News, Trump Administration

Trump’s pick for education secretary has no background in public schools

Betsy DeVosMuch has been made of President-elect Trump’s controversial picks for his still-forming Cabinet. Now, a fascinating report today from Education Week‘s Alyson Klein is only likely to fan the flames for Trump critics.

According to Education Week, Trump’s selection for education secretary, outspoken school choice backer Betsy DeVos would be the first in the position—if she’s confirmed by the U.S. Senate next year—with no background whatsoever in public schools.

Klein reports that DeVos neither attended public schools nor sent her children to them.

From Education Week:

DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist and GOP political donor who still needs to get through U.S. Senate confirmation before she can assume the helm of the agency, studied at private schools through her entire K-12 career, graduating from Holland Christian High School in Michigan, according to a family spokesman, John Truscott. She later went on to Calvin College.

And DeVos, a school choice and voucher advocate, sent each of her own children to private schools as well, Truscott said. He noted that some of DeVos’ son and daughter-in-laws attended public schools.

“She believes all parents should have access to the same choices her children had,” said Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy organization that DeVos chaired until recently.

DeVos’ background is a departure from all past education secretaries, each of whom either attended public schools for at least a portion of their K-12 schooling, sent their own children to public schools, or both, according to a review by the Education Week Research Center of their records and of published reports.

She’d also be one of only a few secretaries entering the job without experience teaching in a K-12 school, or college; running a university, school system or state education agency, or overseeing public education as a governor, or governor’s education aide. (Want a breakdown of which secretaries went to public school and which went to private, and where they sent their kids? Scroll down.)

At a time when school choice debates are broiling across the county, and North Carolina is no exception, DeVos is expected to advance Trump’s stated goals of pushing vouchers and choice programs. DeVos has also been openly critical of the Common Core.

 Klein goes on to elaborate on how DeVos’ background makes her an unusual pick for one of the nation’s top education officials.

The past three education secretaries—John B. King Jr., Arne Duncan, and Margaret Spellings—have each spoken publicly about how their own experiences with public schools informed their work.

For instance, back in 2006, Spellings told us that having a child in 8th grade was influential in her roles as both a White House domestic policy advisor and secretary of education. For one thing, it made her sympathetic to parents who show up at school and get hit with a tidal wave of jargon.

“I have a feeling for what parents experience when they go into a school and hear about, you know, AYP [adequate yearly progress] and HQT [highly qualified teacher] and Read 180 and Success for All,” said Spellings, who served at the helm of the department during President George W. Bush’s second term. ” [It’s a] ‘what the heck are they talking about’ kind of thing, and I’m the secretary of education. I mean obviously I know what they’re talking about, but only because I’ve had years of practice.”

King, who was orphaned at an early age, attended Public School 276 and Mark Twain Junior High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as the prestigious Phillips Andover Academy, a private boarding school. (King cut class at Andover, was expelled and ultimately moved in with family in Cherry Hill, N.J.) King credits New York City public school teachers with “saving my life” and making him feel safe and valued during a tumultuous period.

What’s more, King, who has made school integration a focus of his short tenure at the helm of the department, has also spoken in interviews about his decision to send his own daughters to public schools in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public School system, a diverse and highly regarded district.

Similarly, Duncan, who attended the University of Chicago’s Laboratory School, a private school, sent his own kids to diverse schools in the northern Virginia, and said that the integration there was really important to him and his wife.

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