Among WHS teachers, strong opinions on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos


Credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Above, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 23. WHS staff and faculty expressed varying opinions on DeVos’ confirmation as secretary.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was sworn in on February 7th. Widely considered President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet pick, DeVos required a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence to be confirmed 51-50 in the Senate.

At WHS, teachers and administrators expressed varying reactions to DeVos’ confirmation.

“[She’s] horrible, absolutely horrible. She has no business of being secretary of education,” history teacher Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer said.

“[DeVos] was merely confirmed, so now our job [as teachers and administrators] is to continue doing good work in our public school and believing in the ideas of public education,” WHS Principal Allyson Mizoguchi said. “We should be hopeful and expect that the Secretary of Education will be in alignment with our work.”

DeVos has never enrolled herself or her children in public schools, as she attended Holland Christian High School, a private school in her hometown of Holland, Michigan. She then received a bachelor’s degree in arts at nearby Calvin College. DeVos’ daughters are homeschooled, while her two sons attend a private high school with an annual tuition of $10,000.

“She apparently has strong but ill-informed opinions about better ways of doing things than public school,” physics and astronomy teacher Kenneth Rideout said. “She doesn’t have any public school background herself, so I think it’s pretty ridiculous that she got the job she just got.”

“The United States is full of educators who are dedicated to our public schools and our students’ well-being,” Cheeseman-Meyer said. “[They are] dedicated to creating a world-class educational system in public schools to serve all children. Betsy DeVos is not a member of any of those groups.”

According to Forbes, DeVos’ family is the 88th wealthiest in the United States and seventh wealthiest in Michigan. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, have donated large amounts of money to Donald Trump’s and other Republicans’ campaigns for office. DeVos said to Forbes that it was “possible” her family has donated $200 million to political campaigns.

“I think she just bought her position. I can’t think of another reason. She’s not qualified, she had not worked or attended at a public school. I don’t know why [Trump] picked her,” art teacher Veronique Latimer said.

Devos has also advocated for school choice; this is when families receive money from state governments to use for tuition at charter schools, private schools or religious institutions. Some WHS teachers are wary of school choice, saying it damages public school systems.

“I feel like she’s trying to dismantle public schools. I have seen her record in some of the Detroit area to the public school system there and it’s frightening.” Latimer said. “Her idea that students have [a] choice and [that] students should go to any charter or religious public school with funds that are for public schools, I find that very troubling.”

“When DeVos says school choice, she’s not talking about what I would consider school choice, which is parents choosing between public schools based on things like the quality of the schools and their area,” Cheeseman-Meyer said. “I think what she’s really talking about is making a lot of charter schools available.”

DeVos plans to pay for the new institutions and their new students with taxpayer funds originally routed towards public education.

“I’m not comfortable [with DeVos being Secretary of Education], but I’m thankful that I work in Massachusetts, and I’m also thankful for the fact that the country does have local control,” Rideout said.

Regardless of WHS opinions, DeVos is now at the helm of federal education.

“I don’t know who the Secretary of Education was under Obama,” Cheeseman-Meyer said, “and I’m hoping that in six more months I won’t know who the Secretary of Education under Trump is either.”