Skip to content

Betsy DeVos: “Government Sucks” and “We Don’t Fire Teachers Enough”

January 14, 2017

In March 2015, US secretary of education nominee gave this 9-page speech at the SxSW conference in Texas.

The title of DeVos’ speech is “Competition, Creativity and Choice in the Classroom.”

Below are some excerpts:

As a kid I grew up middle class, but my father was a great innovator with an entrepreneurial spirit, and it wasn’t long before my family became part of the infamous 1%.

My husband’s family has a similar story, and together my husband and I have also been successful in innovative and entrepreneurial ventures.

So, I am not only a Republican, even worse, I’m a well off Republican. …

I won’t waste your time with lofty rhetoric. I’ll be blunt, and since I got out of politics, I have the freedom to be politically incorrect too.

Let’s start by being brutally honest about the status of K-12 education in America today. Not what we wish the status was, not what we want it to be, but what it really is.

I’m going to throw six “inconvenient truths” at you.

The reason for this approach is because we will never solve a problem if we refuse to admit it. …

Inconvenient Truth # 4. Government really sucks. And it doesn’t matter which party is in power. Having been around politics and government my entire adult life, I have five observations about government for you:

  • Government tends to believe in top down solutions and government fears of bottom up solutions.
  • Government tends to stifle innovation and it abhors improvisation. Any good military strategist will tell you that a battle plan rarely survives past the first engagement. After that, you have to improvise to survive and to win.
  • Government tends to favor one size fits all solutions handed down from central command.
  • Government likes committees…a lot. Committees kill all the really good ideas and generally all the really bad ideas. They produce middle ground mush.
  • Government prefers control and tightly-defined systems. It fears entrepreneurs, open systems, and crowd sourcing. All of which they find threatening.

Inconvenient Truth #5 — We don’t pay teachers enough, and we don’t fire teachers enough.

In that one sentence, I have raised the ire of both the Republican and Democrat political establishments.

The Republicans don’t want to pay our best teachers enough, and the Democrats don’t want to reform tenure laws. It’s another partisan standoff.

But I am willing to bet that every one of you had one or more teachers who made a big difference in your life, who opened your eyes to possibilities and to opportunities. You probably recall them in your mind’s eye right now.

And likewise, I am pretty sure that every one of you had one or more teachers who should not have been teaching. That doesn’t mean they were bad people, or maybe they were, but regardless, they weren’t any good at teaching. You are probably thinking of those teachers right now.

And by the way, teaching is hard. It takes a lot of skill. Not everyone who tries can do it well. We need to admit that and act accordingly.

We should reward and respect great teachers by paying them more, and we should stop rewarding seniority over effectiveness.

Some observations:

DeVos is in line to be fed-ed “government in education.” Furthermore, she has spent much of her adult life manipulating government via her “infamous 1%” perch, a perch glaringly in place as she has contributed to 10 out of 12 Republicans on the Senate HELP Committee— who will decide upon her US ed secretary nomination.

As for her wanting to “act accordingly” to “fire” more teachers: Ed reform test-and-punish is unable to distinguish between the teachers individuals might deem to be the best and the worst. Test-and-punish fires teachers, that is true; however, the testing farce encourages system gaming, and the gamers are not necessarily good teachers, just good gamers.

Notice also that DeVos assumes that all in the audience have had good and bad teachers– whether in public ed or private school. Private school educated all the way, DeVos herself has stated that she was “bored” throughout high school.

Surely not every teacher DeVos had in her private high school was failing her. Should they all have been fired for letting her down?

Was Betsy DeVos’ high school education only the responsibility of her private school teachers? Is it possible that those teachers were good despite her boredom? Is it also possible that not all private school teachers are good simply because they are private school teachers?

Of course. But I doubt that there was any “infamous 1%” crusade to fire those private school teachers.

DeVos states that teaching is “hard” and “takes skill.”

I wonder if she could write 9 pages detailing just how hard and how much skill it takes to teach everybody, no matter who comes through the door, and no matter when (i.e., two weeks before the end of a grading period). That’s how it works in public school– the public school that is often hamstrung by regulations from agencies such as, oh, the US Department of Education and a series of presidents, US ed secretaries, and Congresses that have sold out to ed privatization and test-and-punish policies.

But DeVos has zero firsthand experience regarding what it takes to teach– and no clue what it takes to teach whoever walks through the door.

I doubt that Betsy DeVos has any inkling of a schema to understand my career as a public school teacher. She would have to start by putting her wallet down, and I’m not sure Betsy DeVos can do life without her substantial wallet.

Private schools do not have to take “whoever.” Sure, they might allow “whoever” to enroll, but they reserve the right to kick “whoever” to the educational curb if “whoever” becomes inconvenient to educate.

It is a given that many among the public will be inconvenient to educate. They wouldn’t last under a private school voucher system. They would be dismissed– and they would need a public school to take them in.

That is reality if the United States is to continue supporting compulsory education.

As for not “rewarding seniority over effectiveness”: If by “effectiveness,” DeVos means high test scores (which she apparently does based upon her previous points in these 9 pages– read for yourself), then I would have lost my job years ago, not because I am not a skilled teacher (and largely a product of my years in the classroom), but because I don’t game the test score system.

I am not in the “infamous 1%.” Far from it. And I am tired of people of privilege like DeVos believing that her view from the soft seats means that she understands American public ed.

DeVos needs to write those 9 pages about how “hard” it is to teach and how much “skill” it takes. But to do so, she would actually need to have the firsthand experience of a classroom teacher– a traditional public school teacher.

All DeVos knows is life by her billionaire checkbook, and she is in line for US ed secretary.

Another clueless, ed reform-wielding, anti-public-school ed sec.

Now that sucks.

betsy-devos-4  Betsy DeVos, who lives life first and foremost by her wallet.


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. An important look at what effective teaching is/is not. To this essential statement: “Test-and-punish fires teachers, that is true; however, the testing farce encourages system gaming, and the gamers are not necessarily good teachers, just good gamers” I would add: And the teachers ultimately dismissed are often simply the most student and community protective.

  2. Bruce Anderson permalink

    In Florida (The capital of Charter School Fraud!), as in many other states, our pay scale was changed from years of service to pay by test. In 2011 we were told the Highly effective teachers would get some kind of huge raise. I was making $48,000 as a 18-year teacher. Under the old system, I should have taken my largest pay raise steps. As it is, I have been highly effective, but am now making $50,000 as a 27 year teacher!. Last year highly effective teachers got a $571.00 raise vs. $471.00 for effective. That is a plain insult, but I have also lost thousands in salary, and probably close to $80,000 for 20 years of pension payments. Stupid!. So sad!

    None of these 1%ers has any intentions of paying good teachers more.

  3. Her targets are not teachers by the way. Her targets have always been the Democratic Party, who teachers tend to support, and labor unions, who have the temerity to oppose what people with money want to do with worker’s labor. The rest is a smokescreen.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Dump DeVos! | ohyesjulesdid
  2. Betsy DeVos: “Government Sucks” and “We Don’t Fire Teachers Enough” | TechEducator1
  3. Mercedes Schneider: Betsy DeVos Explains that “Government Sucks” and “More Teachers Need to Be Fired” | Diane Ravitch's blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s