It’s Betsy DeVos. Turns out President-elect Trump’s choice for education secretary was hidden in plain sight. You say you want to do a big push for choice so you pick a prominent school choice booster (she’s flirted with Common Core and for the types that approach anti-Common Core with religious fervor she’s suspect, but that’s already being mopped up). The Free Press lays out the stark good versus evil takes most people seem to have about her.
I wrote last Wednesday that:
Betsy DeVos = pretty mainstream pick – though usual suspects on right & left of course are already going bonkers https://t.co/r8iJFsIuK1
— Andrew Rotherham (@arotherham) November 23, 2016
This riled some people up, of course. But bear in mind a few things. First, the standard is not who you would have picked or I might have picked. Donald Trump won the election and DeVos is within the mainstream of Republican thought on education. People are acting as though the choice was DeVos or maybe Pedro Noguera or Jonathan Kozol instead. Second, given some of the alternatives were reportedly folks like Jerry Falwell Jr. and given the President-elect’s apparently fast and loose style with nominations DeVos doesn’t seem so bad! Also, seriously, does Michelle Rhee look so bad now? Education’s mandarins couldn’t stomach her aggressive reform style, so now they get DeVos. (By the way, one knock on DeVos is that she never attended public schools, worked in them, or sent her kids to them. Yet many reformers (including Rhee) are public school products, have worked in them, and send their kids to them. Many prominent reform critics are more like DeVos. So what’s the point exactly? It’s almost like this is a bunch of bullshit?)
Of course, on Twitter there is a fake DeVos Twitter account. Disappointing. Huge potential for entertainment but so far pretty lame and interchangeable with a bunch of other fake accounts by the same folks.
Basic test of seriousness for DeVos critiques is, are they DeVos critiques? There is plenty in her record that warrants scrutiny and a bunch go-forward questions about federal policy, as with anyone set for a role like this. Or, are they generic critiques that would be raised about any Trump education nominee? For instance, it’s barely newsworthy she’s for school choice. But it is worth asking how her ideas about school choice comport with several decades of research and evidence.
In The Times Doug Harris does just that and offers a critique of Detroit arguing DeVos would support weakly regulated choice contrary to the experience of places like New Orleans. It’s a good point, but here we are. Just last week the president of the NEA was attacking New Orleans as a total scam and now it’s going to be the gold standard! And here you thought turnarounds were impossible in K-12 education. New education establishment posture: “Why can’t we just have choice like New Orleans….it’s so good there!”
Also, worth noting, too early to tell but DeVos may end up being one of the Trump picks with the fewest conflicts of interest? After all, she just believes in school choice she doesn’t stand to make any money off of it.* Questions about her view of the role of public schools in her confirmation hearings should be interesting, though (as well as the Office of Civil Rights, role, scope, and size of the Department of Education overall, and some other pretty significant issues).
Two things to bear in mind going forward. First, pay attention to the subcabinet roles. That’s where a lot of the action is – especially for an incoming secretary unfamiliar with many of the policy domains the agency works in. Second, and related, the role can evolve in unexpected ways. For instance, people think of Margaret Spellings as the No Child Left Behind architect. But she spent much of her last two years as Secretary focused on student loan problems. That kind of unpredictability is par for the course with cabinet roles.
Other takes: Campbell Brown on DeVos. Greg Forester sees risk for school choice because of Trump in this really smart piece. Mike Petrilli has twenty questions. RiShawn Biddle says you can’t detach any Trump pick from larger concerns about Trump. Kevin Carey argues she won’t get as far as people think on choice. Kevin assumes a restraint not to wreak havoc on federal policy that I’m not sure is there.
I hope by this point people might have learned the basic lesson that, at least so far with Trump, anything is possible. Just yesterday he was claiming, with no evidence, that he would have won the popular vote but for fraud. This is not normal in American politics. So I’d avoid certainty.
*Update: Politico says she may or may not have an investment position in a for-profit education company (K12). If true, she’d have to divest.