Day One for Betsy DeVos at the U.S. Department of Education

Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Secretary of Education by Vice President Mike Pence.

Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Secretary of Education by Vice President Mike Pence.

Betsy DeVos after winning confirmation as Secretary of Education by a historic 51 to 50 vote in the Senate was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence, who cast the tie-breaking vote, on Tuesday night.

Today is day one for DeVos as Secretary of Education. She toured U.S. Department of Education buildings in Washington, DC, met with senior leadership and addressed the department staff.

After being introduced by Philip Rosenfelt, the former acting Secretary of Education and current acting general counsel for the Department, DeVos spoke to staff a little under eleven minutes. She didn’t touch on policy. She told the staff she “listens more than she speaks.” She also promised a open door policy at the Department. She also addressed the confirmation process.

So, let’s turn to recent headlines. There’s no need to pull punches. For me personally, this confirmation process and the drama it engendered has been a…bit of a bear.

In all, seriousness, for many, the events of the last few weeks have likely raised more questions and spawned more confusion than they have brought light and clarity. So, for starters, please know, I’m a “door open” type of person who listens more than speaks.

I am here to serve—with you. I am committed to working with everyone and anyone —from every corner of the country, from every walk of life, from every background, and with those who supported my nomination and those who did not—to protect, strengthen and create new world-class education opportunities for America’s students.

Let’s acknowledge: We’ve just come through one of the most bruising, divisive elections in modern times. And that’s okay. Our republic is resilient. We as a people are resilient.

Often, the morning and evening news cycles make it hard to imagine what might unite our nation. The rhetoric and the words can get hot and heated, and the animosity often seems unending. And that’s okay, too. People are passionate and moved by deeply held views. We are a pluralistic culture and we must celebrate our differences.

But all of us here can help bring unity by personally committing to being more open to, and patient toward, views different than our own.

She called on those with differing opinions to find common ground and left her staff with a challenge.

The obstacles between our nation’s students and their pursuit of excellence can all be overcome. They’re human problems. All too often adult issues can complicate and get in the way of a focus upon those we serve. The good news is: We can all work together to find solutions and make them happen.

I’m reminded of the ancient counsel to act justly, to love kindness and to proceed humbly. No matter your outlook, I’m betting we can all agree that acting justly, being compassionate and moving forward humbly on behalf of the future of our nation – America’s students – is a good place to start.

So I ask every educator, every parent, everyone involved in educating our nation’s students, and all of us here: Let us set aside any preconceived notions and let’s recognize that while we may have disagreements, we can –and must—come together, find common ground and put the needs of our students first. And when we do disagree, let us set an example by being sincere and honest, passionate but civil, while never losing sight of our shared mission.

To everyone on this team, my challenge to you is simple: Be bold, think big, and act to serve students.

And I will promise you this: Together, we will find new ways in which we can positively transform education.


Why Betsy DeVos Will Be Confirmed

Democrats are having a talk-a-thon. Many are taking to Twitter, as well as, lighting up the Capitol switchboard leading up to the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as our Secretary of Education. The Democrats’ attempt to derail DeVos appears more partisan than principled which is why it is unlikely to sway a GOP Senator.

All it takes is one, but they can’t just get one.

Jonah Goldberg of National Review tweeted this morning:

That’s right. I would submit that U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would probably not vote no this afternoon if it were not for knowing that Vice President Mike Pence will cast the tie-breaking vote confirming DeVos. They haven’t exactly struck me as principled legislators. They get the benefit of saying they stood their ground, showed independence, what have you, but at the same time they were not the ones who canned President Trump’s nominee.

Nobody wants to be THAT person. Which is why you would have more than one.

Jim Newell at Slate made the following point:

This does not mean that it would be in vain to continue calling or writing them urging them to change their minds. If the heat is turned up to an extreme following a senator’s announcement of support, one of those senators could rethink. The idea is for a senator to feel that the trouble he or she would get in with constituents for supporting DeVos would be greater than the trouble with Trump for voting against her.

