1. Charter schools
The trainwreck that was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ appearance on “60 Minutes” on Sunday revealed an ideologue hopelessly out of her depth who couldn’t even make a few good points to spin together a plausible fiction. DeVos’ exchange with host Lesley Stahl on charter schools, the secretary’s signature issue, may have been the most revealing. DeVos is so zealously committed to the ideology of school choice that she’s incapable of making the most minimal effort to conceal her intellectual contradictions. Asked how she can justify robbing poor performing schools to fund charters, DeVos responded with the disingenuous apples-to-oranges argument: “Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school — school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.” When challenged on her sleight of hand, she moved on to an argument that competition from charters makes traditional public schools better. Stahl noted that charter schools are on the rise in DeVos’ home state of Michigan, while overall academic performance has declined. After fumbling to come up a cogent defense for her position, DeVos landed on: “I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students.” The incomparable Nikole Hannah Jones, New York Times reporter, MacArthur Genius and holder of the brilliant Twitter handle Ida Bae Wells, tweeted: “Michigan, which DeVos helped turn into the Wild West of school choice, recently posted largest decline in 3rd grade reading of 11 states taking same test. Half of Detroit’s kids are in charters — 90% students not proficient in reading. She struggled b/c NO EVIDENCE IT WORKS.”
2. Underperforming public schools
One would think that for a true believer like DeVos who only sees excellent charter schools, exposure to struggling traditional public schools would be helpful to making her case. Not so much. “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming,” DeVos told Stahl. “Maybe you should,” Stahl suggested. Prompting this utterly hapless response: “Maybe I should. Yes.” Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake called it “easily the worst moment of the entire interview.” He added, “How an education secretary so intent on reforming the school system could not visit an underperforming school is questionable enough. What’s just as remarkable is that she didn’t have some better spin here.”
3. The discipline gap
In a reprise of her calamitous remarks about the correlation between charter schools and overall academic success, DeVos fails to demonstrate even the most basic grasp of statistical-science concepts when confronted with the issue of racial disparities in school discipline. Stahl tried to spell it out for her: “Yeah but let’s say there’s a disruption in the classroom and a bunch of white kids are disruptive and they get punished, you know, go see the principal. But the black kids are, you know — they call in the cops. I mean, that’s the issue: Who and how the kids who disrupt are being punished.” DeVos refused to engage in any macro-level analysis. “Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids,” she said. And then repeated herself when challenged.