In the hours before and after Betsy DeVos appeared for her Senate confirmation hearing, New York City’s education community began asking how Trump’s education secretary nominee could affect the largest school system in the country.
Their reactions are varied. Some — including United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew — have sounded the alarm that DeVos’s stated interest in expanding school choice could strip funding from traditional public schools.
Others expressed concern that DeVos appeared to not grasp certain key features of federal education policy related to students with disabilities and how student performance is evaluated.
Meanwhile, the head of the city’s largest charter network said DeVos is the right pick for the job.
Here are some of the more notable reactions:
Educators for Excellence, an organization that helps teachers get involved in education policy, pointed out that DeVos has little experience in public schools and there are a number of key issues — such as school segregation and teacher evaluations — where DeVos’s position is still unknown.
“Given the fact that she has no experience as either a teacher or school administrator, we are distressed by the lack of details offered by Ms. DeVos as to how she will address some of the many challenges facing our public education system,” Evan Stone, an E4E cofounder, said in a statement.
In a press conference before the confirmation hearing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that a voucher program, which DeVos has lobbied for at the state level across the country, would be a difficult sell.
“There is a tremendous feeling for public education in this country, including in rural districts, including in red states, and anything that might undercut resources for our public schools is going to meet with a lot of opposition,” de Blasio said at the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, according a transcript. “Just look at the whole movement nationally on some of the high-stakes testing issues, and it tells you a lot. So I think it’s a real concern, but I don’t think it will be easy if [DeVos] is confirmed.”
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, a de Blasio ally, was more convinced that if DeVos were confirmed, federal policy could potentially reshape the local education landscape. If private and religious schools are able to cherry-pick students from the public school system, he said, public schools would increasingly serve only the students who aren’t admitted to private school or are more expensive to educate.
“She believes that a market system is the only thing that should be allowed,” Mulgrew told Chalkbeat on Wednesday. “The people who are in it for the money don’t want [high-need] students.”
Advocates for Children, which helps secure services for students with disabilities and low-income families, expressed concern that DeVos appeared to be confused about how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act works.
“It is really troubling for Ms. DeVos to say that enforcement of the rights of students with disabilities should be left to the states,” AFC Executive Director Kim Sweet wrote in an email to Chalkbeat. “Even though she seemed to correct herself when she heard that a federal law guarantees these students their rights, her remarks show an inclination toward minimizing the federal role that could leave students with disabilities very vulnerable.”
Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed statewide advocacy group, expressed concern about DeVos’s record of supporting public financing for private schools and deregulation of the charter sector.
“Here in New York, we’ve seen firsthand that billionaires involved in our public schools push for privatization despite a lack of oversight or accountability. The tens of millions of children in our public schools across this nation deserve a secretary of education that will lead with their best interest in mind. DeVos’s track record has proven otherwise,” Advocacy Director Zakiyah Ansari wrote in a statement.
But not all of the reaction was skeptical. Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, who leads the city’s largest charter network and was herself floated as a possible education secretary, threw her support firmly behind DeVos.