Betsy Devos, Yes or No?

By Lorana Hoopes

I did not watch the whole Betsy Devos hearing, but I have been perusing some videos. First, I am curious about the Democrats complaining that they didn’t have enough time to ask her questions like they felt they should. I didn’t watch Obama’s cabinet hearings either, but I understand this is the precedent that was set for his nominees as well. I imagine they were not complaining then when they were trying to get someone approved eight years ago. And if you only have five minutes, why spend any of it complaining? Ask the hard questions in the time you have.

Let’s get back to Betsy. Well, like most people I was skeptical of most of Trump’s picks, but I was hopeful that maybe since they weren’t career politicians or regular Washington elite that maybe they would do something different, but I have to say some of Betsy Devos’s responses troubled me, both as a person and as an educator.

I don’t have time to address them all, so I picked four that stood out. First, the disability issue. When pressed, Devos would not say that she would force schools to follow the law and accommodate disabilities. This should have been a no-brainer. Yes, you force schools to follow the law. One, because it’s the law. Two, because all kids deserve a quality education, even if they need accommodations. It is ridiculous that students should have to sign their rights away to attend voucher schools. I currently work with a similar situation. Some students at my school have to revoke their IEPs or 504s to attend with us. What this means is that in a traditional school, they would have a Paraeducator, but in our school, they don’t.

Their parents are supposed to be their paraeducators, which sometimes works out and sometimes doesn’t. The result? Occasionally, we have four or five autistic kids in a class with no help. This is not a beneficial experience for anyone – not the teacher, not the autistic children, and not the other children. Of course, my state can’t even fully fund education, so I understand why they can’t afford to pay more paraeducators, but hey the legislators gave themselves a hefty raise, so I guess that’s all that matters.

What I would have added if I were Devos is that I would eliminate the stupid and costly state test for severely disabled kids. I didn’t even know this existed until a few years ago when I signed up to score on a committee. When I got there, they trained us on how to decide a passing score. Now, I am talking about severely disabled children – ones who don’t speak, can’t point, etc. There was actually a test to measure their growth. Maybe they couldn’t blink at the picture of the car in September but they could in April. Let me be clear – I am not saying these students don’t deserve the same right to education, but to test them on whether they can now blink or wiggle their index finger seems ridiculous to me and it wasted thousands of dollars. How about instead of a nonsensical test like this, we use that money to fully fund education and accommodate students?

Second, the issue of growth versus proficiency. Devos seemed not to even understand what these two terms mean, let alone the question, so allow me to explain what Devos should have said. We should be measuring students’ growth, not just their proficiency. When these state tests were first created, they were to make sure students would be able to function in the real world. Can you read well enough to fill out an application? Check. Can you do math well enough to pay bills? Check. Can you write well enough to create a resume and answer questions in complete sentences at your job? Check.

This level of proficiency should stand because it is important, but the tests no longer measure this. The tests have now become a college readiness exam (that most of us probably couldn’t pass), which is fine except for the fact that some students will never go to college. Some don’t even want to – they want to be mechanics or electricians or cosmetologists – none of which require a college degree so holding them to some magical made up standard on a very difficult test seems ridiculous.

And the senator who questioned Devos was right. When you measure on just proficiency, you leave out the bottom and the top kids – not because you want to, but because when you have thirty kids with all different levels in the class for an hour a day, you have to focus on the middle and hope you can help those at the ends where you can. In addition, there have been talks of linking test results to teacher’s pay – another asinine idea for a few reasons. First, as good of a teacher as I may be, I can’t make a student do well on a test. Some just don’t care, some have test anxiety, etc. No other profession gets paid this way. Doctors don’t get paid less if their patients don’t follow their advice. Personal Trainers don’t get paid on how well their clients lose weight. So basing a teacher’s wage on how a student does on a single test is stupid.

Second, when pay is involved, no one is going to want to teach the struggling kids, they’re going to want to teach the honors or high performing students so that they get the most money. Special education or remediation teachers are already hard to find and if salary is linked to test scores, they will be near impossible. However, if we measured growth we could actually see if kids are doing even better than we thought. We could see if struggling students who may never be able to do exponents (and why would you need to) are at least improving on basic concepts. In addition, if I were Devos, I would have also said the state test needs a makeover. Instead of testing students on Algebra and Geometry that they may never use, let’s teach them how to balance a checkbook or calculate APR, something they will actually use in life, and let’s base the test on that.

Third, Betsy Devos was asked about college loans. It floored me that she has no knowledge of college loans having never had to take one out for herself or for her children. We should all be so lucky. However, most of the rest of us have student loans we will be paying off until we die. Higher education is important, but we need to lower the cost. It is out of control. Professors often write their own textbooks so they can require a new addition every year, thereby not allowing used books. The cost of college has risen faster than almost anything else, but salaries have not risen at the same rate unless you’re the dean of a college or Cecile Richards.

I remember when I was in college, the new dean refused to stay in the old mansion the college had bought for the previous dean and our tuition increased to buy this new dean a new mansion – that is ridiculous. So, Devos should have said that she would look into lowering the interest rate on student loans, that she would look into college’s frivolous use of spending, anything other than “I’m too rich to have ever had to deal with those problems.” (she didn’t actually say that, but that’s what her answers felt like)

Then there was the gun issue. I’m a little unsure of where I stand on this personally. On one hand, fewer shootings happen in non-gun free zones because good people can have guns also. It’s already been proven that gun-free zones don’t deter criminals, so on one hand, maybe lifting the ban and making sure people know someone is armed in the school would lessen school shootings. However, it would have to be someone highly trained.

I don’t want every teacher given a gun as most would never be able to use it or would be a liability when using it. Devos could have said something along these lines, but instead, she uttered something about guns maybe being necessary to ward off grizzlies, as in bears. Where exactly does she think public schools are? Back in the days of Davy Crockett? Hidden away in forests and coated in honey? Seriously, how many bear attacks have we had? I had to just shake my head at this answer.

So, while I usually try to stay out of cabinet hearings because I don’t always know the ins and outs and therefore don’t feel I should tell a Senator not to confirm someone who might really be good for the job, I have serious doubts about Betsy Devos. The woman is out of touch, appears clueless, and seems utterly unable to just answer a simple question. However, she is very good at deflecting the question and saying something positive albeit not topical. I can see how she snowed Donald Trump, but then he seems pretty easy to snow if you just know how to preen his feathers.

For me, Betsy Devos is a NO!

Lorana Hoopes is a Christian author who focuses on the inspirational with a touch of romance.Her books are available at Amazon.

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  1. ditto–thanks for the info, i kept seeing the memes popping up about her vs. bears and was wondering what all that was about. it’s clearer now. From what I’ve read, her kids have never been to public school, not even stepped into one, so she’s got no personal experience to fall back on in regards to her kids and what they liked or disliked about public schooling, or her experience communicating with teachers and administrators at those schools. I do think that’s a bit important; otherwise her every sentence on overhauling the public school system is going to start with “I heard…” (kinda like a certain President-Elect was fond of doing…shudder).

    I’d rather have somebody who was in the trenches, not a PhD who never stepped foot in a classroom or a billionaire who never stepped foot in a public school. For good or ill, a teacher would at least have personal experience to fall back on and be able to pull ideas/solutions from their head and not somewhere else.

  2. This was a great article especially from an educators perspective…sending to my Sister who teaches 7th grade Science and shares your views as do I

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