Who is Betsy DeVos?

POLITICS

Here are 11 things you need to know about the new Secretary of Education. (Cosmopolitan)

How will DeVos and the Trump administration navigate U.S. “education deserts”?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas

  • Betsy DeVos is a billionaire. She inherited millions from her father, who founded an auto-parts manufacturing company that was bought by Johnson Controls in the 1990s. Her brother, Richard Prince, founded the military contracting group Blackwater (now called Academi). Her husband inherited millions from his father, who founded Amway.
    • Do you think economic and social class influences the way we make decisions? Why? How?
    • Do you think Betsy DeVos’ decision-making or policy choices would be different if she came from a working-class background, or was a self-made billionaire?

 

 

  • DeVos is a Christian conservative. What educational policies are associated with conservative Christianity?
    • homeschooling
    • public funding for schools with religious affiliations
    • belief that the separation of church and state is not explicit in the Constitution
    • support for creationism or intelligent design to be taught alongside or instead of evolution
    • support for no or abstinence-only sexual education

 

  • DeVos has no direct experience in education, meaning she has never worked directly with students, teachers, or administrators. She has, however, been active in lobbying for educational policy for 40 years, and her husband served on the Michigan State Board of Education in the early 1990s.
    • Do you think a leader needs direct experience in the field they intend to lead? Why or why not?
    • Do you think a leader should possess enough knowledge to be able to engage experts or passionate amateurs in the field they intend to lead? Why or why not?
    • Are there any other cabinet-level officials with no direct experience in their appointed or elected field?

 

 

  • The policy most affiliated with Betsy DeVos is school choice. What is school choice?
    • School choice is an “umbrella term used to describe efforts to privatize education by, among other methods, installing school voucher programs, which divert public funding to private and religious schools.”
    • School choice is often affiliated with charter schools (both public and private, both nonprofit and for-profit) and digital learning or online education.

 

  • Why do DeVos and so many other education reform advocates (including the billionaires listed above) support school choice?

 

 

  • Cosmo says DeVos’ record on education reform in Michigan is seen as poor. How can she have a record if she’s never served in an educational position?
    • DeVos is a powerful voice in education policy.
      • She started a political action committee (PAC) that “has spent that money essentially buying policy outcomes that have helped Michigan’s charter industry grow while shielding it from accountability,” says the Detroit Free Press.
      • She also sits on the boards of many school reform groups, including American Federation for Children (the political arm of the Alliance for School Choice), the Education Freedom Fund, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

 

  • DeVos is a powerful Republican donor. During the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, she and her relatives gave at least $818,000 to 20 current Republican senators, according to the Washington Post.
    • Do you think donating to senators whose support she needed for confirmation was a conflict of interest? Why or why not?

 

  • DeVos expects results from her donations. “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.”
    • Do you think all political donors (no matter the amount donated) expect policy changes? If so, do you think wealthy donors are therefore entitled to greater political access? Why or why not?
    • Do you think politicians accept donations intending to consider or even enact policies supported by their donors?

 

  • DeVos invests in Neurocore, a controversial business that offers students with ADHD “biofeedback” and “brain performance” services.
    • Do you think a Secretary of Education’s investment portfolio should matter to the public?
    • Do you think this investment in educational technology is a conflict of interest?

 

  • DeVos may have plagiarized language on her Senate questionnaire.
    • Do you think educators should be held accountable for plagiarism? Why? How?

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Cosmopolitan: 11 Things You Need to Know About Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education

BBC: Why is Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for education secretary, so unpopular?

USA Today: What you need to know about Betsy DeVos

Washington Post: Reaction — pro, con and otherwise — to DeVos confirmation

3 responses to “Who is Betsy DeVos?

  1. Pingback: This Week in Geographic History, April 17 – 23 | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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