That’s a high bar to clear, and it’s why Democrats are having such a hard time finding that third Republican defection. It’s not just any vote against DeVos—it’s the one that would seal DeVos’ fate, and embarrass the Trump administration. That vote will be expensive. Earning the lifetime enmity of the new president, as well as falling out of favor with the Republican Senate leadership, would make the would-be 51st senator’s life miserable, without a clear, immediate payoff beyond earning the undesirable title of Democrats’ Favorite Republican Senator. The would-be 51st senator would have to feel that the future of his or her career would be fatally threatened, by some combination of irate constituents and well-funded interest groups, by voting for Betsy DeVos.

I don’t agree much with what is written at Slate, but this I think is spot-on. Frankly, Democrats blowing up the phones will probably do very little. Conservatives, unfortunately, are divided on this nomination. Some love it, others hate it. For her nomination to be derailed conservatives needed to be unified and they simply were not.


Is Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation as Secretary of Education in Jeopardy?

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, looks to have a bumpy road toward confirmation that some believe is in doubt.

The Senate HELP Committee is scheduled to vote on her confirmation on Tuesday after a couple of delays and a lackluster performance by DeVos at her confirmation hearing.

Is her confirmation in jeopardy? Possibly.

Republicans only have a 12 to 11 majority on the Senate HELP Committee, and U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has indicated that there is not a single Democrat Senator who will vote for her. Whether this is partisan bluster or an actual whip count remains to be seen, but DeVos is being vigorously opposed by Democrats.

A 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service explains how committees typically handle nominations:

A committee considering a nomination has four options. It may report the nomination to the Senate favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation, or it may choose to take no action at all. It is more common for a committee to take no action on a nomination than to report unfavorably. Particularly for policymaking positions, committees sometimes report a nomination favorably, subject to the commitment of the nominee to testify before a Senate committee. Sometimes, committees choose to report a nomination without recommendation. Even if a majority of Senators on a committee do not agree that a nomination should be reported favorably, a majority might agree to report a nomination without a recommendation in order to permit a vote by the whole Senate. It is rare for the full Senate to consider a nomination if a committee chooses not to report it and the committee is not discharged by unanimous consent.

If Democrats are truly unified in their opposition, and if one Republican vote is flipped her nomination could get stalled in committee, especially if they choose not to report on the nomination.

There is still a way for the nomination to move forward however.

Although very few nominations proceed without the support of a committee, chamber rules make it possible for the full Senate to consider a nomination a committee does not report. Technically, Senate Rule XVII permits any Senator to submit a motion or resolution that a committee be discharged from the consideration of a subject referred to it. A motion to discharge a committee from the consideration of a nomination is, like all business concerning nominations, in order only in executive session.20 If there is an objection to the motion to discharge, it must lie over until the next executive session on another day. It is fairly common for committees to be discharged from noncontroversial nominations by unanimous consent, with the support of the committee, as a means of simplifying the process. It is far less common for Senators to attempt to discharge a committee from a nomination by motion or resolution.

It is less likely that her nomination will be held up if the Senate does vote for it. Nominations only need a majority vote to be approved. Now pre-2013 DeVos’ nomination could have possibly lost a cloture vote, but in 2013 Senate Democrats, when they were in the majority, changed the rules that cloture for any nomination except for the Supreme Court only require a simple majority vote, not a 3/5 majority vote that was previously needed.

We’ll have to see what happens on Tuesday.

Four Takeaways from Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation Hearing

I watched the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, before the Senate HELP Committee.

I wrote a recap at Caffeinated Thoughts last night, but I wanted to further clarify my thoughts here the morning after here.

1. We still don’t know where Betsy DeVos stands on a whole host of issues.

This is largely the Senators’ fault. Republicans went into the hearing planning to praise her and ask softball questions. Democrats planned to ask gotcha questions many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the position.

Does Betsy DeVos making (or her family making) a donation to Focus on the Family tell me what kind of a Education Secretary she will be? No.

Does leading, rapid fire questions about her opposition to Common Core help give me a picture of whether she will truly shrink the U.S. Department of Education or just give lip service to it? No.

There were only a handful of good questions asked and most of them were, in my opinion, not the right questions. Only one of the proposed 11 questions I submitted last month was asked. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) both asked a version of this – should the federal government mandate school choice programs?

