Just over two weeks into her new appointment as U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos continues to face pushback from education communities nationwide.
A rocky start
During the first public appearance in her new role, DeVos visited Jefferson Middle School Academy in D.C. Angry protesters blocked the entrance, but she eventually made her way inside the school, visiting several classrooms.
In response to the protests, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan tweeted that DeVos needs to see what public schools are like — which makes sense considering that, like it or not, the future of our nation’s education policies are in her hands.
“Agree or disagree w @BetsyDeVos on any issue, but let's all agree she really needs to be in public schools. Please let her in,” Duncan tweeted.
Randi Weingarten, president of the Federation of Teachers, shares similar views on protesters barring the doors at JMSA.
“Just heard a protester blocked & almost knocked Secy @BetsyDeVos down at Jefferson. We don't condone such acts. We want her to go to (public schools),” Weingarten said in a tweet.
The protests were only the beginning. At the end of her visit, DeVos gave a brief statement to reporters saying that she thought the school was “awesome.”
“It was really wonderful to visit this school, and I look forward to many visits of many great public schools, both in D.C. and around the country,” DeVos said.
However, not even a week after her visit to JMSA, DeVos shared strong criticisms regarding the school’s teachers. During an interview with conservative news outlet Townhall, she said teachers at JMSA were in “receive mode,” implying that they lack a take-charge attitude.
“They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching,” DeVos said.
The D.C. middle school fired back at DeVos, saying in a tweet that their teachers are not in “receive mode.” Former chancellor of D.C. schools Kaya Henderson added her opinion on the topic.
“Sorry lady. Tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. But this is so amateur and unprofessional that it's astounding. We deserve better,” Henderson said.
DeVos vague on higher education
DeVos’ appointment will have significant ramifications on higher education policies considering that the majority of the department’s resources are tied to higher-ed initiatives.
During the confirmation hearings for DeVos, higher-ed seemed to take a back seat to the K-12 talks, but what she did share on the subject illustrated an extreme lack of knowledge on her part.
The Department of Education oversees thousands of universities and trillions of dollars in loan and grant funds that help sustain the institutions themselves.
DeVos takes her position at a time where the DOE is dealing with high student loan defaults and growing complaints regarding for-profit colleges, according to Rohit Chopra, a former education official under President Obama.
“The new secretary will find herself much more occupied by troubles in the student loan market than she anticipated,” Chopra said in an article by the Washington Post.
It is still unclear whether DeVos, who has never attended public school nor put her children in one, will be up to the task of running the nation’s school system. Education activists will no doubt be watching her very closely.
Robert Salas is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.