I watched the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, before the Senate HELP Committee.
I wrote a recap at Caffeinated Thoughts last night, but I wanted to further clarify my thoughts here the morning after here.
1. We still don’t know where Betsy DeVos stands on a whole host of issues.
This is largely the Senators’ fault. Republicans went into the hearing planning to praise her and ask softball questions. Democrats planned to ask gotcha questions many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the position.
Does Betsy DeVos making (or her family making) a donation to Focus on the Family tell me what kind of a Education Secretary she will be? No.
Does leading, rapid fire questions about her opposition to Common Core help give me a picture of whether she will truly shrink the U.S. Department of Education or just give lip service to it? No.
There were only a handful of good questions asked and most of them were, in my opinion, not the right questions. Only one of the proposed 11 questions I submitted last month was asked. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) both asked a version of this – should the federal government mandate school choice programs?
Her answer was essentially no, the federal government shouldn’t dictate school choice programs to the states.
But the other questions I have are still unanswered which is disappointing. There was an opportunity to have an in depth conversation about the role of the federal government in education and that opportunity was squandered.
2. Betsy DeVos was clearly unprepared for the hearing.
Her answers lacked depth. She did not demonstrate knowledge about the growth vs. proficiency debate question that U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked. Granted she didn’t have to agree with his conclusions (he praised computer adaptive tests), but she at least should have known about the issue.
She didn’t appear to have knowledge about the IDEA law. That doesn’t mean she needed to agree with Democrat conclusions about it, but at least know what it is so she can articulate her differences of opinion.
Her answer on gun-free zones in schools (which I’m against by the way) was wanting. I think people are taking her comment about grizzlies out of context, but she could have provided a far better answer.
She didn’t appear ready to defend her record of education advocacy in Michigan.
These are things she should have known were coming, but just appeared unready in my opinion.
Regarding equal accountability for private schools receiving taxpayer money I appreciate that she was not in favor of that because, well, this is exactly how Common Core was slipped into private schools. Many private schools also can’t afford some of the federal requirements under IDEA for instance. Parents should know this going in. Instead of “accountability” to the federal government it would have great if DeVos could have turned that around and say they do have accountability – to the parents who send their students there.
What was clear from this hearing is that she wants to provide opportunities for students, but I’m still not clear exactly what kind of school choice programs she wants to pursue.
3. “That should be left up to the state.”
I do have to give DeVos props for this statement that I heard frequently during the hearing and it was heartening. I’m still unclear as how this sentiment will actually be applied should she win confirmation, but it was still good to hear it. This statement could have been used for every question because ultimately there is no constitutional role for the federal government in education – none.
4. Confirmation hearings are largely worthless.
Democrats complained that they were not given enough time. I agree. Five minutes per Senator is not enough. However, five minutes per Senator also wasn’t enough for Arne Duncan and John B. King. They’ve dumbed the process down. While Chairman Alexander was right to apply this consistently, they have established a bad precedent. Time that nominees spend privately with committee members is not for public consumption, the hearing is all we have.
That said none of the Senators made good use of the time they actually did have.
Conclusion: Ultimately this hearing did nothing to dissuade her critics. It also did nothing to change the minds of those supporting her. What it failed to do is provide Americans with more information about what kind of Education Secretary she will be.
Below is a recording of the full confirmation hearing if you are so inclined to watch.