Her answer was essentially no, the federal government shouldn’t dictate school choice programs to the states.

But the other questions I have are still unanswered which is disappointing. There was an opportunity to have an in depth conversation about the role of the federal government in education and that opportunity was squandered.

2. Betsy DeVos was clearly unprepared for the hearing.

Her answers lacked depth. She did not demonstrate knowledge about the growth vs. proficiency debate question that U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked. Granted she didn’t have to agree with his conclusions (he praised computer adaptive tests), but she at least should have known about the issue.

She didn’t appear to have knowledge about the IDEA law. That doesn’t mean she needed to agree with Democrat conclusions about it, but at least know what it is so she can articulate her differences of opinion.

Her answer on gun-free zones in schools (which I’m against by the way) was wanting. I think people are taking her comment about grizzlies out of context, but she could have provided a far better answer.

She didn’t appear ready to defend her record of education advocacy in Michigan.

These are things she should have known were coming, but just appeared unready in my opinion.

Regarding equal accountability for private schools receiving taxpayer money I appreciate that she was not in favor of that because, well, this is exactly how Common Core was slipped into private schools. Many private schools also can’t afford some of the federal requirements under IDEA for instance. Parents should know this going in. Instead of “accountability” to the federal government it would have great if DeVos could have turned that around and say they do have accountability – to the parents who send their students there.

What was clear from this hearing is that she wants to provide opportunities for students, but I’m still not clear exactly what kind of school choice programs she wants to pursue.

3. “That should be left up to the state.”

I do have to give DeVos props for this statement that I heard frequently during the hearing and it was heartening. I’m still unclear as how this sentiment will actually be applied should she win confirmation, but it was still good to hear it.  This statement could have been used for every question because ultimately there is no constitutional role for the federal government in education – none.

4. Confirmation hearings are largely worthless.

Democrats complained that they were not given enough time. I agree. Five minutes per Senator is not enough. However, five minutes per Senator also wasn’t enough for Arne Duncan and John B. King. They’ve dumbed the process down. While Chairman Alexander was right to apply this consistently, they have established a bad precedent. Time that nominees spend privately with committee members is not for public consumption, the hearing is all we have.

That said none of the Senators made good use of the time they actually did have.

Conclusion: Ultimately this hearing did nothing to dissuade her critics. It also did nothing to change the minds of those supporting her. What it failed to do is provide Americans with more information about what kind of Education Secretary she will be.

Below is a recording of the full confirmation hearing if you are so inclined to watch.

Betsy DeVos’ Senate Hearing Delayed

DeVos speaking at a post-election rally for President-elect Trump in Michigan.

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, was supposed to have her confirmation hearing tomorrow before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee tomorrow. It instead has been pushed out until next week, January 17, 2017 at 5:00p (EST).

The reason?

The HELP Committee says they are doing it at the Senate leadership’s request.

HELP Committee ranking member U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and other Democrats had requested the hearing be delayed until after DeVos is cleared by the Office of Government Ethics.

Education Week reports that an aide to HELP Chairman U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that the delay will not change the committee’s plans to vote on her nomination on January 24th.

The Only Way Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation Can Be Stopped

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

Politico’s Morning Education highlights the preparation for a confirmation fight over President-Elect Donald Trump pick for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos when she has her confirmation hearing on January 11.

Democrats will seek to paint Betsy DeVos as Public School Enemy No. 1 as they ramp up a longshot effort to thwart her confirmation to be Education secretary by challenging her qualifications for the job. Already, more than a dozen Democratic senators from all wings of the party have stepped forward to say they’re troubled by at least some aspects of the billionaire philanthropist’s record on public education — a drumbeat that is expected to grow louder in the lead-up to her confirmation hearing. That hearing is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 11.

— Democrats say they will portray DeVos’ views as being outside the education mainstream, citing her history of bankrolling efforts to create state voucher programs, and her support for Michigan’s loosely-regulated charter school sector. They’re also intent on drawing attention to her lack of experience in a traditional public school setting. DeVos has never worked as a public school teacher or superintendent, nor has she sent her own kids to public schools.

