The Question I’d Ask Betsy DeVos: Two Dozen Education Leaders Preview Tuesday’s Confirmation Hearing

This is an update to the previous list of inquiries for Betsy DeVos, who has been nominated as Donald Trump’s Education Secretary. She will be appearing at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. You can follow @cphenicie for updates on the proceedings.

Congressional hearings often serve as a platform for legislators to score political points and gain attention on social media rather than solely focusing on investigating important policy issues. This upcoming hearing for Betsy DeVos seems to be following the same trend. To address this, asked education advocates and experts from various backgrounds for their policy questions for DeVos. Given the time constraints and political considerations, what policy questions should be asked?

We released an initial set of these questions last week, and below is an updated list starting with the most recent additions. The questions have been slightly edited for length:

Rashad Anthony Turner, an advocate for education reform and former leader of Black Lives Matter St. Paul:

"Secretary DeVos, I appreciate your willingness to take my question and congratulations on your appointment. The AFT and NAACP are actively campaigning against charter schools. What measures will you take to ensure their efforts are unsuccessful?"

Turner is also seeking advice from DeVos for other education reformers who are fighting for the future of children nationwide.

Dan Weisberg, CEO of The New Teacher Project:

"Do you believe that the Education Department should step in when states fail to fulfill their obligation of providing all students with a fair chance at a quality education? If so, what actions would you take in such a situation? What are your priorities for the Office for Civil Rights?"

Weisberg also wants to know the steps DeVos will take to prevent students from losing valuable learning time due to biased and overly punitive discipline policies. He also questions if she recognizes the poor track record of many states in providing equal educational opportunities for minority groups. Moreover, he is interested to know if she acknowledges the obligation of states to protect LGBTQ students, who are at a higher risk of bullying, assault, and suicide, and what role she would play in ensuring their safety.

Nate Bowling, a high school government teacher and the 2016 Washington state Teacher of the Year:

"What mechanisms and systems will you establish or maintain to gather input from effective, practicing teachers when formulating your policy decisions?"

Charles Sahm, director of education policy at The Manhattan Institute:

"Charter school operators agree to be held accountable for their results in exchange for autonomy from certain district regulations. However, there is confusion regarding your stance on accountability. Some suggest that you opposed efforts by the Michigan legislature to strengthen oversight of Detroit’s charter schools. Can you clarify your position on charter school accountability, both in general and specifically in relation to Detroit?"

Sahm is also curious about DeVos’s views on career and technical education and how the United States can learn from other countries like Germany, which have successfully prepared young people for in-demand jobs in skilled trades.

Eugene Hickok, former deputy education secretary during the George W. Bush administration:

"I believe this question is long overdue, not just for Betsy DeVos, but for all of us: ‘What can she or a secretary of education do to encourage Americans to reconsider the entire concept of American education?’ The current system is outdated and inadequate for the modern age. We need innovative and transformative ideas."

Hickok would also like to know how DeVos plans to lower the costs of higher education while delivering proven results.

Cami Anderson, former superintendent of Newark, New Jersey public schools:

"What is Ms. DeVos’s perspective on why African-American students consistently perform worse than their peers in all types of schools, including private schools through vouchers, scholarships, or full tuition payment? What can the federal government do to close the persistent achievement gap between black and white students?"

Anderson, who describes herself as a strong supporter of charter schools, also highlights the unintended consequences of rapid and poorly planned growth. In Newark, for example, the migration to charter schools resulted in significant downsizing of the district, leading to job losses for many individuals who had previously attended failing local schools and were unlikely to find alternative employment opportunities.

"Rather than being an ideological issue, the frustration and anger within the community stemmed from a genuine response to the feeling of being stuck and not having any viable options."

Anderson poses the question, "Does Ms. DeVos recognize that the introduction of choice and competition alone will further limit resources in communities that already have very little, and how does she plan to address this?"

Liv Finne, the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, asks, "As the secretary of education, do you intend to reduce the burden of federal regulations on traditional schools, specifically in regards to excessive testing, in order to allow teachers to allocate more time towards instruction?"

