BORA ZALOSHNJA ’20
On Feb. 7, Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in Congress to confirm Betsy DeVos as the secretary of education. Republicans celebrated this as a victory, but this appointment has the potential to devastate the American economy and put our country even further behind the rest of the world in education.
America is already trailing behind in education. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report studied 34 countries, including America. The U.S. ranked 17th overall among the 34 countries, 17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math. Nordic and East Asian countries like Finland and Japan continuously outperform America. The CIA factbook ranks the US 44th in literacy. People often call America the greatest country in the world, but education wise, it has fallen behind.
The quality of an education system is crucial to growing a country’s economy. It is no coincidence that the nations with the best education system have the strongest and fastest growing GDPs. A study published in Education Next, an education research journal found that “each additional year of average schooling in a country increased the average 40-year growth rate in GDP by about 0.37 percentage points.”
Republican or Democrat, everyone can agree that America’s education system needs reform and change. This may be why Trump chose DeVos. She is a big change from any Education Secretary we have ever had, but she is a change in the wrong direction. DeVos is horrendously under qualified to be the Secretary of Education, and has conflicting interests in the form of economic ties with legislators.
First off, DeVos has absolutely no experience in the field of education. She has never held a professional position as an educator, she didn’t study education in college, and neither she, her husband nor any of her children have ever attended public school. In a 16 page letter criticizing DeVos, Senator Elizabeth Warren argued that “there is no precedent for an Education Department Secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education.”
DeVos’s ties to legislators are also muddled with hefty donations to their campaigns, Her family has used their enormous wealth to influence legislators for some time now. They’ve given $200 million to right-wing causes since 1970. She also gave at least $100,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC, possibly one of the reason she was tapped for this position. “She is, in essence, a lobbyist — someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them,” said Stephen Henderson editor of the Detroit Free Press who has been watching DeVos work since she started.
As Secretary, DeVos wants to implement school choice, which is essentially allowing students to go to school wherever they choose, and appropriating federal funds to those schools. This may sound like a good idea at first, but school choice is riddled with problems. States that have already tried to implement it have shown just how disastrous its impact on school districts is. Pouring money into charter and magnet schools rather than investing in failing school districts just hasn’t worked. After DeVos implemented school choice in districts in Michigan, their scores plummeted. Michigan is “among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better,” according to the New York Times.
Additionally, the choice program allows educators to line their own pockets. A 2014 investigation by the Detroit Free Press reported that Michigan’s charter schools “rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it.” They found that charter school employees and board members were “steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders,” and that more charter schools were ranking below the 25th percentile than public schools. “Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits,” they reported.
This is what DeVos was allowed to do for Michigan due to her immense wealth, and this is what she will be able to do to our country if the other branches of government don’t check her newfound power over our public schools. This may be hard for some because DeVos has donated to so many of them, but legislators must think with their heads rather than their wallets in these upcoming years. They need fight against DeVos’s school choice ambitions and put money into reforming public schools rather than throwing it away on charter schools. Citizens should also contact their senators whenever they are about to make a vote on an education issue and voice their concerns. Only by working hard to resist DeVos will the American people be able to salvage our education system.