The problem, they point out is that Republicans hold a 52 seat majority and they like her views on school choice.

There’s an effort from those of us who have fought against Common Core to try to disrupt her confirmation. The odds are against that. Admittedly we’ve always fought uphill battles so I know that won’t dissuade anyone.

The only way for DeVos’ nomination to be blocked is to have every Democrat oppose her (which is not guaranteed), and to be able to cherry pick three Republicans to vote with them.


Some of our strongest allies in the U.S. Senate have sung DeVos’ praises so I just don’t see it happening. I’m afraid the fight to derail her nomination has more potential to hurt our efforts than help.

This is not to say I’m not concerned with her involvement with pro-Common Core groups, the fact she’s been praised by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and that she was silent on Common Core until the day her nomination was announced.

I’m concerned she still infers that Common Core was something in the realm of high standards that went wrong when they were federalized.

I understand what is driving the effort.

I’m taking the approach instead to have Senators ask these questions when she goes through the confirmation process. Her answers may or may not impact her confirmation, but it will get her on record on important issues that she has been silent on so far.

Trump’s Discussion About Higher National Standards With Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

There was something in the readout that Trump’s transition released of the meeting that President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence had with Betsy DeVos that I glossed over that needs to be revisited now that she will be his nominee for Secretary of Education.

The readout said their meeting “was focused on the Common Core mission, and setting higher national standards and promoting the growth of school choice across the nation.”

Setting higher national standards?

I don’t want to jump to conclusions. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but that is a peculiar way to describe the meeting with the President-elect who said he wanted to get rid of Common Core and that education decisions should be local.

There should be no national standards and there should be no federal influence over state standards – period so this statement in the readout is disturbing and I know I would appreciate some clarification from the Trump transition team as it seems like the focus with DeVos’ appointment is on school choice.

Why did President-elect Donald Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos discuss setting higher national standards? Or was this a screw-up by their communication team?

Trump Picks Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education

Photo credit: School Choice Week

Photo credit: School Choice Week

Mea culpa, Buzzfeed was right about the Secretary of Education pick coming down between Betsy DeVos and Michelle Rhee. President-elect Donald Trump announced that DeVos was his pick for Secretary of Education earlier this afternoon.

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said in a released statement. “Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families. I am pleased to nominate Betsy as Secretary of the Department of Education.”

“I am honored to accept this responsibility to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again,” DeVos said. “The status quo in education is not acceptable. Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”

DeVos tweeted this out this afternoon.

Her statement was part of a Q&A, and I’m not certain when it was written.

Certainly. I am not a supporter—period.

I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control. When Governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense. 

Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core? Of course. But that’s not my position. Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework.

However, along the way, it got turned into a federalized boondoggle.

Above all, I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.

So we need to do our homework? Up until this Q&A was put up she had made no public statement about Common Core, and this one is rather vague. So like former Governor Mike Huckabee she’s saying she supported the American Diploma Project. She’s saying she doesn’t mind top-down standards provided they are not “turned into a federalized boondoggle.”

She does say she supports “high standards” so I’d like to ask her do you believe Common Core State Standards as written are “high standards”? She wants strong accountability so does she support Every Student Succeeds Act? Does she believe in federal mandated testing? Does she believe parents have the right to opt their students out?  How about data collection?

She says she supports local control, but what exactly does that mean to her?

Here is what we do know and actions speak louder than words.

  1. She sat on the board of two organizations that are pro-Common Core – the Foundation for Excellence in Education, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s organization, and the Great Lakes Education Project.
  2. She helped fund an effort influence the Republican primaries in her home state of Michigan and provided financial support to an organization, Great Lakes Education Project, that was part of an effort to defeat Michigan’s Common Core repeal bill.

Karen Braun of Stop Common Core Michigan wrote:

GLEP is a strong supporter of the Common Core and its continued implementation in Michigan. They are part of the Michigan Coalition for High Student Standards which opposes SB 826 to Repeal and Replace Common Core, science, social studies, and aligned assessments with pre-common core Massachusetts standards.  Stop Common Core in Michigan believes there is a high correlation between candidates who accept the GLEP endorsement and their future votes on legislation.

