Newly-minted Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has made headlines of late due to the much of the unprecedented rhetoric and cross-examination hurled at her by Senate Democrats during hearings on her suitability to join President Trump’s cabinet. She was confirmed by the Senate on February 6. Last week, when DeVos tried to enter Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington DC on February 10, protesters shouted “Shame! Shame!” while seeking to block her. She was eventually able to enter the school and talk to students and staff.
Reflecting on the incident on Wednesday at a conference of the Magnet Schools of America, DeVos said:
“I think the more states and locales are empowered to innovate and create and are unencumbered by unnecessary regulations and sort of beaten into compliance mentally vs. a can-do and results-oriented mentality, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that any type of top-down solution, no matter where you try to employ it in government, it’s not successful.”“Last Friday, a handful of protesters tried to block my entrance into Jefferson Middle School Academy here in D.C. While I eventually made it in, and had very constructive conversations with Chancellor Wilson, many DC administrative leaders, some terrific teachers and Principal Dohmann, the protesters’ behavior is a reflection of the way some seek to treat our education system — by keeping kids in and new thinking out."
“Friday’s incident demonstrates just how hostile some people are to change and to new ideas.”
The Washington Post has identified DeVos of “Enemy No.1” of teachers’ unions.
DeVos praised magnet schools, which are public schools that specialize in certain programs and curricula that emerged in the 1970s. She referred to them as the "original school choice option," and claimed that they have improved the lives of urban students, fought segregation, and provided "a quality option to parents and kids alike."
"After 40 years since the inception of magnet schools, I think it's important to celebrate their important role and also to remind ourselves that there's so much more work to be done," said DeVos.
In remarks to Axios, DeVos said:
“I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet.”
As to the federal role in public education, she said:
“I think in some of the areas around protecting students and ensuring safe environments for them, there is a role to play. … I mean, when we had segregated schools and when we had a time when, you know, girls weren’t allowed to have the same kind of sports teams — I mean, there have been important inflection points for the federal government to get involved.”
When asked whether the Education Department should be eliminated, she said, “It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job, but I’m not sure that — I’m not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.”
Speaking to columnist Cal Thomas in an interview published on February 16, DeVos criticized again the protesters who tried to prevent her from entering a public school. She said that the incident was “sponsored and very carefully planned” and and did not represent “genuine protests.”
“We’ve seen enough written that they want to make my life a living hell,” she told Thomas. “They also don’t know what stock I come from. I will not be deterred from my mission in helping kids in this country.”
DeVos said that there are federal funds available for magnet schools, including her department's "Magnet Schools Assistance Program," which offers a maximum "cumulative grant award from $12 million to $15 million." In addition, a new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, allows grant dollars to be spent on busing, DeVos said, that will improve “access to new, thriving magnet schools for all students."
DeVos told Thomas that a top-down approach to education reform does not work:
“I think the more states and locales are empowered to innovate and create and are unencumbered by unnecessary regulations and sort of beaten into compliance mentally vs. a can-do and results-oriented mentality, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that any type of top-down solution, no matter where you try to employ it in government, it’s not successful.”