Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ten Questions for Betsy DeVos

As I am sure you are aware, Senate hearings on Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education begin Wednesday, January 11, 2017. When the nomination was first announced, I wrote of my concern to my Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. Toomey sent back a letter indicating his full-throated support of DeVos. This time I am writing to the other Pennsylvania Senator, Democrat Bob Casey, who serves on the Senate HELP committee who will interview DeVos and decide on whether or not to send her nomination forward. Trying to stop this dangerous nomination is an uphill battle, of course, with Republicans controlling the Senate, but Casey, through recent actions expressing concern about DeVos' conflicts of interest, has at least shown some concern about this nominee. And Casey is actually on the HELP Committee that will interview DeVos, so it is worth a shot.

I won't detail here why DeVos is an historically lousy choice for the job. Peter Greene, over at the Curmuducation blog, has already done a terrific job of that. What I offer here is a list of questions that I suggest Senator Casey, or someone on the panel, ask.

The Hon. Robert P. Casey
393 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Casey,

I am writing today to suggest some questions that you might ask candidate for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos at the upcoming Senate hearings. DeVos is an extremely ill advised choice, as I think will be readily apparent if you can get her to answer the questions below.

  1. Ms. DeVos, would you please state, concisely, any relevant experience you have had in public education, either as a student, a teacher, a school leader, a public school board member, a parent of a public school child, a PTA member, a volunteer in a traditional public school or as someone who once drove past a public school?
  2. You have a long record of advocating for school choice in the form of vouchers and charter schools. What if parents' first choice, as it is for most American families, is to send their children to a clean, safe, well-resourced, professionally-staffed, local neighborhood public school? How would the voucher and charter school schemes you advocate support this kind of choice?
  3. In your home state of Michigan, you and the foundations you support have fought hard to make sure that governmental oversight of charter schools is extremely limited despite indications of widespread fiscal mismanagement and poor academic performance. Should charter schools be subject to the same financial and academic scrutiny as traditional public schools? If not, why not?
  4. The Detroit Free Press has called you the lobbyist "at the center" of the current "deeply dysfunctional" school choice landscape in Detroit. Policies you have heavily advocated for and supported are on full display in that city. How is that working out? Would you care to take the committee on a site visit to Detroit to see the impact of your good works?
  5. Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, has called you "the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward" since forever. Talk about how you will develop good working relationships with the 2.5 million teachers represented by unions.
  6. Your family made much of its fortune through Amway, a quasi-legal pyramid scheme that, according to one suit that cost the company 150 million dollars to settle, "induces salespeople to buy thousands of dollars of overpriced products and useless success tools and then to recruit others to do the same thing in an endless chain scheme that dooms, by design, nearly all to losses." Do you think as Secretary at DOE you might be able to use such a multi-level marketing scheme to raise needed money for public schools? Do you think pyramid business schemes should be taught in school?
  7. In interviews you have discussed visits you have made to charter schools and the wonderful programs you saw there. Would you discuss any visits you have made, ever, to a traditional public school and talk about the programs you saw there? 
  8. Your predecessors at the federal Department of Education have faced a great deal of criticism for advocating the use of standardized testing to rate schools and teachers. Explain in detail the pros and cons of these so called Value-Added Measures, how they are calculated and whether or not you think they are a good way to evaluate teacher or school performance. Can we see the valued-added scores of the charter schools in Detroit, please?
  9. Lightning Round. Please identify these education program acronyms:
    • IEP
    • RTI
    • PARCC
    • SBAC
    • CCSS
    • ELL
    • ESL
    • FERPA
    • IDEA
    • PAC
    • WPA (Oops! Sorry, that one sneaked in from the Roosevelt administration)
  10. In the end, Ms. DeVos, as the person designated to lead the federal Department of Education, overseeing the programs and resources for the 90% of American school children who attend traditional public schools, does  a viable system of public education matter to you at all? Take your time with this one, but not as much time as you have taken to sign your required financial disclosure forms.
As I am writing this, I have learned that Senate Democrats are calling for a delay in the hearing because DeVos has failed to file financial disclosure forms necessary for approval. We'll see how that goes, but I would certainly find the hearings to be entertaining, if Senator Casey or someone else would just ask the questions above - and I do think that a site visit to Detroit is a great idea for the full committee.

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