GLEP claims NOT to have a litmus test on Common Core.  This allows candidates to say they are against common core and still gain the endorsement of GLEP.   But DeVos  is a champion for “school choice” while at the same time continuing the implementation of common national standards.    The DeVos definition of “school choice” is the freedom to choose which common core school will track your child from cradle-to-career (P20).   All Michigan charters must use common national standards.  That’s NOT true choice.

Like Bill Gates, Betsy DeVos has some money and has some things she’d like to see different.   Like all good investors, DeVos likely expects a return on her investment.  And if you don’t play the game under their rules and vote the way you want her to vote, you may find yourself challenged the next time you run for office.

Former Michigan State Representative Tom McMillin said to me, “she and GLEP were one of the main leaders defending Common Core when I was fighting it in the legislature. In 2013 I know she was strongly supportive of Common Core and high stakes testing.”

When people in Michigan, who know her record on education activism the best, says her statement is bunk I’m listening.

Update: A friend of mine who has been working with education policy longer than I have and whom I respect a great deal brought up the following point. The groups in question that she supports also promote school choice. It is reasonable to consider that her support of those organizations, like Mrs. DeVos indicates, be because of school choice advocacy not Common Core. While she hasn’t been vocal in opposing Common Core she also has not been vocal in supporting it either.

I look at her a little more comprehensively at Caffeinated Thoughts, and I personally have come to the conclusion that I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and give her a chance to lead. I’m confident she won’t be worse than the previous two Secretaries of Education.  I know some may want to try to see her confirmation defeated, but I believe that is unlikely. Perhaps we need to take a neutral position and try to build a bridge instead.

Frank Cannon: Betsy DeVos Would Be a Jeb-Like Pick for Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

Betsy DeVos speaks at the 2016 American Federation for Children Policy Summit.

American Principles Project’s President Frank Cannon released a statement about the speculation that school choice advocate and GOP donor Betsy DeVos.

From the very beginning of his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised an end to the failed Common Core standards. He repeatedly assured parents across the heartland that he intended to return power over education to local schools.

“It is puzzling, then, to see reports that the Trump transition team is considering an establishment, pro-Common Core Secretary of Education – this would not qualify as ‘draining the swamp’ – and it seems to fly in the face of what Trump has stated on education policy up to this point.

“President-elect Trump rightly slammed Governor Jeb Bush for his support of Common Core on the campaign trail. Betsy DeVos would be a very Jeb-like pick, and the idea that Trump would appoint a Common Core apologist as Secretary of Education seems unlikely. We remain hopeful that Trump will pick a Secretary of Education who will return control over education to parents and local school districts – someone like Bill Evers, Sandra Stotsky, or Larry Arnn – and not someone who will simply rebrand and repackage the failed Common Core standards that were so thoroughly rejected by voters in both the GOP primary and in the November election.

DeVos is a Common Core supporter who was active in supporting pro-Common Core candidates in Michigan. She also serves on the board of Foundation for Education Excellence founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) that also has been a cheerleader of the Common Core State Standards.

Michelle Rhee Is Out of the Running for Secretary of Education

Photo credit: Commonwealth Club of California (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Commonwealth Club of California (CC-By-2.0)

Michelle Rhee announced on Twitter this afternoon that she is not pursuing a position with the Trump administration.

Here is her statement below:

I am not pursing a position with the Administration but I have appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts on education with the PEOTUS. Interestingly many colleagues warned me against doing so. They are wrong. Mr. Trump won the election. Our job as Americans is to want him to succeed. Wishing for his failure would be wanting the failure of our millions of American children who desperately need a better education.

Rhee is a registered Democrat and Democrats for Education Reform warned Democrats such as Rhee and Eva Moscowitz (who also said she wasn’t interested in the job) to not accept the Secretary of Education role should it be offered.

From the original short list Ben Carson can be scratched off, Eva Moskowitz can be scratched off, and now Michelle Rhee. If you believe Buzzfeed that would mean the position is Betsy DeVos’ to lose, but I don’t.