Tess Torelli March 13, 2018

Betsy DeVos appeared on 60 Minutes Sunday for an interview with Lesley Stahl that went very poorly on a number of fronts, continuing the pattern established during her disastrous confirmation hearings. Unlike a normal Cabinet member, DeVos has no experience in politics or public service. Her experience is as a wealthy donor who is used to people being deferential to her, so she’s not good at addressing confrontational questions from journalists or members of Congress.

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One particularly striking exchange came when Stahl challenged DeVos on her record as a major mover and shaker in the educational politics of her home state of Michigan, where DeVos and her allies have pushed a dramatic expansion of charter schools. DeVos said earlier that she believed providing students with lots of choices would cause public school quality to improve, so Stahl asked if that’s what happened in Michigan when the theory was tried:

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DEVOS: Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I, I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this, the students are doing well and …

STAHL: No, but your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better is not working in Michigan, where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.

DEVOS: I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.

STAHL: The public schools here are doing worse than they did.

DEVOS: Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.

This is bad enough as an exchange, but then Monday afternoon, DeVos tweeted something that compounds the problem.

She shared a couple of charts showing National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for fourth-graders in Michigan, charts she says she showed to 60 Minutes but “which of course they didn’t show you.”

The charts show that Michigan’s schools used to be about average in both reading and math. But more recently, after DeVos’s allies took over state government, national scores on both the reading and math tests started to stagnate while Michigan’s scores fell.

This is, of course, exactly what Stahl was saying — the ideas DeVos propounds do not have a track record of success in her home state, which is a problem for people who want to take the idea nationwide.

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