Betsy DeVos called out on 60 Minutes for undermining public education in Michigan

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was just on Sixty Minutes, talking with Lesley Stahl about, among other things, the work she’s done in her home state of Michigan to undermine public education. In a better world, this interview alone would be enough not only to have DeVos immediately fired, but also initiate impeachment proceedings against the president who nominated her – a woman with absolutely no relevant credentials – to oversee the education of our next generation.

The entire interview was painful to to watch, but here’s one of the more cringeworthy exchanges.

For those of you who chose not to watch the above video, knowing that the sound of DeVos’s voice would trigger an attack of some sort, here’s what you missed… Stahl, noting the work that DeVos has done over the past several decades to increase the proliferation of unaccountable, for-profit charter schools across our state, asked, “Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?,” to which DeVos replied, “I don’t know, overall, I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.” Our least qualified Secretary of Education in American history then went on to say that she hasn’t visited the “really bad schools” in Michigan, or, for that matter, given much thought as to how to improve them. Stahl, hearing this, replied, “Maybe you should,” to which a clearly overwhelmed DeVos responded, “Maybe I should, yes.”

I was going to rant about DeVos, but then it occurred to me that I’ve said it all before. Here, with that in mind, are excerpts from two of my past posts about her.


On behalf of the people of Michigan, I apologize… Not only were we one of three states credited with making Donald Trump, the least qualified presidential candidate in American history, our President-elect, but, as it turns out, we might also be responsible for ending public education as we know it. You see, we, the people of Michigan, had a chance to stop Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos from dismantling our public schools, but we didn’t do it. And, now, unless something unexpected happens, it looks as though she’s going to be replicating the failed policies that she championed in Michigan across the entire nation as our next Secretary of Education.

While DeVos has absolutely no qualifications for the job, she does have money, and she’s proven again and again that she’ll use it to get what she wants. As she said in a 1997 op-ed for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee.” She then when on to add, “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” And, with this as her objective, DeVos, with her $5.1 billion net worth behind her, has wreaked havoc in Michigan, funding successful legislative efforts to efforts to, among other things, “restore religious freedom” by keeping gay couples from adopting and stop Michigan cities from passing living wage ordinances. But her real passion is in the realm of education reform, where she’s worked tirelessly to ensure that Michigan is the most anti-public education state in the union, funding campaigns to remove all caps on charter schools, while, at the same time, guaranteeing virtually no oversight.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said of DeVos yesterday: “Her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers – which take away funding and local control from our public schools – to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps.

“She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education,” Eskelsen García went on to say. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”

And, for what it’s worth, Eskelsen García isn’t employing hyperbole here. Those of us who live in Michigan have seen it play out firsthand. We’ve seen the ubiquitous billboards for fly-by-night virtual charters offering to educate our kids over the internet. [They give kids laptops and access to an online platform, and just collect the money from the state that would have otherwise directed to a public school.] And we’ve seen our school districts closing once vital neighborhood schools right and left due to the unchecked proliferation of charter schools and a “schools of choice” system that pits neighboring districts against one another, fighting over those “good” students who don’t require things like special education, which can be costly.

They’ve been assuring us for the past 20 years that this unfettered competition will yield better opportunities for our students, but the results just don’t bear that out. [More on that in a minute.] I’d argue, however, that better schools were never the end goal. I think, from day one, the real objective has always been to kill the teachers unions, while, at the same time, funneling public money into the hands of private corporations, which, in turn, contribute to conservative causes and legislators. And, it’s working. While I don’t have current data, between 2012 and 2015, Michigan’s two teachers unions, the MEA and the AFT, lost almost 28,000 members. And, in large part that’s due to the overwhelming growth of the charter school industry, which, according to the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into.” [] More importantly, though, these programs pushed by DeVos and others, just aren’t working for kids.

A recent investigation by the Detroit Free Press, which looked at two decades of charter school records and data from across Michigan, found: “Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them. And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.” And much of the blame lies with DeVos, who not only led, but funded, the charge.

Here, from Chalkbeat, is a great example of DeVos in action: “When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.”

And, that, my friends, is the kind of maneuvering on behalf of the for-profit charter industry that you can expect to see happening across the United States, assuming DeVos is confirmed as Trump’s Secretary of Education… I’m not sure what she paid for cabinet post, but you can be damn sure she’s going to see a return on that investment…


Citing the good work she’d done in Michigan, the Detroit News endorsed Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education this past January. The Amway heiress, they told us, based on what she’d accomplished here in Michigan, was a “sound choice” – someone who would “strive to improve education for all kids.” The “hysteria” over DeVos, they said, was “overblown.” The teachers unions, they told us, had been unfairly pushing a narrative that “overlooks the work DeVos has actually done.”

