. True education reform will never occur with a ruling class that values elitism over education.

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On June 18, 2018 at 2:54 pm

      Reminds me of a Jeb Bartlet response to a plea for more charter schools based on the idea that they would help some kids get a better education: “That’s fine, but I haven’t given up on giving ALL the kids a better education” (I’m paraphrasing)

  • Sarah Tantillo  On June 18, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    I do not disagree that some charter operators are ineffective and/or sleazy. But I think you are both over-generalizing about the charter movement, and if you lived in one of the many major cities in this country, you would probably not want to send you children to district schools. You might argue that you want to improve district schools (and I would agree, we should, and many of us are trying to), but you would not send your children to them. I have no doubt that if you lived in Newark, for example, you would want to send your children to a charter public school instead of a district public school. By a long shot. Parents who cannot afford to move deserve good schools, and for decades prior to the emergence of charters, they had zero options.

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