Lisa Snell, the director of education and child welfare at the Reason Foundation, raises concerns about the federal Title I program. A 2011 report from the Department of Education revealed that over 40 percent of schools receiving Title I funds allocated less state and local money to teachers and personnel compared to non-Title I schools within the same district. This discrepancy is due to the current law allowing districts to use average salaries when reporting school-specific data, which conceals the fact that high-poverty schools receive less funding as they often have less experienced and lower paid staff, despite having an equal number of educators.

Catherine Brown, the vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress, questions how the next administration would ensure that school districts uphold the intent of Title I and prioritize the distribution of funds towards low-income students. Brown suggests that Title I policies explicitly require funds to follow students through funding portability policies or weighted student formulas, and that districts be mandated to report school-level spending in actual dollars. She also proposes that the department encourage school districts to utilize portable federal school funds as leverage to promote localized school choice policies.

Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, raises concerns about the proportion of for-profit organizations running charter schools in Michigan, which stands at 80 percent. In comparison, the next highest state only has 17 percent of students enrolled in for-profit-run charters. A federal review in 2015 discovered a significantly high number of charter schools in Michigan on the list of lowest-performing schools, and the number of charters on that list has doubled since 2010. Burris questions how DeVos plans to prevent the proliferation of for-profit charter schools at a national level, which would ultimately prioritize the financial interests of the owners over providing a quality education to often marginalized students.

Burris also brings up DeVos’s support for online learning, including for-profit online schools in which her husband has invested (K-12). Online charter schools have a graduation rate of only 40 percent, indicating their failure. Burris asks why DeVos continues to embrace learning systems that have proven to be ineffective and associated with fraud in states like Pennsylvania and California.

Furthermore, Burris challenges DeVos on her donations to Michigan lawmakers who opposed and weakened a bill containing accountability measures for charter schools in Detroit. Burris questions why DeVos believes that children should not be protected by strong regulations, especially in the case of for-profit schools in Detroit.

Kim Cook, the executive director of the National College Access Network, highlights the importance of enabling more low-income students to complete college in order to cultivate talent nationwide. Cook wants to know how DeVos plans to build a solid talent pipeline by prioritizing the completion of college for low-income students. Cook is also interested in knowing DeVos’s priorities for the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director of advocacy and policy at AASA: The School Superintendents Association, wants to inquire about DeVos’s commitment to supporting and strengthening traditional public schools and how they fit into the overall school choice narrative. Ellerson Ng suggests that the conversation about school choice should include public schools as a viable option.

Additionally, Ellerson Ng wants to address DeVos’s dedication to rural schools and federal technology programs. These programs, such as E-Rate and Lifeline, are primarily funded and overseen by the Federal Communications Commission.

Mike Hansen, the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, does not provide a specific question, but he likely has additional inquiries considering his expertise on education policy.

Rick Hess, a scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is eager to understand Betsy DeVos’s perspective on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Specifically, he is interested in her take on Obama administration regulations such as the proposed supplement-not-supplant spending rule. He wants to know how much progress she believes still needs to be made at the federal level regarding ESSA implementation, and the importance she places on revising supplement-not-supplant and other ESSA regulations.

Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, is curious about DeVos’s stance on higher education data transparency. This ranges from loan-repayment data to the college scorecard established by the Obama administration. The college scorecard provides information such as cost, financial aid, graduation rates, and earnings, enabling students to make more informed decisions when enrolling in higher education. Kelchen acknowledges that this aligns well with a conservative philosophy of choice, where the federal government’s role is primarily to provide information. However, he wonders if there is a regulatory burden associated with it, and if colleges will be willing to comply. He is also interested in DeVos’s position on income-based loan repayment programs and whether there should be limits on the amount students can borrow for higher education.