Well, let’s talk about what Betsy DeVos “has actually done.”

Here’s a headline from today’s Detroit News.

Yes, Michigan, the state where, for the last several decades, Betsy DeVos has worked tirelessly to move taxpayer money away from public schools and into the coffers of unaccountable charter school operators, is now the worst state in the nation when it come to the proficiency improvement of students since 2003.

I’d suggest that we all send this article to DeVos and ask her to explain how this came to pass in the state where she lobbied successfully to remove caps on for-profit charter schools, and fought tirelessly to keep our legislature from imposing any kind of oversight over the industry, but, as we learned during her nomination hearings, she doesn’t even understand how states measure achievement, so I don’t know what good it would do.

University of Michigan professor Brian A. Jacob, who conducted this new study of National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data for the Brookings Institution, said the following when asked why, according to him, Michigan had ranked “dead last in terms of proficiency growth since 2003.”

“I believe that there are a number of factors responsible for Michigan’s weak performance,” Jacob said. “A lack of adequate state and local funding for schools, the highly decentralized nature of governance that makes it difficult for the state Department of Education to develop coordinated reforms, the lack of regulation and accountability in the charter sector, and the economic and political instability that have plagued Detroit and other urban areas in the state.”

I know it’s probably unfair to lay all this at the feet of DeVos, as our Republican legislature and others worked with her to make this happen, but, as others have noted, she really does deserve a great deal of the blame. Here, with more on what DeVos has done to Michigan, is a clip from Politico.

…Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.

Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. Charter-school growth has also weakened the finances and enrollment of traditional public-school districts like Detroit’s, at a time when many communities are still recovering from the economic downturn that hit Michigan’s auto industry particularly hard.

The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies.

“The bottom line should be, ‘Are kids achieving better or worse because of this expansion of choice?’” said Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin, a DeVos critic who also describes himself as a strong charter-school supporter. “It’s destroying learning outcomes… and the DeVoses were a principal agent of that”…

As I’ve said several times in the past on this site, we should have stopped DeVos when we had a chance. And, now, because we didn’t, the whole country is likely to suffer the same fate. As our terrible Governor said a few weeks ago when he endorsed her for the job of Secretary of Education, she’s now going to “make a big difference in the lives of school children… across the nation.” And we’re to blame…


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  1. Demetrius
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Betsy Devos is doing exactly what she was chosen to do: Advocate for an unholy alliance of religious zealots and greedy capitalists, whose only shared goal is destroying what’s left of American public education– and most especially, teachers’ unions – ideally, while making a profit.

    She no more speaks for the interests of students, or education … than the NRA is merely a “gun safety” club.

  2. Lynne
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    We already know that the American people don’t care all that much about education. I would say that the 25% or so who got out and voted for Trump are getting exactly what they wanted from DeVos. Those who didn’t vote or who voted third party also didn’t care about education enough to stop this. There we are. We get the government we deserve.

  3. Kim
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    She also said that we “should consider” arming teachers.

  4. Meta
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    New York Magazine: “Quiz: What’s the Worst Part of This Betsy DeVos Exchange?”

    One would think that after Betsy DeVos appeared unfamiliar with basic education policy during parts of her confirmation hearing – an incident she says was worse than a root canal – the Education secretary would study up. Yet in a rare interview on Sunday night, DeVos revealed that she still has a poor grasp on these subjects.

    There were plenty of cringe-inducing moments during the 13-minute 60 Minutes segment, from DeVos opting not to say whether she thinks the number of false accusations of sexual assault is as high as the number of actual assaults, to her declaration that the federal government has “invested billions and billions and billions of dollars from the federal level, and we have seen zero results.”

    But one exchange with Lesley Stahl on school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, was so bad that it’s hard to identify the worst part. Here’s a little pop quiz. Was it:

    (a) DeVos’s attempt to explain how letting parents pull kids (along with taxpayer funds) out of bad public schools helps the other kids in the failing school.

    (b) DeVos pointing to her home state of Michigan, where she’s promoted the spread of underperforming charter schools, as a success story, then ultimately acknowledging that the state needs to do better.

    (c) DeVos admitting that she hasn’t bothered to visit any failing schools.

    (d) All of the above.

