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Betsy DeVos accused of citing bogus statistics

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using bogus data to back up recent calls for reforms in American public schools, Chalkbeat reports today [1].

From Chalkbeat:

In a recent interview [2] with the Wall Street Journal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a remarkable claim: “Children starting kindergarten this year face a prospect of having 65 percent of the jobs they will ultimately fill not yet having been created.”

This statistic bolsters DeVos’s view that schools need to radically change in order to accommodate a rapidly evolving economy.

But there’s a problem: that number appears to have no basis in fact.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not respond to a request for a source for this statistic.

DeVos is not the first person to use a version of this claim. In fact, it’s been percolating for some time, across the world. After a number of British politicians repeated some iteration of the statistic, the BBC investigated [3] its source.

Apparently the claim gained popularity in a 2011 book by Cathy Davidson, a CUNY professor; this in turn was cited by a New York Times article [4]. But attempts to track that claim back to an actual study have failed [5], which Davidson herself now concedes [6], saying she no longer uses the figure.

Others making the claim offer an even flimsier citation. For instance, a report [7]released by the World Economic Forum says, “By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types,” and simply cites a series of popular YouTube videos [8] (which doesn’t even appear to make that precise claim).

Some even say the number is higher: A Huffington Post headline said [9] that “85% Of Jobs That Will Exist In 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet.” The piece links to a report [10] by Dell, which bases the claim on “experts” at a workshop organized by a group called Institute for the Future.

In short, no one has pointed to any credible research that lands on the 65 percent figure.

Of course, making predictions about the future of work is inherently tricky. But a recent report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated areas where the most new jobs [11] would be created between 2016 and 2026. The positions included software application developers but also personal care aides, nurses, fast food workers, home health aides, waiters, and janitors — and though that’s less than 10 years in the future, these are mostly jobs that have been around for some time.

Sweeping, unsourced claims like this about the future economy are not uncommon [12] — and seem to be a driving force behind some policymakers’ approach to education. The fact that DeVos’s go-to number isn’t backed up by evidence raises questions about the foundation of her view that schools need dramatic overhaul.

After citing the 65 percent figure, DeVos continued, saying, “You have to think differently about what the role of education and preparation is.”

DeVos is a wealthy GOP booster and school choice advocate tapped by President Trump for the nation’s top education policymaking job this year. She’s been a lightning rod for critics since then.

During her confirmation hearings this year, DeVos was even accused of plagiarizing sections in a Senate questionnaire.  [13]