Betsy DeVos's Biggest Sin is Supporting School Choice, Not Lack of Experience

The Democrats, along with their cohorts in the media, did a terrific job in making Betsy DeVos’s lack of experience in the public school system the be-all, end-all of whether or not somebody can run the Department of Education. The caterwauling from Democrats, ignorant celebrities, and dunderhead media personalities managed to advance that narrative. Thankfully, no other Republicans chickened out of confirming her and after a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, DeVos was confirmed.

Despite all the hullabaloo and gnashing of teeth by DeVos opponents, their criticisms are misplaced. The first is that the Department of Education is a vehicle for the public school system. Susan Collins, one of two Republican defectors, said the job the Secretary of Education is to, “strengthen our public schools.” Other criticisms directly tied her lack of experience as a teacher or employee in a public school district as the silver bullet against her nomination.

The idea that the Department of Education is devoted to public schools is hogwash. Betsy DeVos is the Secretary of Education, not Secretary of Public Schools. It is the Department of Education, not the Department of Public Schools. The job of the Secretary is to improve education, providing students with the best opportunities to learn. 

Whether those opportunities exist in public schools, private schools, charter schools, home-schooling or parochial schools is all that is relevant. Not DeVos’s lack of experience in the public education system.

People want to whitewash Arne Duncan’s failure as the Education Secretary conveniently, but if their argument is that experience makes for success, then an examination of his track record is warranted. Although never a teacher, Duncan certainly had the resume Democrats are seeking. Educated at Harvard University, he rose to become the CEO of Chicago Public Schools in 2001. In 2009 he was confirmed as the Secretary of Education and stepped down in 2015. How did Duncan do?

There’s one word to describe his tenure: Failure. 

The School Improvement Program (SIG) is the program Duncan said was going to “transform” not “just tinker” to improve public schools. SIG came with a price tag of $7 billion, and it was all wasted:

The final IES report on the School Improvement Grant program is devastating to Arne Duncan’s and the Obama administration’s education legacy. A major evaluation commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by two highly respected research institutions delivered a crushing verdict: The program failed and failed badly. (The Washington Post’s article by Emma Brown does an exceptional job recounting the administration’s $7 billion folly.)

Despite its gargantuan price tag, SIG generated no academic gains for the students it was meant to help. Failing schools that received multi-year grants from the program to “turn around” ended up with results no better than similar schools that received zero dollars from the program. To be clear: Billions spent had no effect.

Seven billion dollars. Down the drain.

Can Democrats explain to me again the importance of experience?

The concern Democrats and by extension, teachers unions have with DeVos has nothing to do with her experience. They fear the crumbling of their power structure because DeVos is a strong advocate for school choice. The head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten sounded the alarm as most school union alarmists do, declaring DeVos’s efforts in Michigan, “The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education.”

Weingarten’s comments are indicative of the typical blather spouted by those who seek to maintain a public school monopoly that ignores the interests of parents and children. Weingarten and her ilk believe they know better, how students should be educated and in their view, school choice is an “evil” option.

They are afraid DeVos is going to disrupt the system. They should be afraid. And I hope she does disrupt the system. Arne Duncan’s $7 billion failure invites radical changes and new approaches.Here’s hoping DeVos does just that.