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DeVos, at NRI Ideas Summit, Rips Teachers’ Unions over School Closures

Rich Lowry speaks with Betsy DeVos at NRI’s Ideas Summit on May 20, 2021.

At National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit on Thursday, Secretary Betsy DeVos defended her record at the Department of Education while critiquing her successors in the Biden administration.

In a wide-ranging discussion with National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry — who called her a “courageous, principled, and effective public servant” — DeVos touched on a number of subjects including school closures, Title IX, critical race theory, and student debt.

Diagnosing why so many schools remained closed during the pandemic even while the research and experience of other countries made it clear they were not a significant driver of transmission was easy for DeVos: “It all falls at the feet of the teachers’ unions and all of their allies.”

Castigating them as “defenders of the status quo,” DeVos identified these groups’ motivations as “money, resources, and control.” As an example, she pointed to teachers in Los Angeles refusing to go back to work until unrelated (and far-fetched) progressive political priorities such as police abolition were achieved. She also argued that closures have made educational disparities worse, as low-income students have fewer options when they’re forced into a subpar virtual education.

On a brighter note, DeVos believes that Americans are waking up to the deleterious impact teachers’ unions have on the educational system and think the unions are nervous, citing American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten’s “circling back” and pretending that she is and always was for reopening.

“Too little, too late,” said DeVos, who touted the fact that ten states have started or expanded school-choice programs in the first half of 2021.

Critical race theory and the 1619 Project were also targets. The Biden administration’s push to include these ideas and materials in curricula across the country is “very disturbing,” according to DeVos. “This last year has revealed to a lot of families across the country what their kids have actually ben taught,” she observed, suggesting that engagement on the local level will be imperative to pushing back.

Lowry deemed DeVos’s reforms to Department of Education guidance relating to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act perhaps the most notable accomplishment of her tenure as secretary. DeVos concurred, calling them “hugely important.” “We knew this was going to be something that was tough, but necessary” she explained, panning the Obama administration’s discarding of due-process rights for those accused of sexual assault on college campuses as “insidious.”

The Biden administration is trying to roll back DeVos’s reforms, but because she went through the proper administrative rule-making process, she doubts that it will be successful.

Expressing her disagreement with the Biden administration’s support for “free” college, DeVos described America’s public K-12 education system as “at best . . . middling” and submitted that to make higher education more like it would be to hinder innovation in the industry.

“Two out of three people in this country haven’t gone to a four-year college or university,” she reminded the audience, urging them to consider that there are “lots of good opportunities that don’t require a traditional four-year” degree program. She called subsidizing the wealthiest and most privileged third of society “fundamentally wrong.”

As for solutions to the growing student debt problem, DeVos proposed less-stringent accreditation standards to drive competition and provide students with more options. She also spoke to the importance of keeping them informed and ensuring they understand the costs of college as well as how much the average graduate from every program earns.

Asked how she dealt with the flood of vitriolic attacks against her, DeVos shrugged.

“To be very honest, it did not bother me personally at all,” she responded, going on to say she was “very comfortable” knowing she was doing her best for students across the country.

“K-12 education is the least disrupted industry in our nation, and it must be disrupted for the future of our country and for the future of individual kids.”



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