Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stumbled her way through a tense interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night, struggling to answer some basic questions about schools in her home state of Michigan and admitting that she does not “intentionally” visit underperforming schools.
“60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl asked DeVos if in Michigan, students who can’t afford to leave public schools are thriving, as the secretary cites.
“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” Stahl asked.
“I don’t know. Overall, I — I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos said, noting that “there are certainly lots of pockets where the students are doing well.”
But Stahl notes that the secretary’s “argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan where (she) had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.”
DeVos responded: “I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.”
“Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it,” she continued, admitting that she does not “intentionally (visit) schools that are underperforming.”
Stahl suggested she should visit those schools to understand what they’re doing. DeVos responded, “Maybe I should.”
White House officials watched the interview, along with media appearances DeVos made on Monday morning, with dismay, two sources familiar with their reaction told CNN. The White House did not respond to a request for an official comment regarding DeVos’ performances, and it wasn’t immediately clear what President Donald Trump’s reaction was.
The secretary also argued that the federal government has “invested billions and billions and billions of dollars … and we have seen zero results” in public education.
“But that really isn’t true,” Stahl argued, noting that test scores have gone up over the last 25 years.
DeVos said the United States has comparatively stagnated with test scores, pivoting again to school choice as the solution.
“What can be done about that is empowering parents to make the choices for their kids,” DeVos said. “Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children.”
Urgency on school safety
DeVos’ passion for school and community choice also transferred into how she views school safety.
The secretary said allowing teachers to have guns in schools “should be an option for states and communities to consider,” later reconciling that she “couldn’t ever imagine” her own first-grade teacher brandishing a weapon in the classroom.
While DeVos maintained that addressing gun violence in schools is an urgent matter, noting that she’s heading up a task force to observe what states are doing to protect students, Stahl balked, saying “this sounds like talking instead of acting.”
DeVos also identified individual circumstances as to why she’s considering repealing Obama-era guidance that outlines “how to identify, avoid and remedy discriminatory discipline.”
“Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids,” Devos said, to which Stahl replied, “Well, no … it’s not.”
DeVos continued, “It does come down to individual kids. And — often comes down to — I am committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to their learning.”
DeVos also said that “one sexual assault is one too many, but “one falsely accused individual is one too many.”
Asked if the two were the same, DeVos remarked, “I don’t know. I don’t know. But I’m committed to a process that’s fair for everyone involved.”