Last week, on Feb. 7, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate as the 11th Secretary of Education of the United States. DeVos, who has been primarily known as a philanthropist and a businesswoman, was a controversial hire in the opinions of both Republicans and Democrats alike. Vice President Mike Pence broke the then-even tie of DeVos’ nomination. This was the first time in history that a cabinet nominee has been nominated into office by a tie-breaking vote.
Dr. Jeff Trotter, a professor in the School of Education, said of the hiring of DeVos:
“In my opinion, we can do better, need to do better, but won’t do better educating our populace, with the appointment of Secretary DeVos.”
“Particularly problematic is her dearth of awareness about current educational best practices, lack of knowledge about current law and policy, as well as her enduring commitment to an alternative educational model that has not lived up to its promise,” he said.
DeVos has been a long-time advocate for school choice, school voucher programs and charter schooling, specifically supporting the Detroit charter school system in her home state of Michigan.
Trotter, like many others in the world of education has concerns over DeVos’ views on public education as a whole. When asked about what he sees as some of the current problems facing our country in terms of education, he said: “Although approximately 90 percent of us in college attended a public school and will build our vocations and community involvement on the shoulders of public education teachers, it would be difficult to find too many professions more maligned, underappreciated and dismissed by the educated masses than being a classroom teacher.”
“Second, there are too many myths about public school education in the US, which run rampantly with only ‘alternative facts’ for support. I recommend ‘50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools’ by Berliner and Glass to anyone who wants an informed understanding. Finally, there is a genuine need for reform in public education,” he said.
“Fortunately, there is plenty of research based evidence on what those reforms should be as well as how to go about accomplishing them. However, until education is made a genuine priority of US policy with proven educators in positions of leadership, we will continue having these same conversations,” Trotter continued.
The U.S. ranks far from the top in math, science and reading subjects when stacked up against other countries that seem to have found a way to make, specifically, public education, work effectively. And, whether the issue is pedagogy-related or related to a lack of sheer emphasis on education, Trotter believes that there are ways to address some of these issues.
“My hope would be that data and evidence would inform our decisions concerning education more than political philosophy,” he said. “We have working models of highly effective educational systems. It isn’t a secret how to create a powerful education model because it is happening in other democratic countries. This begs the question that, if it isn’t a secret, if we have best-practice evidence, then why aren’t we pursuing it? In part, we must decide if educating our children well is a priority and if we have the will necessary.”
In closing, Trotter said, “The answer, in my opinion, is related to priority, commitment and will. Unfortunately, until educating our children is extracted from partisanship, outdated philosophies and political maneuvering we will continue to say education is a priority without ever doing what is necessary to make it one.”