Betsy DeVos has never spent a day of her life in public education. Not as a student, not as a parent, not as a teacher, paraprofessional, custodian, bus driver, lunch lady… you get the idea. But she is now the federal secretary of education. And it seems some of the Republicans who voted for her confirmation are desperately hoping she won’t make herself — and them — look like fools.
Nebraska senator Deb Fischer, one of those Republicans, wants to give DeVos some on-the-job training of sorts. On Monday evening Fischer appeared on a Nebraska radio show, where she told a caller,
Well, what I think what we need to do is make sure that we get the secretary of education out to the states and out to these great public schools that we have. That’s how we can show how successful we are in educating our youth.
This is what we get from the Trump administration. The highest officials in the land, starting with the president, learning what their job is all about as they go. No matter what you thought of the presidency of George W. Bush, at least his education picks had some background in the area he asked them to take charge of. Bush’s first education secretary, Rod Paige, was a former public school superintendent. His second, Margaret Spellings, had worked on education reform in Texas. It’s not even clear that Betsy DeVos could find a public school unless she were to happen to notice a “School Zone — 20 mph” sign from her seat in the back of her limo.
So Deb Fischer wants DeVos to get out and see what wonderful things schools are doing. Swell. Oh, let’s be clear; DeVos will see some great things going on in America’s public schools. But she still won’t know anything about things like IDEA (the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) and how it affects schools. She’ll still be clueless about Title IX (the law that prohibits sex-based discrimination). Visiting schools won’t make DeVos an expert on ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the main national law on education, and its updates such as ESSA — the Every Student Succeeds Act).
Visiting public schools won’t make DeVos an expert on things like FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), or on any of the programs the Department of Education handles related to public colleges and universities. She has zero experience in that area, too. She attended a private, “Christian” college. (And one where hundreds of students and alumni wrote to senators begging them to reject her nomination.)
This is where I get personal. I have two degrees in education. I spent almost 30 years of my life in a public school classroom as a teacher, in addition to 12 years as a public school student and another six years earning those two degrees at a public university. I know a little something about all those acronyms I mentioned. And I know that I am nowhere near qualified to be the federal secretary of education. But Senator Fischer thinks we can take a woman who has devoted her life to destroying public schools, show her the inside of a few of them, and suddenly she’ll be the best, most wonderful education secretary the world has ever seen. Deb Fischer could use a little education herself.
Here are Fischer’s remarks, via CNN: