Betsy DeVos’ approval as secretary of education sparks debate over future of education

Posted on Jan 31 2017 - 6:35pm by Hannah Glass and Grayson Weir

Betsy DeVos has cleared the first hurdle in becoming secretary for the Department of Education.

Having been approved by the Senate committee today, the backlash toward DeVos’ nomination has been widespread across the country, but not universal. In Mississippi, which ranks dead last in the National Student Achievement ranking, her confirmation has been something of a conversation starter.

Though efforts are constantly being made to revamp and revitalize education standards and practices in the state, the results are not there. With an incoming secretary of education comes hope that things might get better for Mississippi. However, DeVos may not be the answer everyone is looking for.

Senior education major Meghan Grenda is against DeVos being approved into the position.

“DeVos is too unfamiliar with the public school system to adequately serve as secretary of education,” she said. “Her lack of knowledge regarding IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is the biggest concern, especially for students across the United States with special needs.”

Junior Dan Welsh, from DeVos’ hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, sees it differently. Welsh’s exposure to systems influenced by DeVos points to meaningful grading systems and reading benchmarks.

“Look at her history,” he said. “There is a direct correlation between the bureaucratic decisions she supported and the success of education in my state.”

When it comes to DeVos’ approval, there seems to be very little middle ground concerning opinions surrounding her.

However, David Rutherford, associate professor of public policy leadership and geography, is hesitant about DeVos’ qualifications but finds her approval acceptable.

“You need to have some fluency with educational issues to be secretary of education, and the extent to which DeVos has those characteristics is something of question,” Rutherford said. “But she has considerable background in advocating for choice in education, and it is reasonable to assume if she were to become secretary of education she would advance this idea, which I am not opposed to.”

DeVos’ plan for choice in education involves implementing a nationwide voucher system.

In a voucher system, students are awarded government funding, which allows them to attend a school of choice, typically for a specific semester or year. Those in opposition to this system believe it hinders the middle and lower classes, quashing tolerance and diversity. Supporters, on the other hand, believe it would increase opportunity for many students who otherwise would not be able to afford a private education— ultimately making public and private education more equitable.

“Empirical evidence does not support arguments made by opponents of choice in education,” Rutherford said. “There is no indication that it marginalizes or damages public schools. In fact, private schools foster the diverse friendships that lead to tolerance.”

Junior education major Anna Traylor, who is interested in writing education policy and working in Mississippi’s Department of Education, finds DeVos unfit to take office as secretary.

“She lacks crucial a understanding of special education law such as IDEA and has no personal experience with public schools and has called them ‘dead ends’ in the past,” Traylor said.

The majority of the faults Traylor finds with DeVos stem from her lack of background in education. Taylor said she is confident DeVos would hinder the growth of the public education system rather than provide the development it so desperately needs.

While there is a clear divide among opinions both in Mississippi and across the nation, there is a hopefulness DeVos will be the spark change in education.

“We’ve had attendance based schools for 50+ years. Let’s give her a fair chance and try something new,” Rutherford said.

This article was a special to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.