OpinionEDlection 2016

Campbell Brown: On Betsy DeVos

By Campbell Brown | November 27, 2016

Social media attacks aren’t famous for accuracy, but it’s a pity that Betsy DeVos has been so misleadingly caricatured since Donald Trump asked her to serve as secretary of education last week.
Not just because she’s a friend. Also because her attackers needlessly reopen late-NCLB fault lines and deepen the clamor that follows Trump everywhere.
It will be harder than ever to be heard above the noise.
The following outbursts could have been chosen at random (they weren’t; I omitted a conservative editor who said she would commit seppuku, a form of ritual suicide):
“She wants her million[aire] and billionaire friends to profit off of childhood education,” said the president of the Michigan Federation of Teachers.
@rweingarten: “Trump has chosen the most ideological, anti–public ed nominee since the creation of the Dept of Education.”
And Brandon Dillon, Michigan’s Democratic Party chairman, claimed DeVos wants “to channel her family’s massive wealth toward destroying Michigan’s public education system.”
Really?
Point of correction: Shiva the god of death was not asked to serve.
Point of correction: Charter schools are public schools.
And an anecdote about traditional schools. Dillon hails from Betsy’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., and presumably believes DeVos wants to destroy the schools there. It’s recommended that he grab coffee with Teresa Weatherall Neal, the superintendent of that very poor (85 percent free lunch) but improving district, the state’s fifth-largest.
Neal told MLive that DeVos had partnered closely since the superintendent’s arrival five years ago, helping her form a plan, paying coaching costs and, to this day, sending encouraging notes. “She was part of the transformation that we have done in the district,” Neal said.
As to DeVos’s selection: “I’m really excited for the children across the nation,” Neal said. “She has been a wonderful supporter of GRPS and our transition plan. She knows education. She knows what it is going to take in order for our kids to be helped.”
The suggestion that Betsy’s work with children is ideologically or financially driven would be disputed, I’d guess, by just about everyone who has spent time alongside her during the past 30 years as she founded, helped run and advised education groups and initiatives that have helped improve education across the country — including thousands of teachers and poor families.
Part of the difference between the politician’s and practitioner’s view of her efforts stems from the fact that she understands what things are supposed to look like at the school level and has been single-minded in improving opportunities there for children.
Politically, that means she can be agile when she needs to be and dig in on core principles when she must. She is tenacious in defending the best interests of children rather than interest groups and their political patrons.
She is a born decision-maker, thick-skinned, never long discouraged by setbacks and impervious to hostile criticism. Like many friends, she and I agree a lot and disagree a lot; I never doubt her intelligence, good faith and inclination to think on all sides of a problem.
While we wait for “tireless” to be discharged from the army of clichés so that I can use it on her, I’ll emphasize that her life’s project is to help children; she works as hard at it as anyone I know; and she will support and build on and keep pushing to improve whatever model is working — traditional or charter or voucher or something we haven’t yet imagined.
Before long, I hope, a lot of people will be surprised by how much someone truly committed to educational excellence can accomplish for parents and children.
 
Related Coverage at The 74

Keierleber: New to Team Trump, DeVos Has Long Been on Team Pence

Phenicie: Did Senate ‘Nuclear Option’ Help DeVos Rise Above Rhee for Education Secretary Nod?

Petrilli: 20 Big Questions for Betsy DeVos

 


The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has provided philanthropic support to The 74, which I co-founded. I sit on the board of directors of the American Federation for Children, which Betsy DeVos chaired before her nomination. The American Federation for Children also sponsored The 74’s 2015 New Hampshire education summit.

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