Betsy DeVos struggles to answer basic education questions during televised interview

She tried to defend her plan to cut funding for public schools. It was a disaster.

CREDIT: SCREENGRAB
CREDIT: SCREENGRAB

During an interview on Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos struggled to handle straightforward pushback about her plan to steer federal education dollars toward charter and private schools and away from traditional public schools.

During an exchange with host Lesley Stahl that quickly went viral, DeVos was unable to explain how her plan would benefit students in struggling schools, and admitted she’s never “intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.”

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After DeVos cited “studies” showing that “when there is a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools, the results get better as well,” Stahl asked her, “has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan — this is your home state.”

DeVos, a former Republican Party chairwoman in Michigan, has been active in school reform efforts in the state for decades. Her efforts have not coincided with improved outcomes for students. As the Washington Post puts it, DeVos has “been a force behind the spread of charter schools in Michigan, most of which have recorded student test scores in reading and math below the state average.”

Public schools in the states are struggling as well. According to a study released earlier this month by nonpartisan research and advocacy organization Education Trust-Midwest, Michigan schools showed the largest dip in 3rd grade reading levels among 11 comparable states over the last three years.

“Michigan has fared poorly in several educational measures in recent years,” The Detroit News adds. “About 56 percent of third-graders did not pass the reading test on Michigan’s state assessment in 2017. A Brookings Institute analysis last year also found that the state’s students made the least improvement in National Assessment of Education Progress scores since 2003.”

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DeVos tried to dodge Stahl’s question, saying, “Well, there [are] lots of great options and choices for students here in Michigan.”

But Stahl pushed back.

“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” she followed up.

“I don’t know — overall, I can’t say overall that they have gotten better,” DeVos replied.

“The whole state is not doing well,” Stahl said.

“Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where the students are doing well,” DeVos replied.

Stahl again pushed back, noting that “your argument that if you take funds away, the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan, where you have a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.”

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“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general, because schools are made up of individuals schools attending them,” DeVos replied, again dodging.

The exchange ended with Stahl asking DeVos if she’s “seen the really bad schools — maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?”

“I have not, I have not, I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming,” DeVos said. “Maybe I should.”

In October, DeVos released a document outlining her policy priorities. As ThinkProgress detailed at the time, under her plan, the Education Department seeks to give priority to projects that expand school choice.

DeVos’ priorities were reflected in President Trump’s 2017-18 budget, which called for $1.4 billion to support investments in schools choice, while proposing $9.2 billion in cuts from other federal education programs.