Bye bye, Betsy DeVos

Sile Surman, Columnist

I know I’m not alone when I express my excitement for the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos leaving office. Educators everywhere celebrated the news on Nov. 7, sharing their joy on social media with two words: “Bye, Betsy.” 

President-elect Joe Biden has already expressed plans to undo many of the changes enacted by Trump’s Department of Education, many of which hurt funding for public schools. Across the country, teachers are hopeful, and many are pleased that Jill Biden, a community college English teacher, will be in office. She also plans to continue teaching outside of the White House.

My excitement for DeVos’ removal, however, is marked with caution. Although I am ecstatic for the reprioritization of public education, I also remain wary of this new administration’s ability to fulfill their promises related to policy reform.

But first, why are people so happy about Betsy DeVos’ eventual departure? DeVos, a billionaire who has never been an educator in her entire life, worked hard to undo many educational reforms from the Obama administration. To put it simply, her actions demonstrated a lack of care for public education and for the families who depend upon it. 

DeVos supported cutting public school funding and diverted money into school voucher programs. Although private school voucher programs bolster choice, studies indicate that they lower overall performance outcomes and student achievement. Evidence for voucher efficacy isn’t promising, especially for students in special education programs and students with lower grades.

However, the changes to Title IX, finalized in 2020, remain one of the more controversial decisions made by DeVos and the Trump administration. DeVos chose to roll back Obama-era guidance for campus sexual assault cases, and this action strengthened protections for the accused. 

The decision received substantial criticism from victims’ rights groups. Colleges and public schools suggested postponing the changes to the regulations while in the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these recommendations, DeVos proceeded to enact these rules anyway.

The Biden administration plans to deconstruct her Title IX regulations, although this could prove to be a difficult task. DeVos’ rules have held up against legal action. So, any attempts to dismantle them might take several years. Regardless, we can hope to see other significant educational reforms from the new administration, including reversals of other controversial Trump-era policies.

What else is in the works for the President-elect? Biden plans to appoint a public school educator as the new Secretary of Education. Possible candidates include superintendents and teacher union leaders. Whoever is chosen will be a definite step up from a billionaire who is unfamiliar with public school practices. Other plans include tripling spending for the Title I program that assists schools in highly impoverished areas, expanding special education spending and increasing the number of counselors and social workers in schools. 

However, some parents in favor of charter schools have expressed concern for the Biden administration’s close ties with teacher unions. When unions said it was too soon to reopen during the pandemic, they received pushback from parents who urged in-person learning. We’ll likely continue to see criticism throughout his presidency.

At this point, I’m eager to see education funding at the forefront of policy once again. Public education provides essential resources access and support for students at all income levels, and districts everywhere urgently need more funding. Yet, although many of these plans sound promising, I still remain skeptical. As a committed critic-to-be of the Biden administration, I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if these promises for education are fulfilled.

As the search for a new Secretary of Education continues, I’ll echo the suggestion of Peter Greene, a former teacher: “The department needs to be infused with the voices of the country’s actual education experts — teachers. I hope whoever sits in that office in DC builds that support network. It’s time for the department to rely on real expertise.” 

Input from practitioners in the educational field is essential for creating effective policies that benefit a wide variety of public schools. Let’s hope Biden’s Department of Education keeps teachers, students and families of all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses in mind while moving forward.