Former Michigan Governor John Engler is out with a new piece on The Hill touting his friend, West Michigan billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos, as a “champion for all American students.” As a resident of Michigan, this strikes me as Lord Voldemort endorsing Dolores Umbridge as the Headmaster of Hogwarts, or perhaps as Stannis Baratheon offering his strong support for Melisandre of Asshai in Game of Thrones. In other words, caveat emptor.
Now, I may not be a former governor, or a billionaire, and I’ve only been involved in education since 1980 as a teacher, teacher educator, and policy researcher and author, but I’d like to respond to some of Gov. Engler’s assertions and humbly offer my thoughts on Ms. DeVos’ qualifications for this important position…
No–Betsy is not a businesswoman. She’s just rich. She was born rich, and married richer. That’s it. Nada. Ms. DeVos has never applied for, interviewed for, or been offered a job. You can’t just start out at the top as a board member–that’s not a job. That’s a reward–for being rich.
No–Betsy does not have the heart of a teacher. And just to be clear–that’s a nonsensical term. No one has the heart of a teacher. That’s just silly talk. Being a teacher is a job, and a darned hard one at that. It’s not about having “the heart of a teacher.” It’s about attending a college or university teacher preparation program and studying the art and craft of teaching–pedagogy, child development, subject matter content, learning theories, philosophies, and curricular approaches. Ms. DeVos never attended a public school, never sent her kids to a public school, never studied education, never applied for or received Michigan teacher certification, never taught anyone anything, and only spends time with children in order to sell her water. Just as Donald Trump spending a couple of years at a military school doesn’t mean that he “knows more than the generals,” Betsy DeVos hawking her boxed water to kids in Flint doesn’t give her “the heart of a teacher”.
No–Betsy has not been “singularly focused on accountability”. Let’s get something straight: accountability without meaningful assessment, instruction, and capacity building is merely punishment. Betsy has been singularly focused on punishment. That’s not an education strategy–that’s just punitive.
No–Betsy doesn’t know how to “fix” the schools. Because #1: the schools are not “broken.” And if there are some schools, like those in our urban centers, that are in pretty bad shape in MI, it’s likely that Betsy had something to do with that. And #2: Betsy’s only school fixin’ tool is money. The same green stuff that she and her acolytes don’t want spent on public schools, but is somehow magic fairy dust when sprinkled on religious and private schools and baked into vouchers. A word of advice to Ms. DeVos: You can’t “fix” what has been “broken” by competition and choice…with even more competition and choice.
No–Betsy has not “passed reforms on literacy”. She paid millions in last minute political contributions to Republican legislators in Michigan to ram through a 3rd grade reading bill that every single reading teacher and professional education association in the state said was a form of educational malpractice, wouldn’t help any kids to read any better, and would lead to even more–mostly minority–kids dropping out of school.
Based on her background, education, and experience, Betsy DeVos is barely “qualified” to serve as a volunteer aide in an elementary school in Michigan. She’s clearly and glaringly unqualified to serve as Secretary of Education for our nation’s school system.
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