    Read more:

  5. Iron Lung 2
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    We have no need of schools. Everyone can simply let their children educate themselves at home using the resources on the internet.

  6. Gillian
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you Mark for this write up. Even vehement advocates of charter schools on the national level are embarrassed by what’s been allowed to happen in Michigan. Since the 1990s, we have gone from the #2 schools in the nation to the bottom ten. I remember when “school choice” advocates worked to remove all accountability in education in the 1990s. I was raised by public school teachers who saw it for what it was–a sham aimed at destroying public schooling and putting taxpayer dollars in the pockets of private companies and religious interests–but not enough people were paying attention at the time.

    For the last two decades Michigan has continued to blame “the teachers” and “the schools” as our public schools have been systematically gutted. If there’s any silver lining to Betsy DeVos’ rise to national fame, it’s that it’s finally calling attention to the decades-long war on public education. I only hope that we can find the political will to change course here in Michigan.

  7. Twitter Stalker
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

  8. Sad
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    After W. Virginia I heard that Oklahoma teachers are going to strike next. Any word on if Michigan teachers might show a little muscle and get themeselves ( and looking at W. Virginia- maybe all state workers) a little raise? Or do our teachers think they’re getting paid enough and have enough clout?

  9. Sad
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    At leas this morning she said she doesn’t approve of Trumps use of profanity.

  10. wobblie
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Lynn, let’s just ignore the fact that Clinton supported “No Child Left Behind” which has done more to decimate our public schools than, home schooling ever could. Our two Democratic Senators are backing the role back of Dodd/Frank and supported the expansion of the Defense budget. But remember to keep blaming Jill Stein supporters for the miserable campaign that Clinton ran. Do you even know that over 100,000 people voted in Michigan in 2016 who did not vote for any presidential candidate? That is over twice as many people as voted for Stein. Don’t here you lamenting the fact that those non-presidential voters gave us Trump. Or how about the thousands of votes that were not counted in Detroit, but Clinton decided not to demand a recount. But remember it is all the fault of people with no power and no money.

  11. teacherpatti
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    re: DeVos’s attempt to explain how letting parents pull kids (along with taxpayer funds) out of bad public schools helps the other kids in the failing school.

    Thanks for taking away resources, Betsy. It sure has done wonders. My stapler broke on Thursday and I won’t get another one. When I asked my neighbor to borrow his, he said he’d been using mine cuz his broke in January.

    I realize I can buy a stapler for pretty cheap at Meijer but it’s kind of the principle of the thing. (Also, I’m almost out of copy paper).

  12. Jean Henry
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Wobblie/- I blame bots and the people who share your political beliefs who bought their lies and spread them, infecting the electorate with fear, suspicion and malaise.

    Tomorrow I will blame something else.

    And the next day.

    And it’s entirely possible for you to be correct, and Lynne, and me as well, all three times, because elections aren’t determined by just one thing. And anyone who pretends that’s the case, is making obvious their will to believe most strongly in anything that confirms their political belief system and reject any complexity. Or responsibility.

  13. wobblie
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Teacherpatti, My wife is an educator as well. I hear all the time about the lack of support our public education receives. Our basement is full of items she has collected over the years for use in the class room. We recycle almost anything plastic that might be useful for her students. It is total BS what our teachers have to do. Power lies in Solidarity which the educators of West Virginia have demonstrated to us all.

  14. Sad
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    It might happen in Oklahoma too.

    Maybe labor will make a comeback? Strikes, how last century.

  15. Iron Lung 2
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I have no idea why anyone would consider becoming a teacher in 2018.

  16. Sad
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting that in Oklahoma they not only want an increase in teacher pay but in school funding.

  17. Jean Henry
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    UM’S lecturers are re- negotiating their contract and are asking for public support in the Diag this Friday at 12:15.

  18. teacherpatti
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Wobblie, solidarity! My husband got me a stapler from Meijer and I was way too excited. I’m always bringing in supplies, extra food, etc. I hate shopping at the Dollar Store but my district is the lowest paid in our county and I feel it. :/

  19. Sad
    Posted March 13, 2018 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    For real. To the person who is an educator and to the wife of the educator. Is there any talk amongst teachers about striking or engaging in some sort of action for increased wages and school funding? I’m fascinated following what’s going on in Oklahoma. It’s like something out of a history book.

    I heard one teacher from West Virginia talking about how it was a teachable moment for the children. Imagine that. A bunch of people ( primarily woman) said hey, we’re not going to take this marginalization of our labor. Pay us!

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