Amy Laitinen, the director of higher education at the Education Policy program in the New America Foundation, emphasizes the increasing importance and cost of higher education. She highlights the fact that the federal government invests billions of dollars annually to support students attending college. However, she raises concerns about the number of low-quality programs that burden students with debts and fail to provide them with a valuable degree or the skills needed for decent-paying jobs. Laitinen wants to know what actions DeVos plans to take as the secretary of education to ensure that taxpayer dollars are allocated to institutions that offer students a quality education. Moreover, she wants to understand how DeVos intends to promote transparency in college outcomes so that students and their families can make well-informed decisions about their education.

Elizabeth Mann, a fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy in the Brookings Institution, believes that the recent election results indicate a lack of opportunities for Americans to support themselves and their families. She advocates for the role of workforce development programs and career and technical education in expanding job opportunities. Mann questions how the Department of Education should provide accessible and high-quality options for career and technical education through community colleges, both for recent high school graduates and adults. She is also interested to know how DeVos plans to incorporate diverse perspectives when making decisions and ensure that states have flexibility while still being accountable under ESSA.

Kelly McManus, the interim director of legislative affairs at the Education Trust, is interested in the broader philosophical issues surrounding education. She wants to explore the role of the secretary in addressing resource inequities and inequities in learning opportunities. Additionally, she seeks DeVos’s perspective on accountability and the federal role in ensuring it under ESSA. McManus emphasizes the importance of disaggregated student data, which allows for the analysis of results among different student groups such as those from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and those with disabilities, for school accountability.

Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, believes that high-quality early childhood education can be delivered in various settings, be it a formal classroom, a church basement, or even a neighbor’s home. Perry wants to explore strategies for collaborating with states and communities to provide them with the necessary tools and resources to ensure that early learning and care programs are of high quality. Furthermore, she is interested in DeVos’s approach to supporting governors and state legislatures in their efforts to advance early childhood education.

Mike Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wants to understand how DeVos will evaluate the state accountability plans that must be submitted under ESSA next year. Specifically, he wants to know if there are any proposals from states that she would potentially refuse to approve. Petrilli is also keen to hear DeVos’s stance on the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Education Department. He wonders whether she believes it should operate independently and receive sufficient funding. Additionally, Petrilli poses a hypothetical scenario where officials attempt to produce a report with negative results for one of DeVos’s policy priorities, and he wants to know how she would respond.

There is one important question that needs to be asked of Betsy DeVos, just as it has been asked of other candidates: What are your plans for improving traditional public schools? However, there is another question that deserves attention, which is how she plans to promote school choice in rural areas. Many of these areas voted heavily for Trump but lack the same variety of private and charter school options available in larger cities and suburbs.

Furthermore, I am curious to know DeVos’s strategies for making higher education more affordable and for supporting historically black colleges and universities. These institutions faced significant challenges when the Obama administration changed the criteria for a parent loan program, causing many students to become ineligible for additional aid despite their previous approval.

Elaine Weiss, the national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education campaign at the Economic Policy Institute, raises important concerns about the underlying factors contributing to achievement gaps. Research has consistently shown that these gaps are primarily influenced by factors outside of schools, such as poverty and segregation within families and communities. Considering this reality, what should be the top priorities in education policy and how can we address the broader set of factors that hinder academic success for many children, especially during times of high poverty rates?

Weiss also wants to hear DeVos’s stance on ending racially disproportionate discipline practices and expanding early-childhood education, two initiatives that were pursued by the Obama administration. Another topic of interest is how to address teacher shortages and how states can use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to enhance equity in schools.

It is worth noting that The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation provided funding to from 2014 to 2016. Additionally, Campbell Brown serves on the boards of both and the American Federation for Children, a group formerly chaired by Betsy DeVos. However, Brown had no involvement in the reporting or editing of this article.

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  • benjaminchambers

    Benjamin Chambers is an educator and blogger who focuses on using technology in the classroom. He has written for sites like The Huffington Post and The EdTech Digest, and has been featured in outlets like Forbes and The New York Times. Chambers' work has helped him to develop a following of educators and students who appreciate his down-to-earth approach to learning technology.