For someone now running the federal education department, Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t have many ideas for how it’s needed.
In one of her first interviews since being confirmed as secretary last week, DeVos said the federal government was right to step in “when we had segregated schools” and to ensure girls’ access to sports teams. But she suggested that those issues have been resolved, narrowing the issues where federal intervention might be appropriate.
From the interview, published Friday by Axios (the new news site created by Politico’s founders):
“I think in some of the areas around protecting students and ensuring safe environments for them, there is a role to play … I mean, when we had segregated schools and when we had a time when, you know, girls weren’t allowed to have the same kind of sports teams — I mean, there have been important inflection points for the federal government to get involved.” But are there any remaining issues like that where the federal government should intervene? “I can’t think of any now,” she replied.
In fact, American schools, by some measures, are more racially segregated now than when the federal government began to play an active role in desegregating them in the 1960s.
Some advocates have called on the U.S. Department of Education to play a stronger role in desegregating schools. DeVos’s comments suggest her worldview is one in which the major fights over civil rights in American education have already been fought and won, and almost all remaining issues can be addressed best by states and local districts.
Meanwhile, in an interview with a conservative news site, DeVos was also quick to offer her ideas about why teachers struggle — and criticize some of the first public school teachers she encountered on the job. (Cue her critics, who are concerned that she does not have any experience as an educator or working in schools.)
Here’s how she described the discussion she had during her one of her first school visits in Washington, D.C.:
I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more success[ful] from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.
In the same interview, DeVos signaled interest in a tactic more commonly used by activists than agency leaders.
She was asked,
Have you considered some political theater of your own, like bringing poor and minority kids trapped in failed public schools to Washington so Congress can tell them why they have to stay in failing schools while their kids attend private schools?
She recalled a march in Florida that drew thousands to protest a lawsuit meant to block a voucher program that she supported. “I think that is an idea worthy of consideration,” she said.
Update: Jefferson Academy Middle School, the DeVos made the “receive mode” comments about, hit back on Twitter late Friday — as did the current and former chancellors of the D.C. school systems. Read what they had to say.