Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos struggled to answer basic questions about the education system during an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday.
The interview aired the same day the White House announced that DeVos would lead a commission on school safety, part of which will involve figuring out whether and how teachers in public schools should be armed — an idea both President Donald Trump and the NRA support. During the interview, Devos said schools should have the option of arming teachers but also that she couldn’t “ever imagine” her own first-grade teacher with a gun.
Aside from the topic of school safety, the interview touched on other areas of DeVos’ controversial education policies, like school choice, that she either couldn’t directly answer or repeatedly contradicted herself — even about her home state of Michigan.
For example, DeVos admitted that she hasn’t “intentionally visited” any underperforming schools. “Maybe I should,” she later conceded. DeVos also couldn’t say whether schools had gotten any better in Michigan, where she spent millions of dollars promoting the use of public funds to bolster private and religious schools through vouchers.
Asked outright whether schools in Michigan had gotten any better, DeVos said: “I don’t know. Overall, I, I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.”
Critics see school choice policies, which DeVos has carried with her from Michigan to the White House, as an attempt to privatize public education.
“Your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better is not working in Michigan, where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here,” 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl noted during the interview.
“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them,” Devos responded.
When Stahl noted that the public school system in Michigan had, in fact, gotten worse, Devos admitted that “Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.”
Aside from promoting school choice, DeVos has also focused on reforming how college address and investigate campus rape as secretary of education. In late September, her department rolled back protections for campus rape survivors under Title IX.
“Are you in any way, do you think, suggesting that the number of false accusations are as high as the number of actual rapes or assaults?” Stahl asked.
“Well, one sexual assault is one too many, and one falsely accused individual is one too many,” Devos said.
“Yeah, but are they the same?” Stahl pressed.
“I don't know. I don't know. But I'm committed to a process that's fair for everyone involved,” DeVos responded.
It’s not the first time Devos has demonstrated a failure to grasp the basic issues related to education policy in the U.S. She fumbled her own Senate confirmation hearing — so much so that she’s the only Cabinet member to ever need a tie-breaking vote from the vice president. During that hearing, DeVos suggested localities should be allowed to decide whether guns are allowed in schools, because in some areas grizzly bears are a threat.
Asked about a school in Wyoming, she said: “I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.” After the hearing, the school said that it has a no-gun policy and does not keep a firearm on premises to protect against bears.
Despite her apparent lack of clarity on some issues, DeVos said she's the one who's "more misunderstood than anything" when asked her about unpopularity during the interview.
Cover image: Betsy DeVos, United States Secretary of Education, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) sponsored by the American Conservative Union held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, MD on February 22, 2018 (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)